Cap Region Pets

Ask the expert: What von Willebrand disease means for your dog

Q: I am looking for a new dog, and I want a Doberman pinscher. I have contacted several breeders, and I fell in love with a really sweet female that is almost 1 year old.

She is less expensive than the other puppies that I found for sale. The breeder said it is because she has von Willebrand disease (VWD). I know the disease has to do with bleeding, but that seems really serious and possibly deadly if she gets a cut. I am worried she could bleed to death.

I really love her personality, but I can’t afford big bills. She is already spayed and has had all her vaccines.

A: Von Willebrand disease is a deficiency of a factor that is needed to help the blood clot properly. It can occur in any breed, but is more common in certain breeds.

Dogs that have low levels of this factor can have excessive bleeding from small injuries, such as cutting their mouth from chewing on a stick, or slicing a paw pad when running. Females may bleed excessively when they come into heat

Most of the time it is easily controlled and not life-threatening, unless it is a large injury, like getting hit by a car or a surgical procedure.

A test that measures the amount of VWD-factor in the blood can be useful to help your veterinarian know the severity of the condition. There is also a blood test for the gene in Doberman pinschers.

The test can show if the dog has two copies of the gene, which is called homozygous for the disease, or one copy of the gene, which is called heterozygous and is considered a carrier of the disease. The breeder probably already did this test and can tell you which form she has.

The good news is she has already been spayed. If she did not need any special care for that surgery, the chances are good that she will not need any in the future. Most dogs that are carriers for the gene and have greater than 55 percent VWD-factor seldom need any special treatment. They make good pets, but should not be bred.

If she has less than 55 percent VWD-factor or she is a homozygous for the gene, then she has more potential to have some issues. Dogs with lower levels may need to have a drug called desmopressin given to them prior to any elective surgeries. They also may need to have cryoprecipitate given to them intravenously prior to surgery.

Cryoprecipitate is a concentrated product made from blood that helps blood clot. Some dogs may also need a blood transfusion. All these things can increase the cost of a surgery.

Most people get dogs and then later find out that their dog has this disease when it has excessive bleeding from a simple cut or nose bleed. Many of these dogs live their lives without any major problems. It is important to know that the disease is present, so you can be prepared if an accident occurs.

I suggest you get the numbers from her testing and have your veterinarian review them and go over this dog’s specific needs.

Dr. Susan M. Baker received her degree at the University of Florida in 1985 and practices veterinary medicine in Palm Beach County, Florida.