Cuts and scrapes are a fact of life, for humans and animals. Yet they're a significant danger if your dog has Von Willebrand's disease, a condition similar to human hemophilia, in which blood cannot clot properly. Because of this, any injury, even a minor one, will cause the dog to bleed profusely. Without treatment, dogs can easily bleed to death following surgery or from what would normally be considered minor wounds.
Von Willebrand's Disease is an inherited disorder. Affected dogs are missing a specific element in their blood that helps the platelets to form clots. It's a substance that helps stabilize one of the blood's clotting elements, known as Factor VIII, which is vital to the clotting process. The missing substance is known as Von Willebrand's factor, after the Finnish physician who discovered and researched the condition in the 1920s.
Blood clotting is performed by the platelets, and clot formation results from a complex chain of chemical reactions which are carried out by individual molecules known as clotting factors. These clotting factors are numbered I through XII. In Von Willebrands Disease, the dog is missing a substance which helps to stabilize Factor VIII.
Dogs that have this disease will bleed profusely, after even a minor injury, and the blood will not clot normally. They frequently develop nosebleeds and under-the-skin hemorrhaging, or bleed from the gums, vagina or penis. Bleeding can also occur internally, in the stomach and intestines, resulting in black, tarry stools or visible blood in the stool. Some affected dogs even have blood in their urine. In a more rare complication, blood leaks into the joints as well, causing arthritis-like symptoms.
The condition is hereditary, and some breeds have a higher incidence than others. Doberman Pinschers have the highest rate of the disease; recent research found 70 percent of the Dobermans studied were carriers of the disease, even if they didn't show any symptoms. Also particularly affected are: Airedale Terriers, Bassett Hounds, Chesapeake Bay Retrievers, Corgis, German Shepherds, German Shorthaired Pointers, Golden Retrievers, Keeshonds, Scottish Terriers, Shetland Sheepdogs and Standard Poodles. Since the disease has a genetic component, dogs with Von Willebrand's should not be bred.
Von Willebrand's Disease is diagnosed through a blood test which measures the level of Von Willebrand's factor in the blood. Like human hemophilia, the disease is incurable. The only effective treatment is through transfusions of blood collected from healthy canines. Many dogs with the disease also have hypothyroidism, meaning they have lower-than-normal levels of thyroid hormone. Hormone replacement therapy can be a helpful adjunct treatment for these animals.
Owners whose dogs have Von Willebrand's need to make sure their pet is not taking any medication, such as aspirin, that can interfere with blood clotting, unless it's with their veterinarian's approval. Among these medications are antihistamines, sulfa- or penicillin-based antibiotics, heparin, theophylline, ibuprofen or the tranquilizer phenothiazine.