Von Willebrand Disease: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment and Prevention

Von Willebrand Disease
Symptoms, Causes, Treatment and Prevention

“Prevention of this disease lies primarily with breeders of the affected breeds
who are screening dogs before breeding them.”

Von Willebrand disease (vWD) is an inherited bleeding disorder in dogs, like hemophilia in humans. Dogs can bleed to death if the bleeding isn’t stopped.

Von Willebrand DiseaseOverview/Snapshot of Disease or Condition

In vWD the dog is missing an important substance that allows platelets to form clots necessary to stop bleeding. The substance they are missing is called “von Willebrand’s factor.”

When a dog that is missing this substance is injured or cut they experience excessive bleeding. Von Willebrand disease is similar to hemophilia in humans. In extreme cases dogs can bleed to death if the bleeding isn’t stopped.

vWD is a fairly common disease and frequently affects the following breeds, although it is not confined to these:

Von Willebrand Disease – Symptoms

You may suspect your dog has von Willebrand disease if he is a member of one of the breeds listed above since vWD is often seen in these breeds, though not all dogs in these breeds are affected. Symptoms may include the following:

  • Unexpected hemorrhage during a spay or neuter procedure
  • Excessive bleeding at any time
  • Nosebleeds
  • Bleeding from the gums
  • Blood in the stool (from bleeding in the stomach or intestine)
  • Blood in the urine
  • Symptoms of arthritis resulting from bleeding in the joints


Like many dog health problems, vWD is hereditary. It is genetic in basis but it is more complicated than simple hemophilia and it occurs in both males and females.

The inheritance of vWD is considered to be genetically recessive, meaning that both parents must usually have the disease for it to be passed on to their puppies. However, the genes for the disease also have a complex mode of inheritance, meaning that it is not a simple recessive. Puppies do inherit the disease sometimes even when both parents are clear for the disease.

Treatment for Von Willebrand Disease

There is no cure for vWD. However, dogs with the disease can be effectively managed if they have a bleeding episode. For example, if your dog needs to have surgery your veterinarian can plan ahead to do a transfusion for your dog to add von Willebrand’s factor to his body in the form of a blood product called “cryoprecipitate.”

Complete plasma may also be used for transfusions. These products will improve bleeding and clotting times for your dog for approximately four hours after they’re administered.

Your veterinarian can also give a nasal injection of DDAVP (desmopressin acetate) into your dog to encourage a quick release of von Willebrand’s factor into his bloodstream. It takes 30 minutes for this hormone to become effective. After that time it will help clotting for about two hours.

Some dogs with vWD may also be hypothyroid. These dogs can be helped with thyroid hormone replacement therapy.


Prevention of von Willebrand disease lies primarily with breeders of the affected breeds who are screening dogs before breeding them. Widespread use of screening tests will allow affected dogs to be identified and removed from the gene pool.

If you have a dog from one of the breeds prone to vWD then it’s a good idea to have your dog tested to find out if he has the disease.

It is possible for mixed dog breeds and designer dog breeds to have this canine health problem if their parents had the disease, so the disease is not confined to purebred dogs.

If you have a dog with vWD you may need to take some extra precautions to make sure he doesn’t injure himself during exercise. Make sure your veterinarian is aware of his condition before any surgery is done so he or she can be prepared.

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