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6 Common Golden Retriever Health Issues: What You Need To Know

Tara Maurer

Last Updated: June 12, 2024 | 7 min read | Leave a Comment

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Sick golden retriever laying on bed with ice pack on head.
Image credit: 135pixels, Shutterstock

Every Golden Retriever I’ve met has exhibited a few traits that have made them a go-to for families and singles alike. These dogs are friendly, happy-go-lucky, and affectionate. They are eager to please, smart, and highly trainable. They’re also athletic and ready for any adventure. 

Unfortunately, Goldens also share a predisposition for specific health concerns. Here are six common Golden Retriever health issues you should know about.

6 Common Golden Retriever Health Issues

Golden retriever dog get an allergy shot by doctor with owner holding dog's head.

Overall, the Golden Retriever is considered a healthy breed; however, there are certain health problems that these lovable dogs are prone to develop. Here are six common health issues for Golden Retrievers.

1. Allergies & Skin Conditions

Goldens are often afflicted by allergies, which can cause itching and inflammation on the skin and ears. This breed is also prone to a skin condition called congenital ichthyosis, which causes skin scaling. Other skin conditions commonly seen in Goldens include external ear infectionshot spots, contact dermatitis, and demodectic mange.

Symptoms

Symptoms of allergies and skin conditions vary. You’ll likely notice your pet licking their skin and scratching or shaking their head to relieve pain or itching.

Treatment

Again, treatment will vary depending on the condition. Your veterinarian may prescribe antihistamines or steroids for allergies. If an infection has developed, antibiotics may be required. A topical spray or cream can relieve itchiness and reduce inflammation in mild cases. 

2. Cancer

A few types of cancer, in particular, are cause for concern among this dog breed:

  • Hemangiosarcoma: This aggressive cancer originates in the cells that create blood vessels. It can spread throughout the body, with blood-filled tumors often forming in the spleen.
  • Lymphoma: Lymphoma refers to cancer starting in the lymphocytes—a type of white blood cell that plays a role in the body’s immune system.
  • Mast cell tumors: While often looking similar to other skin lumps and lesions, mast cell tumors are a type of skin cancer. This cancer can also affect other body areas, such as the liver, intestine, spleen, and bone marrow.

Symptoms

Early detection is critical for any cancer. Common warning signs of cancer include:

  • Difficulty urinating or defecating
  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Lethargy, decreased energy
  • Non-healing wounds
  • Persistent cough
  • Reduced appetite
  • Skin lesions
  • Unpleasant odor from mouth
  • Weight loss

Treatment

Three standard treatments for cancer include surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy (radiotherapy). Your veterinarian will help you choose the best course of action for your pet.

3. Eye Conditions

Golden Retrievers may inherit or develop various eye problems, including:

  • Cataracts: This condition is described as a clouding of the eye’s lens. Cataracts can cause blindness, particularly in older Goldens.
  • Distichiasis: This inherited disease results from extra eyelashes that grow inside the eyelid and rub on the eye’s surface, leading to corneal ulcers and chronic eye pain.
  • Glaucoma: This is a progressive eye disease caused by damage to the optic nerve. Glaucoma is very painful and can cause vision loss and blindness.

Symptoms

Pay attention to any eye changes or behavioral changes in your pup:

  • Changes in eye appearance or color, including pupil size or shape
  • Excessive tearing or discharge
  • Continual blinking or squinting
  • Rubbing of the eyes
  • Signs of vision loss, such as bumping into walls or furniture

Treatment

Depending on the severity of symptoms, distichiasis and glaucoma may be treated with topical lubricant or medication, respectively. Severe cases may require surgery. Surgery is the only option to reverse cataracts.

4. Heart Problems

Heart problems are common among Golden Retrievers. In particular, Golden may inherit a heart condition called subvalvular aortic stenosis (SAS), which occurs when abnormal tissue creates an obstruction that forces the heart to work harder to pump blood. Goldens are also prone to dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), in which the heart becomes enlarged and weakened. Both of these conditions are life-threatening. 

Symptoms

Your pet may show signs of low energy, difficulty breathing, or stunted growth

Treatment

Treatment may include medication or surgery, depending on the heart condition and severity. 

5. Hip & Elbow Dysplasia

Elbow and hip dysplasia are skeletal conditions that affect joint function. In these conditions, the joint does not fit or develop properly. Instead of sliding smoothly, the joint rubs and grinds, causing deterioration over time. While hip and elbow dysplasia development begins with genetics, other factors like unbalanced nutrition, improper weight, and types of exercise can magnify these issues.

Symptoms

Symptoms of hip and elbow dysplasia can vary depending on the severity of the disease. Common symptoms include:

  • Decreased activity, i.e., difficulty or reluctance to stand, run, jump, or climb stairs
  • Grating in the joint during movement
  • Limited range of motion
  • Limping or stiffness
  • Pain

Treatment

Early diagnosis can be beneficial when treating hip and elbow dysplasia. If you notice signs that your pet might be experiencing joint problems, visit your vet. Your vet will perform a physical exam, typically followed by blood work and an X-ray. 

Treatment options vary widely, ranging from lifestyle changes to surgery. Your veterinarian may suggest any of the following prior to recommending a surgical procedure:

  • Anti-inflammatory medications
  • Exercise restriction
  • Joint supplements
  • Physical therapy
  • Weight loss

6. Hypothyroidism

Hypothyroidism is an underactive thyroid condition. The thyroid gland does not produce enough thyroid hormones, causing a decreased metabolic rate. According to VCA Animal Hospitals, this endocrine disease is most likely to affect middle-aged dogs (6-7 years) and may be more common in neutered males and spayed females. 

Symptoms

The symptoms of hypothyroidism are far-reaching, affecting virtually every organ in the body. Common signs of hypothyroidism include:

  • Cold intolerance
  • Dark pigmentation of the skin
  • Dry, dull hair
  • Excessive shedding, balding
  • High blood cholesterol
  • Lethargy (lack of energy)
  • Mental dullness
  • Recurring infections (skin and ear)
  • Reproductive issues
  • Thickening of skin
  • Slow heart rate
  • Weight gain, obesity

Treatment

Your veterinarian will use a blood test to diagnose hypothyroidism. If your pet is diagnosed with hypothyroidism, your vet will likely prescribe a synthetic thyroid hormone replacement, typically the drug levothyroxine. This oral medication must be continued daily for the rest of your pet’s life. Your dog will likely need regular blood tests to track their progress until hormone levels stabilize. 

A healthy diet can also ensure your furry friend feels their best. Your vet may prescribe a prescription therapeutic dog food as part of your pet’s treatment. You can also consult a pet nutritionist or holistic vet in your area for a diet plan specific to your dog’s needs. 

Our Personal Experience With Golden Retriever Health Issues

My Golden Retriever, Indiana, was a very sweet boy. Unfortunately, he had a few health conditions that worsened over time.

One of these was allergies that affected his skin and paws. Indiana began licking and biting at his paws, causing a secondary infection, limping, and pain. It took a few weeks of antibiotic treatment for the infection to clear up.

Once the infection was gone, it was a long process of eliminating foods and environmental factors to pinpoint the cause of the allergies. Eventually, we narrowed it down to a food allergy and gave Indiana a special diet. Even then, he still would have some reactions to pollen and other environmental elements. To stop him from licking his paws, we used a soothing balm, like the Natural Dog Company Skin Soother, and shoes for walking. Itchy paws due to allergies were a consistent problem we dealt with for much of Indiana’s life.

Sadly, Indiana also developed a form of hemangiosarcoma cancer in his later years and was unable to recover. It came on suddenly and was very advanced by the time we got a diagnosis, as happens often with this breed.

Danielle DeGroot, Golden Retriever Parent, Canine Journal Research & Writing

3 Common Pet Insurance Claims Filed With Fetch

According to Fetch Pet Insurance, the three most common conditions Golden Retriever parents file claims for are blood disorders, hip dysplasia, and swallowed objects. Associated costs for these health problems over a lifetime are as follows:

  • Blood disorders: $10,300 to $14,000
  • Hip dysplasia: $4,150 to $5,200
  • Swallowed objects: $2,900 to $4,100

Fetch Customer Testimonial For Golden Retriever Health Issues

My Golden Retriever, Buddy, is getting treated for rare nasal cancer which is very aggressive and I am so relieved that we opted for Fetch Insurance. The diagnostic tests and radiation therapy alone is way beyond our means and Fetch Insurance is very prompt in reimbursing our costs. I recommend Fetch Pet Insurance to all the pet owners.

– Garima

Health Testing For Golden Retriever Health Issues

Sick Golden Retriever at vet laying down.

When purchasing a dog from a breeder, always confirm they’ve done health testing. Reputable breeders use genetic testing to track their dogs’ health from generation to generation to minimize the likelihood of inherited health conditions. The Golden Retriever Club of America recommends that all breeders screen their dogs for the following inherited health conditions:

  • Elbow dysplasia
  • Eye disease
  • Heart disease
  • Hip dysplasia

If you already have Golden, consider purchasing a DNA health test. These tests can give you a better understanding of your dog’s health risks so that you can create a proactive health plan. Some DNA tests even offer a vet consultation once you’ve received your pet’s results so that you can receive answers to follow-up questions.

View our picks for the best dog DNA tests.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some questions our readers frequently ask about Golden Retrievers’ health. Don’t see yours? Ask us in the comments.

Should I Get Pet Insurance For My Golden Retriever?

Yes, I encourage you to get health insurance for your Golden Retriever. Pet insurance may cover hereditary conditions if you sign your puppy up before symptoms arise. Pet insurance does not cover pre-existing conditions, so consider this when purchasing a plan. Dog health insurance can also cover accidents, illnesses, and dental issues. View our top picks for the best pet insurance for Golden Retrievers.

What Is The Life Expectancy Of A Golden Retriever?

A Golden Retriever’s life expectancy is around 10 to 12 years. Our article on the Golden Retriever lifespan covers this topic in detail.

How Do I Keep My Golden Retriever Healthy?

You can take many steps to keep your pooch in good health. I recommend that you focus on the following:

  • Diet: A quality diet may delay the onset or alleviate symptoms of health conditions.
  • Exercise: Make sure your pupper gets plenty of physical activity daily, whether walking, running, or playing a game of fetch. Not only does this keep your pet physically fit, but you’ll both benefit from the quality time together.
  • Mental health: To reduce your dog’s stress and prevent boredom, provide opportunities for play and socialization.
  • Preventative care: Vaccinations, dental cleanings, parasite prevention, and quick illness diagnosis are all part of preventative care.

How Can I Reduce My Vet Bills?

A good diet and frequent exercise are great ways to reduce your pet’s medical bills. But in the event of an accident or illness, having a pet insurance plan is a great way to lower your vet bills. We’ve ranked the best pet insurance companies in 2024 according to best coverage, best value, best for pre-existing conditions, and more. 

Why Trust Canine Journal?

As with all living creatures, Golden Retrievers may have unexpected health issues. Tara has experienced the decline and loss of a beloved pet, which is just one of the reasons why she is dedicated to ensuring our readers have the information they need to provide the best quality of life for their furry friends. Tara is part of the Canine Journal team, which has over a decade of experience researching, testing, and writing about anything and everything dog-related. She also has 8+ years of experience in the wellness industry, with expertise in pet nutrition and supplementation. 

The information provided through this website should not be used to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease; it is not intended to offer any legal opinion or advice or a substitute for professional safety advice or professional care. Please consult your health care provider, attorney, or product manual for professional advice. Products and services reviewed are provided by third parties; we are not responsible in any way for them, nor do we guarantee their functionality, utility, safety, or reliability. Our content is for educational purposes only.

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