Von Willebrand disease (vWD) can cause a serious, and sometimes deadly, bleeding disorder in domestic dogs. The disease disrupts normal blood clotting functions and causes excessive bleeding from even superficial wounds. Von Willebrand disease cannot be “cured,” but it can be managed so as to increase a dog’s chances of recovering fully after a traumatic or surgical event. The goals of treating dogs with vWD are to control spontaneous bleeding, reduce the frequency of induced bleeding episodes and correct any underlying conditions that might contribute to the dogs’ bleeding disorder.
Dogs that bleed excessively during surgery, despite having had no known exposure to anticoagulant or antiplatelet substances (such as rodent bait or aspirin), should be suspected of having von Willebrand disease. They may require one or more blood transfusions to restore appropriate levels of von Willebrand factor, which is essential to normal blood clotting. Several transfusions are usually required, especially in dogs with severe disease. Bleeding at local wound sites can be controlled by appropriate supportive care, including sutures, pressure wraps, tissue glue and/or bandaging. Steps can be taken to boost the dog’s blood-clotting ability so that surgery carries fewer risks. Dogs known to be affected can be given clotting factors and medications intravenously before surgery, to prevent dangerous bleeding episodes.
Dogs with von Willebrand disease should not engage in rough play with other dogs, or with their owners. Even light injuries to their joints or body can become problematic. Soft food and treats may be appropriate if dry kibble causes excessive bleeding of the gums. Hard bones, cookies or rawhide “chewies” probably should be avoided. Dog’s with von Willebrand disease have a tendency to develop a hypothyroid condition. Annual thyroid tests should be performed every year on affected animals. If a dog develops hypothyroidism, life-long oral medication can help control the condition.
Drugs with antiplatelet or anticoagulant effects should be avoided in dogs with vWD. These include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), estrogens, cytotoxic medications, heparin, coumadin, plasma expanders and sulfonamide antibiotics.
Most dogs with blood clotting disorders caused by vWD have a good prognosis for a fairly normal quality and length of life, with only occasional transfusions being necessary. Dogs with more severe forms of the disease may require repeated and aggressive transfusion therapy. They should be blood-typed and cross-matched, to assist is selection of appropriate blood donors.