"von Willebrand Disease blood disorder" is a double misnomer, vWD is neither a disease nor a disorder, it's a defect: An inherited deficiency in the blood clotting factor vWF (von Willebrand Factor), a fibrin protein that in healthy individuals helps the blood's platelets to bond, forming a clot that stops the bleeding.
The von Willebrand defect (vWD) is the most common bleeding defect, and hence discussed here. But note that there are others, for example the rare bleeding defect hemophilia (also both in people and in dogs), and even rarer is an acquired bleeding disorder.
vWD describes the condition that there is a mutation existing in the genetic code that causes prolonged bleeding after injury, surgery, dental work or the like in every dog that has this mutation.
As with people, vWD in dogs has been classified into three types: vWD type 1, 2, and 3, with a further four subtypes of type 2: A, B, M, and N. All based on the concentration and quality of plasma vWF in the affected dog or person.
It is now known that vWD type 1, 2A, 2B, and 2M are subject to dominant inheritance (one vWD parent is enough to pass it on), while vWD type 2N and type 3 are subject to recessive inheritance (only passed on when both parents have it).
Fortunately, the vast majority of both people and dogs have vWD type 1, the mildest form of bleeding defect. So mild that most people and dog owners don't know they have it.
Note that only DNA testing provides assurance over vWD, an ELISA antibody blood test does not because the amount of vWF in the blood naturally fluctuates over time. However, these days DNA testing whether a dog carries the defect or not can be done with simple mouth swab DNA test kits.
Who Suffers vWD
vWD equally affects male and female dogs alike because the gene mutation is not on the sex chromosome (X).
- vWD type 1: ~70% of all vWD cases, the mildest form, affected are a wide variety of dog breeds, foremost (in this order): Doberman, Manchester Terrier, Pembroke Welsh Corgi, Bernese Mountain Dog, and Poodle.
- vWD type 2 and all subtypes: ~25% of all vWD cases, affected are almost only pointing breeds, like the German Wirehaired Pointer.
- vWD type 3: <5% of all vWD cases, the most severe form, affected are primarily Shetland Sheepdogs and Scottish Terriers.
Fortunately, vWD in German Shepherd Dogs is rare compared to all those breeds above (any type of vWD).
Since vWD is hereditary, both parent dogs of the commonly affected breeds should be tested for this defect before breeding. Genetic testing is of importance also because an affected dog should not be administered certain drugs (see further below). And if done during bleeding episodes then administering those drugs can be fatal!
Be aware that vWD does not always show as external bleeding, it can be hidden internal bleeding, most commonly bleeding into joints. This then misleads ordinary allopathic vets to believe the dog has ordinary Arthritis - which with dogs 6 years of age and younger should never be accepted as diagnosis: such young dogs almost certainly have something else.
Remember here that allopathic vets don't diagnose the cause of a condition, only mere symptoms, and for example bleeding into joints triggers the same symptoms as Arthritis. Hence why when they only look at symptoms and they fail to address the cause, they never achieve cure - and soon you go back with more symptoms.
- prolonged nosebleeds that seem inexplicable
- prolonged gum bleeding that seems inexplicable
- prolonged bleeding from minor cuts to paws or elsewhere
- black and tarry stool or blood in the stool that seems inexplicable
- blood in the urine that seems inexplicable
- Arthritis symptoms in young dogs, where in fact these symptoms may result from bleeding into the joints.
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 on the body for more than 10 minutes, the cause could be an inherited bleeding defect, or rarely the trigger could be an acquired bleeding disorder.
Prolonged bleeding is a big risk: Without immediate medical attention an injured dog or person may bleed to death. Surgery is high risk too, despite that medical attention is right there.
As with all inherited defects, the key to prevention is to not breed affected dogs and then even have uninformed dog owners pay for the handicapped puppies! Unfortunately many dog breeders (backyard and professional breeders alike) are just as uninformed - or unscrupulous.
If ever you plan to pay a breeder good money for a dog (rather than a processing fee to a shelter), I would strongly suggest that you help to prevent all inherited defects: Insist that the breeder pays for all available genetic tests for both parent dogs before you emotionally grow attached to a dog from the breeder (this is the breeders' trick).
Thoroughly review the documents showing that both parents were found to be free of all genetic defects. And insist on this change in their proposed contract: If the dog that you pay good money for later turns out to have any inherited defect, the breeder will have to pay you 5 or better 10 times the amount you paid them.
It is now that the dishonest breeders will walk away. And at some point they will leave the market altogether if only most dog owners insist on this kind of contract. Because no law, only financial pain gets uninformed or unscrupulous people to become considerate.
Be aware that the German Shepherd breed too 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.
For key GSD countries we have ever growing directories on mygermanshepherd.org:
Also note that if you, or the breeder, have "observed that the dog or the breeding parent dogs don't show symptoms of genetic defects", this doesn't say much at all: many defects are not outright symptomatic, they show only later in life or only in specific circumstances.
This is why some physicians rightfully make the point that vWD typically does require a trigger before the inherited gene defect actually prevents proper blood clotting. In other words, there are known cases of incomplete penetrance, where the gene defect exists but not yet the symptom, blood clotting is not yet reduced.
The only proof of absence of genetic defects is genetic testing for those defects.
How to avoid bleeding incidents
If you have a dog with (suspected) vWD, hemophilia, or a related bleeding defect, you must try to avoid activities where the dog could sustain an injury that would lead to bleeding, external or internal. Easier said than done, with a dog like a GSD, I know.
In particular aim to avoid:
- dog fights
- rock-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 as a visible laceration!
If you notice some of the warning signs of vWD and you are concerned that your dog may have a bleeding defect, it would be sensible to rule out genetic bleeding defects as the cause before you embark on the allopathic odyssey of addressing ever more symptoms.
Remember here our research result that most veterinarians are much more costly than what you pay at your first visit, because the allopathic treatment protocol of treating symptoms typically causes more health problems than what you came for.
If the bleeding seems severe to you, or even if it is very minor bleeding (say from the gums) that doesn't seem to stop even after an hour or more, obviously visit a quality veterinarian right away. 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 if they learned of the differences of medical belief systems.
Either way, make sure the vet identifies the cause of the prolonged bleeding. Do not pay for a diagnosis that merely gives some symptoms a name so that the veterinarian can justify the prescription of some drugs!
To treat vWD medically, a lot has been trialled but at the time of writing nothing works reliably for every dog. Very few drugs seem to help some affected dogs (not all dogs), and their active ingredient 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. Since you even have to pay for that, you may not find that a good bargain.
A more costly medical alternative is transfusion of blood or plasma of a healthy dog with the same blood type, or recombinant blood clotting factors. To increase the vWF blood clotting potential in the donated blood or plasma, sometimes the donor dog is given desmopressin acetate, but that's equally bad for the donor dog then.
What to do in an acute bleeding incident
In the case of bleeding that doesn't seem to stop as described above, 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 liquid bandage. Because in a case of a bleeding defect, swift action can make all the difference.
If a surgery is unavoidable, the vet will try to substitute for the lack of proper blood clotting proteins with medicaments including their "side effects" like I mentioned above. For now, there is no known cure for vWD. Hence why avoiding bleeding incidents for affected dogs is critical.
Medications that spark or aggravate bleeding episodes
Since ordinary allopathic vets even vaccinate sick dogs(!) and prescribe steroids at the same time(!), you cannot rely on your vet to avoid problematic medicaments. So better take note yourself that the subsequent medicaments are particularly risky for vWD dogs, or more generally, risky for dogs with prolonged bleeding:
- Steroids and NSAIDs
- Sulfa-based antibiotics
- Ampicillin and Amoxicillin
- Phenothiazine tranquilizers
There are certainly more vWD risky drugs, since 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 because stress aggravates bleeding episodes too. Most stress in dogs comes from the Pack conflict a dog experiences in the family Pack, because such Pack conflict causes permanent stress, even more stress than fear (say of another dog, or of thunderbolts).
Can you give back a bit today?