Second-year vet school has been a lot more disease-focused than first-year, and we have an entire class devoted to learning about disorders of erythrocytes (red blood cells), leukocytes (white blood cells), and thrombocytes (platelets). This has probably been my favorite class of the second year, and I have really enjoyed learning about all the different disease processes that can occur. One disease that I had heard about prior to veterinary school but did not really understand until this class is called von Willebrand’s Disease (vWD).
Von Willebrand’s disease is the most common inherited bleeding disorder in dogs, but it has been reported in other species. vWD happens when von Willebrand’s factor is not made or not made correctly. This factor is important for helping clots form by adhering platelets to the vessel wall. Without von Willebrand’s factor, dogs have trouble clotting which can lead to prolonged or excessive bleeding. You can read more about vWD and other bleeding disorders here.
vWD is most commonly seen in breeds like Doberman Pinschers and German Shepherds, though there are others that can be affected. Thanks to advances in genetic testing it is quite simple to find out if a patient could be affected by vWD. This is important for both clients who have recently gotten a dog that may be affected by vWD and for clients who may be interested in breeding dogs who could potentially be affected. A study done by the VCA Hospital screened 15,000 Dobermans and found that 70% of them were carriers for the disease. You can read more about that study here. As a veterinarian, this is something that is important to discuss with owners of affected breeds about before doing surgical procedures since they may be at an increased risk of prolonged bleeding.
I find the coagulation pathway fascinating and learning about diseases that affect it equally interesting. Von Willebrand’s Disease is one of many diseases that can inhibit coagulation, but it is the most common cause. Learning about diseases like it has been really exciting as a vet student!