Known Health Issues in Golden Retrievers

As adorably irresistible as the Golden Retriever may be, and no matter how great their temperament is, it is no secret that the breed struggles with some common health issues. Health issues in full breed dogs can be a result of overbreeding, or of simply having chosen to focus on some desired traits and qualities rather than to eliminate (or lower) the risk of physical illnesses, disorders, proneness to injury and/or general health problems, and it is good to be aware of potential risks when owning a Golden Retriever, or when considering acquiring a puppy.

Orthopedic Health Problems

+ Hip Dysplasia

Hip Dysplasia is a common problem in many dogs, especially in large and heavy breeds like the Golden Retriever, and it is a malformation of the hip socket, that can end up causing painful movements, limping, lameness and arthritis. It is a genetic and degenerative condition that can be helped or worsened by environmental factors, but that cannot be prevented or cured. There are, however, many forms of treatments available, to stop the condition from worsening, or to deal with already existing pain.

The first step is to have the Golden Retriever’s hip x-rayed and assessed by a licensed veterinarian, who can see what shape the hip is in and whether there are signs of hip dysplasia. This is usually done sometimes after the age of 2 when the dog has stopped growing and should be done as soon as possible since it is a condition that the dog is born with, and the sooner you start treating it – the better. For mild cases, it might often be enough with a good exercise plan (since strong muscle surrounding a weak joint is always beneficial), a nutritious diet, mild pain relief medication when needed and Glucosamine and Chondroitin supplements to strengthen the bones and joints.

In more severe cases, surgery might be the only option, where a hip replacement similar to a human hip replacement is carried out – switching out the damaged him and replacing it with an artificial joint. There are some cases where the veterinarian is able to go in and re-shape the existing joint to reduce pain already present, and to improve overall movement, but if a dog is deemed to have a hip joint that is too damaged or malformed – a hip replacement will be the recommended option.

+ Elbow Dysplasia

This condition is comparable to hip dysplasia, but the malformation instead presents itself in the elbow. Golden Retrievers are prone to both, and elbow dysplasia is usually discovered through preventive x-rays, or when the dog is found to limp from time to time, or possibly have the elbow “lock” itself during walks or playtime. When a dog suffers from Elbow Dysplasia; there is one or several abnormalities or malformations present in the elbow joint, and it especially affects the cartilage growth and the bone structures surrounding it.

The same treatments procedures are used here as when treating Hip Dysplasia, and in severe cases, a reconstructive surgery is necessary to try and fix the problem. These issues usually start presenting themselves already when the puppy is young, and the Golden Retriever is, unfortunately, one of the breeds that are prone to Dysplasia.

Skin Issues

As briefly mentioned above; the Golden Retriever is prone to hereditary health conditions, and another example is Canine Atopic Dermatitis. It is an allergy type skin disease which presents itself with itching (either mild or severe) and rashes, which when scratched can lead to hair loss, bald spots, irritation, skin damage, infections, and general discomfort. The best ways to deal with this is to choose a quality hypoallergenic kibble or dog food, to rule out food allergies being part of the issue. See more great foods for Golden Retrievers.

If the issue seems to worsen after the dog has spent time outside, then a wet cloth can be used to wipe them down after playtime, to limit the allergens present on the body. The paws should be carefully cleaned since the dog might otherwise lick the paws, then lick a different part of the body and transfer environmental allergens onto there.

Shampoos with oatmeal extract are known to have soothing effects on itchy skin, and it is another option for treating painful skin rashes and dermatitis in dogs. In severe cases, a veterinarian should be consulted for the possibility of prescribing antihistamines for the affected Golden Retriever.

Hereditary Golden Retriever Issues

We have already gone over hereditary orthopedic health problems like hip- and elbow dysplasia, but there are other hereditary conditions that Golden Retrievers are also prone to. It is important to remember that all pure breed dogs are prone to certain diseases and health issues, so while this list of medical conditions might seem somewhat intimidating, it is not just the Golden Retriever that battles with hereditary health issues, and not every dog is affected.

The Golden Retriever is known for having a few hereditary eye problems, which in severe cases could lead to loss of eyesight or even blindness. One alarming disease goes by the name of Golden Retriever Pigment Uveitis (GRPU), and it is an intraocular inflammation which in the worst of cases could lead to the removal of the eyes. Symptoms are squinting, conjunctival redness, abnormal or odd pupil shape and color changes to the iris, and while this might sound scary, there are ways to prevent it from developing into something irreversible, so if you notice changes in your Golden Retriever’s eyes – make an appointment with your veterinarian for a full evaluation and possible plan of action.

Two additional and commonly occurring eye problems in the breed are Cataracts and Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA), which can also be diagnosed by a veterinarian if- and when there is doubt. These do not affect all Golden Retrievers – far from it – but the breed seems more prone to developing the conditions that some other dog breeds, which is why it is important to be aware to possibly prevent.

Hormonal/Endocrine Diseases

About 25% of Golden Retrievers are affected by something called Hypothyroidism – a condition where the blood levels of thyroid hormone are a lot lower than what would be considered normal, something that is caused by Thyroid disease (a disease in the Thyroid glands). If caught in time, the damage done to internal organs such as kidneys and the brain can be minimalized, but the problem is that the disease can be difficult to recognize and/or diagnose.

Endocrine diseases are caused by too little- or too much of a hormone – a hormone imbalance – and can be caused by a variety of things. Only a veterinarian can make a proper diagnose and if possible find the cause of the problem, and many of these diseases are highly treatable, especially when caught in time. Golden Retrievers are big and wonderful dogs, but it is our responsibility as their owners to monitor changes in their behavior and physical aspect, to try and spot potential health problems as early on as possible.

Other/Uncommon Golden Retriever Health Issues

Below are a few diseases, illnesses and health conditions that don’t necessarily affect Golden Retrievers more than other dogs, but that you still want to be familiar with (as a dog owner), in case you are ever unfortunate enough to have to deal with them. Dogs do get sick, just like people, and the more knowledge you possess – the more likely are you to be able to help them if it happens.

+ Bloat

This is a scary word for any aware dog owner, as it is a life-threatening condition that is difficult to prevent, and that might happen in a matter of minutes. It is a condition that is also known as gastric dilatation-volvulus, and it is considered a medical emergency.

What happens is that the stomach fills with air, increasing pressure that stops the blood from the back part of the body from reaching the heart, which – long story short – sends the dog into a life-threatening state of shock. The stomach then flips, pulling along the pancreas and the spleen; preventing the blood from flowing freely. When the pancreas isn’t getting enough oxygen, it starts producing toxic hormones, and those hormones can stop the heart. As terrifying as this sounds, there is a chance of saving the dog if you can get him or her to the vet fast enough, so if you ever suspect that your dog might have bloat (enlarged and tense belly, pain when touching, restlessness, retching etc. etc.) – there is no time to lose, and you need to get to a veterinarian or an animal hospital ASAP.

+ Von Willebrand’s blood-clotting disease

This fairly common blood disease exists both in humans and in dogs, and it is a condition where there is a deficiency of an adhesive glycoprotein called the von Willebrand factor, and it prevents the blood from clotting normally. Golden Retrievers (along with German Shepherds, Shetland Sheepdogs, Standard Poodles, and Doberman Pinschers) are more prone to this than some other breeds, and it could result in heavy bleeding from the smallest of cuts, due to the blood’s inability to clot.

+ Cancer

All dog breeds are at risk for different types of cancer, unfortunately, but one of the cancer types that are frequently found in Golden Retrievers is Hemangiosarcoma, and it is cancer that affects the vascular endothelium (blood vessel walls). This cancer tends to mostly affect the heart and the spleen of the Golden Retriever, as well as those of the German Shepherd and the Labrador Retriever.

In 25% of the cases where a tumor is found in the spleen, there is also a tumor in the heart. Symptoms can vary, but lethargy, anorexia, and pale gums are common. It is always recommended to contact a vet if a dog starts acting different or has a change in general behavior and physique.

+ Heart disease

In Golden Retrievers, the most common heart condition is aortic stenosis. Golden Retrievers are prone to heart problems, and this particular one means that the heart’s aortic valve has a narrowing right above it, which partially obstructs the blood flow from the left ventricle and to the aorta. This, naturally, forces the heart to work a lot harder than it normally would, something that can cause problems, permanent organ damage, and even death.

+ Epilepsy

Epilepsy is the same in dogs as it is in people; presenting itself with seizures. Sometimes the symptoms may present themselves later in the dog’s life, and other times it starts already from puppyhood. Golden Retrievers are one of the dog breeds that are more likely to have this medical condition and depending on how often the seizures occur and how severe they are – the dog might need to be medicated daily for the rest of their lives.

+ Ear Infections

Another medical condition known to affect Golden Retrievers are yeast infections in the ears, along with persistent allergy symptoms affecting the ears. An ear infection can be discovered since the dog tends to shake their head in discomfort, scratch at the ears and present signs of a brown discharge from the ear canal. Severe ear infections can even affect the dog’s sense of balance and equilibrium, which is why when a dog seems a bit wobbly – the ears are almost always the first thing checked by a skilled veterinarian.

+ Snow Nose

This is not dangerous in any way, nor is it a cause for concern, but we will bring it up here to prepare Golden Retriever owners for an interesting phenomenon that might affect their dog at some point. “Snow nose” or “Winter nose” is when the normally black nose of a dog (often affects Golden Retrievers and Labrador Retrievers) suddenly turns brown or pinkish! It tends to happen during the winter, which is where the occurrence got its name from, and in most cases, the color goes back to black again in summer. As stated above, this is not dangerous, but if unsure of what you are dealing with – it is always best to check in with your trusted veterinarian.

Preventing Health Problems

Many of the above-mentioned health conditions are impossible to prevent, and the best thing you can do for your Golden Retriever is to pay attention to small changes in his or her behavior; such as a loss of appetite, weight loss, fatigue etc. etc. Nobody knows your dog as well as you do, and the earlier you can discover and diagnose a health issue – the bigger are the chances of your dog recovering with proper treatment.

Other than that – exercise, high-quality dog food, love, and attention are the best ways to prevent illness, disease and chronic injury and pain in your Golden Retriever. It is also important to make sure your dog stays at a healthy weight since excess weight puts more strain on bones and joints, which can be devastating for a dog prone to joint problems and pain. Pay attention, notice the small things, and provide your Golden Retriever with proper nutrition to stay strong and healthy for as long as possible.

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