Common Health Issues and Concerns with Golden Retrievers

With their bubbly personalities and undying loyalty, you don’t have to spend much time with a Golden Retriever to see why they’re one of the most popular dog breeds in the United States. Whether you’re purchasing a Golden to be your hunting companion or a family friend, you can expect to enjoy many years with him.

When bred and cared for properly, Golden Retrievers have a life expectancy of 10 to 12 years and generally live healthy and active lives. As with any breed, however, there are some issues that are more common than others. Here are a few things that you’ll want to watch out for.

Hip Dysplasia

Hip Dysplasia illustration

Just like humans, a dog’s hip has a ball-in-socket joint. In healthy dogs, the thigh bone (femur) rotates smoothly inside the hip socket and is held in place by strong ligaments. When a dog has hip dysplasia, this mechanism doesn’t work properly. The problem can be caused by a socket that’s too shallow, an over-sized femur head, weak ligaments, or a combination of issues.

Left untreated, hip dysplasia can cause inflation, stiffness, and pain. In extreme cases, it can be completely debilitating. A Golden Retriever who is suffering from hip dysplasia will often have difficulty performing basic tasks like climbing chairs or jumping on and off the furniture. In advanced cases, running, walking, and even standing up can become a problem. Because of their jovial personalities, your Golden will likely still try to run and play even though he is in pain. This makes it important for owners to remain vigilant and seek veterinary care at the first indication of a problem.

Hip dysplasia is an inherited condition, so choosing a reputable breeder who conducts thorough health testing is your first line of defense. If your Golden does start to show signs of hip dysplasia, your veterinarian might recommend surgery, weight management, supplementation, physical therapy, and/or prescription medication.

Cancer

Unfortunately, Golden Retrievers are more likely to get cancer than any other dog breed. It’s estimated that 66 percent of male Golden Retrievers and 56 percent of females will die from some type of cancer. One of the most prevalent is hemangiosarcoma. This is a fast-growing and highly-invasive form of cancer that arises from the lining of the blood vessels. Other forms of cancer including lymphosarcoma, mastocytoma, and osteosarcoma are also common among Golden Retrievers.

While researchers aren’t sure why so many Golden Retrievers get cancer, there is some evidence that it’s at least partially related to genetics. Purchasing your puppy from a reputable breeder could help minimize this risk, at least slightly. More than anything, the key to keeping your dog healthy lies in being extremely vigilant. As with human cancers, early detection greatly improves the likelihood of a positive outcome. Taking your Golden Retriever for a veterinary checkup twice a year will help you find and treat health issues as quickly as possible.

Skin Conditions

Golden Retrievers have a thick, dense undercoat and a long, water-resistant outer coat that helps to protect them from weather conditions. While the fur important for your dog’s health, it can also leave them open to a variety of skin conditions by creating an environment where fungus and bacteria can grow and thrive.

Golden Retrievers are also prone to allergic reactions caused by parasites, mites, and ticks that can create skin problems or make already existing problems worse. Some Golden Retrievers also develop contact allergies from dust, mold, pollen, or other environmental irritants. Food allergies sometimes also present themselves in the form of skin conditions.

Regular bathing and grooming is one of the best ways to protect your dog from skin issues. It’s also important to provide your dog with parasite protection, like a flea and tick preventative. A dog with allergies will often have red, flaky, and itchy skin. They may scratch, lick, and chew the affected area and could develop an infection as a result. If you notice this behavior, you’ll want to bathe your dog with a soothing shampoo and visit a veterinarian before it gets worse.

Non-cancerous tumors and sebaceous cysts are also common among Golden Retrievers. If your dog develops a lump or bump, it’s always a good idea to have the vet check it out right away.

Cardio and Respiratory Conditions

Golden Retriever at the vet

Many large breed dogs, including Golden Retrievers, have problems with their heart, lungs, and circulatory system. One of the most common issues is a genetic disease called subvalvular aortic stenosis (SAS). This is a narrowing of the aorta that causes the heart to work harder than it normally would. The most common symptoms of SAS are weakness, lethargy, and difficulty breathing. Eventually, SAS can lead to death. Sometimes it’s difficult to tell if your Golden Retriever is lethargic because of a health issue or if he’s just being lazy. If your dog’s personality seems to have changed or he’s more lethargic than usual, a vet visit will help put your mind at ease.

Hypothyroidism

A malfunction of the thyroid gland, known as hypothyroidism, is another issue that Golden Retrievers sometimes face. The thyroid gland controls the distribution of hormones throughout your dog’s body and regulates his metabolism. When there’s a problem, your dog will often lose energy and gain weight. The texture of his coat might also change. Luckily, this issue is easily addressed with supplementation. Once diagnosed, your vet can advise you about the best course of action.

Cataracts

Blind Golden Retriever

Golden Retrievers are also prone to cataracts and eye problems caused by abnormalities of the eyelashes or eyelids. Left untreated, these issues can cause serious vision problems or even blindness. While many dogs develop cataracts in later years, Golden Retrievers sometimes have hereditary cataracts that can appear at any age.

The good news is, cataracts and other eye problems are often easy to treat and won’t become a serious issue as long as you address them right away. Proper nutrition, supplements, and special eye drops can all help prevent the development of cataracts.

Separation Anxiety

Perhaps because they’re so very loyal and loving, Golden Retrievers are extremely prone to separation anxiety. When left alone, they can become sullen and depressed, bark excessively, refuse to eat, destroy your property, or even show signs of aggression.

If your dog is showing signs of separation anxiety, never react harshly or punish him. This will only make matters worse. Instead, every time you leave the house, try to go out of your way to make it a positive experience. Make sure your dog gets plenty of exercise so he’s tired when you leave the house, and always leave toys around to keep him busy while you’re gone. If your dog continues showing extreme signs of anxiety despite your best efforts, take him to see your vet to discuss your options.

Other Health Issues

Some other, less common, issues that you might come across over the course of your Golden Retriever’s life include:

  • Ear infections
  • Epilepsy
  • Bloat
  • Luxating patella
  • Elbow dysplasia
  • Von Willebrand disease (VWD)

While it’s impossible to avoid all health problems, purchasing your puppy from a high-quality, reputable breeder can help you avoid some of the most common hereditary issues. Now that you understand what to watch out for and the importance of regular veterinary care, you’re in the best possible position to keep your Golden Retriever happy and healthy throughout his lifetime.

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