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Von Willebrand’s Disease (vWD) is a blood clotting disorder like haemophilia, which means that affected dogs have problems clotting even small cuts or grazes both internally and externally if injured, which can pose an acute and very real threat to their health.
The condition is named for Von Willebrand’s factor, an essential element that the blood needs to contain in order to clot into a scab in the case of damage to the skin (or internal structures). If this factor is missing the dog’s blood will not be able to clot normally, which means that even a small cut can lead to potentially dangerous blood loss.
Dogs affected by the condition need a lot of supervision and attention from their owners, in order to avoid a potentially risky bleeding incident from arising.
Von Willebrand’s disease is a hereditary health condition, which means that the only way for a dog to develop the condition is by inheriting a combination of faulty genes from their parents. For this reason, The Kennel Club and the British Veterinary Association advises that dogs from breeds that are known to have higher than normal risk factors for the condition are tested prior to breeding, to avoid passing the condition on further to subsequent generations of their bloodlines.
In this article, we will look at Von Willebrand’s disease in dogs in more detail, including what sort of dogs it is most likely to affect, and how the test for the condition is performed.
There are two main types of Von Willebrand’s disease in dogs-type one (I) and type three (III), with type one being the less severe form of the condition. Dog affected with type III are considered to be at very high risk of potentially dangerous bleeding if anything happens to break the skin or lead to internal bleeding, while type one is much milder, and in some dogs may not lead to many or even any obvious indications where clotting is concerned.
Often, the presence of the condition will become apparent when the dog in question is very young, as they are apt to bleed profusely from the umbilical cord when born, and also, when they begin to lose their baby teeth and grow their adult set. However, in type I Von Willebrand’s disease, these early indicators may be absent altogether.
In adult dogs, you may notice the signs of blood in your dog’s urine and faeces, as well as an increased likelihood of nosebleeds and of course, very slow clotting and lots of bleeding if your dog gets a cut or a bruise.
As a hereditary condition, the only dogs that will be affected by Von Willebrand’s disease are those that have inherited a combination of faulty genes that lead to a lack of Von Willebrand’s factor in the blood.
Some of the breeds that are considered to be at the highest risk of the condition include the Doberman, Bassett hound and Dachshund. However, over fifty different dog breeds all told have been found to have the condition in their gene pools, so checking out The Kennel Club’s list of health tests by breed is the best way to find out for sure.
Additionally, unlike haemophilia, which can be carried by either sex but only presents in males, Von Willebrand’s disease can affect either male or female dogs.
The condition itself is an autosomal recessive condition, which means that just because one of the dog’s parents suffer from the condition, it is not a given that the dog in question themselves will. The heredity of the condition can best be outlined as follows:
If neither of the dog’s parents are affected, they cannot pass the condition onto their offspring.
If both parent dogs are affected, their offspring will be too.
A dog that inherits the faulty gene that causes Von Willebrand’s Disease from one parent but not the other will not develop the condition themselves, but will become carriers for it and so, run the risk of passing it on.
Different combinations of gene heredity that occur when, say, a clear dog is mated with a carrier or an affected dog; this can lead to percentage risk factors for their litter, with litters from such parents having mixed chances of being clear, carriers or affected by the condition.
A DNA test is required to identify the presence of the gene mutation that causes the condition, and assign the tested dog with the status of clear, carrier or affected. The DNA sample needed for this can be either a cheek swab or a blood sample (a cheek swab is generally preferred unless the dog is already being treated for bleeding, due to the risk potential for affected dogs that are required to provide a blood sample) and this is then assessed in a laboratory, and the results returned for you.
Currently, Laboklin is the only laboratory in the UK that is approved to perform the test in dogs-you can find out more about the condition and how to order a test by checking out this information page on their website.