A Veterinarian checks a dog for common health problems in Golden Retrievers

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Golden Retrievers are best known for their oozing energy and active lifestyle. As a responsible fur parent, our Goldies’ health and well-being are certainly our topmost priority.

We want to provide them with the best healthcare for a better quality of life since they do not live that long as compared to humans.

However, health issues are inevitable from occurring but prevention, early detection, and treatment of some common health problems in Golden Retrievers will save us more time and money.




Common Health Issues in Golden Retrievers

Orthopedic Disorders

Hip Dysplasia – This is a genetic orthopedic condition that occurs in growing Golden Retrievers. It is a deformity of the hip joint where the pelvic socket (acetabulum) and the ball joint (head of the femur bone) do not grow uniformly causing it to have a loose grip.

Golden Retriever is lying down on the examination table as the Veterinarian examines its hind leg.
Image Credit: Thirawatana Phaisalratana from iStock

Goldies having this condition experience mild to severe pain, stiffness, difficulty in shifting from sitting to standing position, lameness, and tapered stance on the hind legs. This condition is quite progressive resulting in muscle atrophy, increasing pain over time, and arthritis.

How to prevent it?

Preventing hip dysplasia cannot be truly met but alleviating its symptoms from progressing may just improve your Golden Retriever’s quality of life. Treatment options vary from surgical to non-surgical approaches.

Surgical treatment of the femoral and pelvic bone may not guarantee a 100% solution since not all Golden Retrievers can be a candidate for surgery.

Surgical procedures for severe hip dysplasia may be the best option for your dog, such procedures include:

  • Triple or Double Pelvic Osteotomy (TPO/DPO) – Performed in less than 10 months old Goldies
  • Total Hip Replacement (THP) – Intended for full-grown adult Golden Retrievers
  • Femoral Head Ostectomy – For Goldies aged 6 years old and above
  • For mild cases, lifestyle adjustments and medications are a better option as treatment such as:
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAIDs) and corticosteroid drugs
  • Joint Supplements
  • Low-impact or non-straining exercises (walking or underwater treadmill)
  • Weight reduction (for overweight to obese Goldies)
  • Proper nutrition (regulate high-fat food intake)

Patella Luxation – Also known as ‘knee dislocation’, where the kneecap moves sideways away from its normal position. This condition may be congenital or hereditary and can only be observed when Goldies reach at least 6 months of age.

Usual symptoms observed are intermittent limping, abnormal stance, swelling on the knee, reduced agility, and even pain when shifting from standing to sitting position and vice versa.

Treatment may vary from surgical to medical approach. Surgical treatment depends on the degree and cause of luxation.

However, most people push through with this approach to restore their pet’s normal stance regardless of the condition and possible complications postoperative.

Medical treatment includes the use of anti-inflammatory medications such as NSAIDs and steroids for pain management. As well as joint supplements that contain glucosamine, chondroitin, and cholecalciferol.

Cancer

Even Golden Retrievers are not spared from cancer. In fact, most cancers in dogs have a breed predilection and Golden Retrievers are on the top list.

Hemangiosarcoma – A malignant form of cancer that develops within the linings of the blood vessels. This deadly and invasive disease can originate in any part of the body but has an affinity for certain organs such as the spleen, liver, heart, and skin.

Due to its rapid growth in the body, most owners fail to notice early signs. Severe symptoms are often observed during the late stages.

Some dogs might develop a lump or mass in their skin which will eventually rupture. Other signs may include abdominal distention (due to splenic rupture), labored breathing, nosebleeds, hematemesis (vomiting of blood), pale gums, and other mucous membranes.

Mast Cell Tumor – This common type of skin tumor results from the formation of mast cells in certain areas of the body.

The formation of mast cells results in nodules and masses on the skin that affect the visceral organs, bone marrow, and lymph nodes. Some tumors may develop suddenly and rapidly in a short period while some take time to grow.

When these mast cell tumors start to degranulate (release toxic granules) inside the body it may result in certain symptoms such as vomiting, inappetence, lethargy, and bleeding.

Isolating the exact cause of any cancer is difficult since there is no straightforward reason as to how it develops in the body.

But it is known that several risk factors contribute to the development of cancer which includes, lifestyle, diet, breed preference, and age.

Detecting cancer at an early stage may help in reducing its progression, and improve your Goldies’ quality of life for a certain time.

Treatment may involve a series of chemotherapy sessions, lifelong medications, and surgical interventions.

Eye Problems

Distichiasis – It is a hereditary condition where extra eyelashes grow within the eyelid causing inflammation, corneal ulcers, and excessive eye discharges if left untreated.

This is a mild to severe condition depending on the hair quality (stiff or soft) and size.

Golden Retrievers do not typically show symptoms for mild cases (short and soft extra eyelashes). For severe cases, dogs often develop corneal ulcers, conjunctivitis, and abnormal blood formation on the corneal surface.

Distichiasis is easy to diagnose, veterinarians conduct thorough examinations by evaluating tear output and performing a test called fluorescein eye stain on the cornea of the eyes.

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Treatment only applies to those who show clinical signs. In moderate clinical cases, conservative treatment is applied which includes the use of eye lubricants that may or may not include antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.

The veterinarian is applying eye drops to the Golden Retrievers' eyes.
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It is impractical to pluck out these extra hairs since they will grow back and become more stiff and thick. Epilation may be a more suitable procedure.

However, this is not a permanent solution since this requires a repeated session every four to six weeks interval as maintenance.

Surgical removal of the hair follicles is recommended for severe cases or when all other procedures fail. But do take note this procedure is permanent and may alter the appearance of the eyelids depending on its severity.

Glaucoma – An eye condition that is brought about by the inadequate drainage of the eye fluid resulting in increased intraocular pressure. This condition can be classified into two categories – Primary and Secondary.

Primary glaucoma is a genetic-associated type that occurs most in healthy dogs making some breeds more susceptible and that includes our Golden Retrievers.

Secondary glaucoma, on the other hand, is the result of an injury or disease. Some of the most common causes of secondary glaucoma in Golden Retrievers are pigmentary uveitis, diabetes mellitus, nutritional disorders, tumor growth, and physical trauma to the eye resulting in bleeding and scarring.

Increased intraocular pressure may cause severe damage to the optic nerve resulting in impaired vision. Glaucoma is often seen as a white or bluish, cloudy appearance in the eye that often starts as a small dot and eventually covers the entire eyeball.

Some dogs experience pain when being touched near the eyes, increased ocular discharges, impaired vision to total blindness.

Glaucoma requires immediate medical attention. It is empirical to reduce the ocular pressure as soon as possible to avoid further damage or worse blindness.

For mild to moderate cases of glaucoma, oral and topical medications usually do the job. Oral medications such as analgesics, diuretics, and topical eye drops are given to reduce pressure and enhance drainage.

In severe cases, a combination of medical therapy and surgery is involved. As for the case of total blindness, the affected eye(s) must be removed to prevent infection and discomfort.

Monitoring glaucoma in Golden Retrievers is crucial since the condition might progress aggressively due to breed preference, their life stage (surgery may not be recommended for senior dogs), and the underlying cause of infection – tumor-caused glaucoma may be irreversible or difficult to manage.

N/B: Eye problems in Golden Retrievers can cause them to sleep with partially closed eyes as a way of managing the pain.

Epilepsy

Epilepsy is a disease of the brain that is characterized by a series of unprovoked and recurrent seizures which can result in circling and disorientation.

Golden Retrievers are one of the breeds that are predisposed to epilepsy. This neurological disorder can be classified into 2 categories based on its cause – Idiopathic and Structural.

Idiopathic Epilepsy – The exact cause of the condition is unknown. Although several risk factors such as genetics and breed may take into account this ‘idiopathic’ epilepsy.

Other triggering factors may also include hyper-excitation, mineral disorders, deficiency in diet, and stress.

Structural Epilepsy – Structural changes that primarily occur in the brain and other significant parts of the nervous system lead to epileptic seizures. Various cerebral infections, abnormalities, anomalies, and tumor growth provoke the occurrence of epileptic seizures.

Treating seizures varies from surgical interventions to radiotherapy to lifelong medications. However, in veterinary medicine, surgery may not be a good choice since only a few specialized neurosurgeons perform brain surgery. The prognosis is not that guaranteed and may lead to long-term complications.

Regular vet check-ups help manage epilepsy in Golden Retrievers as well as accurate medications, proper diet, and regular exercise.

Gastric-Dilatation-Volvulus complex (GDV)

Also known as ‘bloat’ in dogs where the stomach is filled with air causing gastric pressure to arise resulting in reduced blood flow in the surrounding blood vessels.

As the stomach increases air (dilatation) and pressure it eventually twists (volvulus) dragging the spleen and pancreas along with it making it hard for dogs to breathe.

This emergency condition requires immediate medical attention as most dogs die within just a few hours.

Now the problem is, it is hard to isolate the exact cause of bloat in dogs. However, several risk factors may contribute such as overfeeding or bulk feeding, strenuous activity right after eating, stress, age, and genetics.

Being one of the large, deep-chested breeds, about 7 out of 10 Golden Retrievers are more prone to experience bloat in just a few minutes and aggressively result in GDV in a few hours. As they age, they are more at risk of experiencing bloat brought on by reduced metabolism.

Bloat results in a distended abdominal area, shortness of breath, restlessness, pale gums, panting, retching, difficulty in sitting or standing, and wailing (when the abdomen is touched) due to pain. As mentioned, dogs go into shock and death, eventually, if GDV is left untreated.

For dogs under shock, vets stabilize the patient first before proceeding to surgery where the stomach is relieved from the gas and the stomach and other organs in cases of volvulus. 

As for bloat, a large hollow needle is inserted directly into the stomach releasing the gas and relieving the pressure on the stomach.

An old Golden Retriever is eating in a feeding bowl while lying down.
Image Credit: fury123 from iStock

Feeding your Goldies about 3 times daily in small rations rather than bulk feeding (once or twice daily) helps in reducing the occurrence of bloat.

It is also best to train your dogs to slowly eat by using slow-feeder bowls or just by elevating their food bowls to aid in proper digestion.

After eating, do not allow your Goldies strenuous activities such as running, swimming, and jumping to avoid stomach bloat.

Preventing bloat is nearly impossible but taking into account the following risk factors may just spare your Goldies from this life-threatening condition.

Skin Conditions

Atopic Dermatitis – This common skin problem in dogs did not spare Golden Retrievers at all. Atopic dermatitis is characterized by long-term itching and redness of the skin resulting in generalized skin lesions. It is usually caused by an antibody’s sensitivity to certain environmental allergens.

Golden Retrievers are on the top list when it comes to atopic dermatitis and is usually observed at an early age of 6 months up to adulthood (if no medical interventions are introduced). Signs may occur during certain seasons or upon exposure to a specific allergen.

Skin lesions such as red patches, papules (round elevated bumps), macules (flat discolorations), alopecia (hair loss), and keratinized skin are the signs of atopic dermatitis.

These signs may worsen if left untreated. Continuous scratching and licking of the skin lead to skin trauma and may lead to secondary infections such as bacterial and fungal infections.

There is no cure for atopic dermatitis but managing the disease and its symptoms is possible. Identifying the allergens and avoiding their exposure may be difficult but it is the best way to manage the signs. 

Medications for the skin lesions such as anti-itch shampoos and medicines, anti-inflammatories, and antibody shots are available but may not be recommended for some dogs since they may cause the signs to flare up and worsen.

So it is best to consult your veterinarian first to avoid incidents like this and for proper medication.

Hot spots – Irritation on the skin caused by licking, scratching, and biting results in a damaged patch of skin called a ‘hot spot’.

Golden Retrievers are susceptible to hot spots. Having thick undercoats, environmental allergens are easily trapped in their fur causing itchiness and irritation.

A focused image of a skin condition in a Golden Retriever.
Image Credit: cmannphoto from iStock

Frequent scratching and licking of the hot spot lead to bacterial infiltration causing it to have a foul smell, pus, and pain on the infected site.

Untreated hot spots grow larger and may spread as the dog keeps on biting and scratching other areas of the skin.

Hot spots are easy to treat and manage.

Treatment involves clipping the hair on the infected area, topical and oral antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, and medicated shampoos.

Managing hot spots should include avoidance of allergens and the use of e-collars to prevent them from licking and scratching.

Aortic Stenosis

This is a common congenital defect in most large breed dogs including our Golden Retrievers. It is a condition where the aortic valve of the heart is narrowed resulting in increased pressure on the heart to pump out oxygenated blood and thickened heart muscles.

Golden Retrievers having aortic stenosis are observed to have low exercise tolerance and experience fainting, weakness, stunted growth, congestive heart failure, and irregular breathing patterns.

Signs observed may vary depending on the severity of the narrowness of the aortic valve.

Veterinarians upon physical examination may observe these signs regardless of the degree of the disease, weak pulse rate, heart murmurs, and abnormal lung sounds.

Medical management of the symptoms is often the best option for aortic stenosis rather than open-heart surgery since most vets opt not to perform this kind of surgery because it is risky and does not guarantee life expectancy.




How Do I Know If My Golden Retriever Is Healthy?

Healthy Golden Retrievers are apparently active and responsive, take meals on scheduled time, and have no signs of any infections including but not limited to cough and colds, abnormal discharges, frequent itching, irregular stool, vomiting, etc. 

Healthy Goldies love to play, go on walks, emerge themselves in water, have smooth and fine coat texture, red to pink gums, moist noses, and a body score of 3 (not too malnourished and not too fat).




How To Keep a Golden Retriever Healthy

Keeping a Golden Retriever solely depends on the fur parent. Here are a few points to consider in keeping a Golden Retriever healthy:

Proper nutrition takes account first on top of all things to consider in ensuring the health of your Goldie. A balanced diet provides an adequate supply of energy necessary for your dog’s bodily activity needs.

It includes the right proportions of carbohydrates, proteins, fats, minerals, vitamins, and water. 

Having too much or less of one may result in certain illnesses, obesity, and deficiencies. So it is best to consult your veterinarian in choosing the best food that is suitable for your Goldie since there are a lot of dog foods available in the market.

Regular exercise is as important as a proper diet, especially for Golden Retrievers who are known to be energetic. Taking them out on daily walks is the best way to keep them fit and active. Running and swimming can also be incorporated but may be regulated on Goldies with orthopedic conditions.

Regular grooming is a must to keep a Golden Retriever healthy. Having double-layered coats requires frequent combing and brushing to maintain that smooth and silky hair and to remove trapped allergens in their undercoats.

It also prevents the formation of mats or clumps of hair. As a responsible fur parent, it is also best to take them to grooming shops regularly for a full grooming session.

A Golden Retriever is having a bath.
Image Credit: ArtistGNDphotography from iStock

Regular vet check-ups: This is an inevitable routine for every dog owner. Regular vet check-ups may vary from weekly to monthly to bi-annually depending on your dog’s life stage and existing condition.

Taking them to the vet regularly will keep them in their best condition by applying preventive care (vaccine shots, tick & flea prevention, etc.). As well as early detection of certain diseases and managing them properly.




Frequently Asked Questions

1.) What is the most common disease in Golden Retrievers?

Being one of the breeds predisposed to Atopic Dermatitis, about 6 out of 10 Golden Retrievers have the chance of acquiring this disease.

2.) What is the most common cause of death in Golden Retrievers?

Cancer is one of the most common causes of death in Golden Retrievers. About 60% of Goldies die from cancer.

3.) What is the lifespan of a Golden Retriever?

As a large breed dog, Golden Retrievers may live up to 10 to 15 years on average.




Conclusion

Providing what is necessary for our Golden Retrievers gives them a healthy and sustainable quality of life.

However, certain health problems are inevitable to happen regardless of a healthy lifestyle and the best healthcare provided.

Although we can avoid acquiring some of these health problems. For genetic or hereditary conditions, it is best to trace the lineage and check for occurrences of the disease from both the dam and sire to reduce the chances of having the condition appear in your Golden Retriever.

As cliche as it may sound, regular vet-check ups are very important to keep your dogs healthy and track their health condition for possible illnesses.

Written By
Dr. Christine Awing DVM_Profile-Photo (Custom)
Dr. Christine Awing (DVM)

Christine is a Doctor in Veterinary Medicine. As the in-house vet and writer for Furs'n'Paws, Christine shares her extensive knowledge and expertise on all things pet-related, with a particular focus on small animals such as dogs and cats. In addition, she runs her own clinic in the Philippines and volunteers at a local organization to help stray pets. Her commitment to animal health is evident in her writing style, which makes her an invaluable resource for pet owners and animal lovers.

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