von Willebrand Disease

von Willebrand disease, while an uncommon congenital disease, occurs among about 50 breeds of dog and is prevalent in Doberman Pinschers, German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, Standard Poodles, German Shorthair Pointers and a few other breeds. It is characterized by an abnormally low blood-clotting factor known as the von Willebrand Factor or vWF.

von Willebrand’s is very similar to hemophilia in humans. Like hemophilia, it causes excessive bleeding because the affected animal’s blood has insufficient plasma proteins necessary for normal platelet-collagen binding. The symptoms may not become obvious until the dog undergoes surgery or experiences a traumatic injury, at which point the unexpected prolonged bleeding can threaten the dog’s life.

Methods to determine a dog’s vWF include bleeding time assessments where a small incision in a dog’s gums is timed, with 2 to 4 minutes being normal for cessation of bleeding. Blood tests are also available to quantify the vWF in the bloodstream, and there is also a fairly recent genetic test that can identify both clinically affected and genetic carrier dogs, based upon their DNA. This is the most accurate diagnostic test currently available for von Willebrand disease.

von Willebrand disease has been found only in a couple of the Dobermans that DRNM has taken in over the years, less than 1% of our rescues. In both cases, the dogs were not severely affected by the disease and have lived normal lives without incident.

Wobbler Disease (CVI)

Wobbler disease, also known as Spondololithesis or Cervical Vertebral Instability (CVI), is caused by the compression or malformation of the lower cervical vertebrae. The disease form of the syndrome is most prevalent in Dobermans and Great Danes, but is relatively rare overall. Like arthritis in humans, individual dogs can either have early onset of the disease, like rheumatism, or develop the condition starting in older age with increasing severity over time.

Symptoms include an affected gate starting in the rear legs and becoming more obvious in all movement as the condition progresses. Dogs may appear drunk or drugged and have a particularly hard time turning sharply or getting up from a prone position.

Causes are attributed to many things, including genetics, fast growth rate during puppyhood, stress due to prolonged collar/leash pressure and possibly bending to eat at ground level. Individuals that are most likely to develop the condition have the typically sought-after muscular long necks that are seen in Dobermans and Great Danes. Feeding large dogs like this with elevated food bowls and using a harness instead of a collar is suggested to help prevent the development of CVI.

Diagnosis and treatment are difficult and carry no guarantees. Veterinarians can do some physical tests to look for signs of Wobbler as well as X-rays, but mylograms (dye injected into the spinal column and X-rayed) are the most revealing and expensive. In some cases surgery can help to correct the problem.

DRNM has taken in 4 elder dogs for hospice with this condition. There is no pain involved, only a slow degradation of motility. Acupuncture can alleviate the symptoms as well as chiropractics. DRNM has never taken in a true Wobbler disease Doberman, although we have met a couple of these very special pups.