What You Need to Know About Von Willebrand Disease

This disease causes blood to have trouble clotting, making surgical procedures for our furry friends risky.

If pets have trouble with blood that doesn’t clot, the culprit may be Von Willebrand disease. By: Pexels

What would you do if your 1-year-old, apparently healthy pup was out-of-the-blue diagnosed with a potentially life-threatening health condition?

Unfortunately, this isn’t a hypothetical question.

In fact, it’s a dilemma that one of my clients recently had to face.

Post-Op Complications

Meet Kerry, a stunning Irish Wolfhound: tall, elegant and slightly aloof. He’d just reached his 1st birthday, and as a sort of coming-of-age present, he was booked in for neutering.

The surgery itself went smoothly: all blood vessels securely tied off, no bleeding and intradermal sutures so neat it was hard to see where the incision had been made.

Unhappily, a few hours later, Kerry developed complications. There was blood on his bedding. Checking Kerry out, his scrotum has swollen to the size of a small eggplant, and there was a steady drip-drip-drip of blood from the incision.

None of this made sense. There had been no problem during surgery and everything was securely tied off. Why bleed now? The answer niggling at the back of my mind was that Kerry had a clotting disorder.

Emergency Treatment

To stem the seepage, a pressure bandage was applied to the surgical site. Kerry was also put on an IV to replace the fluid lost through bleeding. A small blood sample was also taken to monitor the blood loss and check for clotting factors.

Kerry was the “walking wounded” and not yet critically ill, but the writing was on the wall if he continued to bleed. With this in mind, he was hospitalized for close monitoring. Happily, he had a good night.

Had Kerry continued to bleed, he would have needed a blood transfusion to replace the lost fluid. This also has the added benefit of topping up his ability to clot blood from the clotting factors present in the donor blood.

Kerry went home and continued to improve, with his scrotum reducing to the size of a small apple over the next few days.

This disease seems more common in some particular breeds, like the Miniature Pinscher. By: syesko

Von Willebrand Disease

The blood test came back positive for Von Willebrand disease. This condition means the dog doesn’t produce enough Factor VIII or Von Willebrand’s factor.

The job of Factor VIII is to glue a clot together so that it plugs a gap. Without it is like building a brick wall without mortar — it’s easy to push the wall over. In practical terms, this means the affected dog produces poor-quality blood clots that break up too easily.

This is a hereditary condition, meaning it’s passed down from the parent dogs to the pups. (Obviously, those parents should not be bred from again, and neither should affected dogs be bred from.)

Timing

Kerry had seemed normal up until his surgery. This is typical in many cases because it’s usually an operation or an injury that first highlights their clotting difficulties.

You see these dogs have a certain amount of Factor VIII circulating, which they use up plugging small “holes” with the bumps and knocks of everyday life. However, when the dog has surgery, even with the best hemostatic control, their supply of Factor VIII soon get used up. And then the dog starts to bleed.

It’s also worth knowing that this isn’t a one-size-fits-all condition. Some dogs with Von Willebrand have only slightly low levels, while others will be critically low. This has implications for how well or poorly they clot blood in an emergency.

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