Von Willebrand's Defect


"Von Willebrand's Disease (vWD) blood disorder" is a double misnomer, it's neither a disease nor a disorder, it's a defect.

I link this Periodical so often because it is the most fundamental to understand any kind of health problem. And understanding a health problem necessarily comes before the cure. This is the very reason why so many modern health problems have no cure. You can't fly a plane when you think of driving.

Once you understand my point here, you are a huge step closer to finding cure for the health problem you or your dog may be facing at some point.

Mark that, cure, because all western allopathic physicians target symptoms, not cure. Since they don't cure you or your dog, you have to come back. For more consultations, more diagnoses, more treatments, more drugs. All of which makes them more money.

This is the economics of medicine. And so, when allopathic physicians say "I want to help you" they do say the truth, no doubt. But their full offer is: "I want to help you not to experience those symptoms anymore". And sometimes they succeed, those symptoms are gone.

Only problem, the body soon shows its sickness with other symptoms - for which you will have to come back, and pay again. Like I said, this is the economics of medicine!

So, "von Willebrand's Disease" actually is a defect, an inherited deficiency in the blood clotting factor (von Willebrand's Factor, vWF) which prevents proper blood clotting.

That's a big risk: Without immediate medical attention an injured dog may bleed to death. Surgery is high risk too, despite that medical attention is right there. This defect is similar to hemophilia in people.

As with people, there are three classifications of this defect: vWD Type I, II, and III. These are based on the concentration and quality of plasma vWF in the affected dog.

Five gene mutations have been identified that cause the three types of vWD in canines. All five gene mutations are considered recessive, which means for the offspring to have the defect both parents must have the defect.

Simple mouth swab DNA tests have been developed for all five of these mutations. The DNA tests allow unambiguous delineation whether a dog carries the defect or not.

Who Gets vWD

This condition is still fairly common among German Shepherds, although the German Shepherd breed is not at particular risk of carrying vWD (the Doberman is). It equally affects male and female dogs alike.

Since vWD is hereditary, both parent dogs should be tested for this defect before breeding. GSDs primarily have the milder Type 1 vWD if any.

A genetic test also is of importance because an affected dog should not be administered certain drugs (see below). And if done during bleeding episodes, administering certain drugs may well be fatal!

Warning Signs

  • prolonged nosebleeds that seem inexplicable
  • prolonged gum bleeding that seems inexplicable
  • black and tarry stool or blood in the stool that seems inexplicable
  • blood in the urine that seems inexplicable
  • Arthritis symptoms already in very young dogs (same symptoms as Arthritis but here resulting from bleeding into the joints)

There you have yet another reason why I always warn not to follow the fatal mistake of allopathic physicians that focus on symptoms, instead of the cause of an ailment!

In case of Arthritis symptoms, be aware that - unlike as for Arthritis - Nutramax Dasuquin with MSM does nothing for vWD.

Preventing vWD

If ever you plan to pay a breeder money for a dog, make sure the breeder paid for all available DNA tests of inheritable defects, for both parents, before undertaking the breeding venture. Here, thoroughly review the documents showing that both parents were found to be free of the five vWD mutations.

And if you can imagine that you might later wish to breed your dog or to provide your dog to someone for breeding purposes, make sure your dog has been tested for all inheritable defects that DNA tests exist for at that time, and has been found to be unaffected by all of them.

This is your only chance that your dog, or its puppies, won't carry a defect and won't contribute to further deterioration of the breed. This is responsible dog ownership.

Be aware that the German Shepherd breed is in such bad state these days because in past days few dog owners have been as strict as is necessary to stop breeders from acting irresponsibly.

Also note that if you have observed that your dog or a breeding parent dog does not suffer excessive bleeding then this does not mean that the dog is unaffected. Because the vWD defect is not outright symptomatic. Meaning, it does not necessarily manifest in excessive bleeding from birth, instead the onset often occurs only later in life.

This is why some physicians rightfully make the point that vWD typically does require a trigger before the inherited gene abnormality actually prevents proper blood clotting. In other words, there are known cases of incomplete penetrance, ie where the gene defect exists but not the symptom yet, blood clotting is not reduced.

There you have yet another reason why I always warn not to follow the fatal mistake of allopathic physicians that focus on symptoms, instead of the cause of an ailment.

Also, this is the reason why I stressed above to have both parents tested before breeding, and before buying a puppy or adult dog. The only situation where we cannot do that is when we get a rescue dog.

Whether you plan to get your next GSD from a breeder or from a rescue, for key GSD countries we have ever growing directories of both on mygermanshepherd.org:

Rescue Directories

Breeder Directories

Treating vWD

If you think it's possible that your dog may have vWD, the first sensible step would be to pay for a vWD DNA test, it's cheaper than paying for a vet visit with uncertain outcome.

Remember here our research result that most veterinarians are much more costly than what you pay: The average veterinarian causes more health problems than what you came for.

Whether or not you take that first step, if suddenly you notice prolonged bleeding of your dog - even if it seems only minor (say from the gums) but it doesn't seem to stop - then vWD is likely.

So now take your dog to a quality veterinarian or better, if you live close, take your dog to an animal hospital. That's where quality veterinarians are much more likely to be found. Have them determine the genuine cause of the prolonged bleeding.

What is "prolonged" bleeding?

The normal bleeding time depends on where the bleeding occurs, and can be anywhere between 1 to 10 minutes. This means, if your dog is bleeding anywhere for more than 10 minutes, a Blood Disorder or blood clotting disorder is likely.

To treat vWD medically, a lot has been trialled. However nothing works reliably at the time of writing. Very few drugs seem to help some affected dogs (ie not all dogs), and their active substance typically is desmopressin acetate which causes severe allergic reactions in most dogs. Basically you are trading a little bit of vWD relief for a lot of mental and physical demise of the dog.

A more costly medical alternative is transfusion of blood or plasma of a healthy dog with the same blood type. To increase the vWF blood clotting potential in the donated blood or plasma, sometimes the donor dog is given desmopressin acetate, but that's bad for the donor dog then.

In cases of a bleeding injury, have a self-assembled dog first aid kit at hand, and be sure you practice quick application of band aid plaster, of bandaging tape with a dressing, and of a liquid bandage. With a vWD dog, swift action can make all the difference.

If a surgery is unavoidable, the vet will make use of the treatments mentioned earlier. Either way, there is no known cure for vWD until an artificial blood clotting factor has been found.

If you have a dog with vWD, you must try to avoid activities where your dog could sustain an injury that would lead to bleeding. Easier said than done, with a dog like a GSD!

In particular you must avoid:

  • dog fights
  • hard chew toys
  • cutting into the quick during nail trimming
  • breeding a female dog, giving birth
  • surgeries, including spaying/neutering
  • any exercise where injury is likely, including those involving jumping.

Note that some injuries lead to internal bleeding that you won't notice but that poses the same risk for a vWD dog as a laceration!

Now the medications that you must avoid if you think it's possible that your dog may have vWD, because these drugs may spark or aggravate a bleeding episode:

  • Steroids and NSAIDs
  • Aspirin
  • Ibuprofen
  • Antihistamines
  • Phenylbutazone
  • Sulfa-based Antibiotics
  • Estrogens
  • Ampicillin and Amoxicillin
  • Penicillin
  • Phenothiazine tranquilizers
  • Heparin
  • Theophylline

There certainly are more, as new drugs are being developed all the time.

Make sure you consider all the points raised above when you assemble your dog's first aid kit. No off-the-shelf kit is complete, and less so, suitable for a vWD dog.

Finally, dogs with vWD must be spared stress. Most stress in dogs comes from the Pack conflict a dog experiences in the family Pack. Because such Pack conflict causes permanent stress, and even more stress than fear (say of another dog, or thunderbolts). Hence why I have already linked this Periodical for you here.


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