Q: I am breeding on of my Doberman females for the first time and want to put together information on the breed’s inherited diseases. I cannot find clear information on von Willebrand’s disease. Can you please explain this condition?
A: Von Willebrand’s disease is the most common inherited bleeding disorder of dogs and humans. The condition is caused by decreased levels or activity of von Willebrand’s factor, a protein that circulates in the bloodstream after release from the bone marrow or the lining of blood vessels. This factor has essential functions in the coagulation, or blood clotting, system. Von Willebrand’s disease has been identified in many breeds of dogs, some of which are the Doberman Pinscher, Scottish Terrier, Shetland Sheepdog, Standard Poodle, German Shepherd Dog and Chesapeake Bay Retriever.
Blood vessels are constantly subjected to stress from inside and outside the body. This stress occurs during normal activity, injury and surgery. Damage to the blood vessels’ lining results and can cause bleeding if the blood does not clot normally. Circulating blood cells called platelets are primarily responsible for plugging these damaged areas. Von Willebrand’s factor is an extremely important part of the “glue” that recognizes damaged areas of blood vessels, attaches and allows platelets to adhere to the site. Without the factor, platelets are unable to perform their function fully, and bleeding results. Hemorrhage may occur as bruising, nose bleeds, prolonged bleeding after relatively minor injury or surgery, or bleeding into body cavities and joints. Between bleeding episodes, affected dogs appear normal, so it is important that high-risk breeds be checked for bleeding tendencies before surgery or breeding.
A relatively quick, simple test of bleeding time can be performed in your veterinarian’s office to help screen for von Willebrand’s disease. Further laboratory testing is also available to help evaluate and confirm the condition. Traditional blood tests focus on determining the amount of von Willebrand factor present relative to normal dogs. Results do not always correlate with bleeding tendencies or likelihood of the tested dog to pass the disease genes to its offspring. New genetic testing is available for certain breeds, including Doberman Pinschers, that allows for detection of von Willebrand’s disease at the genetic level. This new testing should help eliminate this frustrating disease from affected breeds. I commend you for your efforts at responsible breeding and addressing rather than ignoring inherited diseases. Good luck!