If your dog is as sunny on the inside as they are on the outside, there’s a good chance you’re familiar with the boundless love of a golden retriever.
Part of responsible pet ownership is knowing as much about the dog breed as possible. The responsibilities include knowing the answers to questions like, “How Long Do Golden Retrievers Live?” or “How Big Do Golden Retrievers Get?”. More important is knowing about common golden retriever health problems before they strike.
Though they’re known for their high-energy personalities, they’re also unfortunately prone to some specific health conditions. At some point, you might have to care for your golden retriever when they’re not feeling their sunniest.
Educating yourself on and staying aware of common golden retriever health issues is crucial to prevention and care in the face of illness. That’s why we’ve put together a comprehensive guide to the most common afflictions in golden retrievers to best equip you as a dedicated caretaker.
Minor Health Issues Common to Golden Retrievers
That one-of-a-kind DNA that makes your golden retriever, well, a golden retriever, is the very same DNA that predisposes them to common golden retriever health problems often found in these gentle giants.
Thankfully, many of them are minor in the sense that they’re readily treatable with a vet visit and sometimes medication (which you can wrap up in a nice peanut butter treat).
Golden retrievers enjoy ample benefits from their super thick coat—like warmth and protection from the elements (they were bred as outdoor hunting dogs for the cold, wet moors of Scotland).
However, their coat’s oh-so-soft and ultra-warm density can sometimes spell trouble for your golden’s skin, as it traps heat and moisture directly atop their dermal layer.
For golden retrievers, this skin trouble tends to come in the form of allergies and allergic irritations. But never fear: there are a few easy fixes for this, like soothing hypoallergenic shampoos and even allergy chews to keep the itchies at bay.
Golden retrievers are genetically predisposed to atopic dermatitis, usually known as atopy. Atopy occurs when your golden retriever’s skin flares up in response to environmental allergens like mold or pollen in their surroundings.1
Atopy’s main symptom is extremely itchy skin. This can be distressing and severely uncomfortable for your dog, with symptoms like:
- Gnawing at their skin
- Nibbling at their paws
- Excessive self-grooming
- Hair loss
The latter can irritate the skin further, so it’s important to take your golden to their vet as soon as you see these symptoms.
Luckily, there are various anti-itch medications on the market that provide relief to common canine skin irritations.2 Knowing your golden retriever is prone to such a health issue, consider discussing with your vet about having your pup on the medication long-term. Prolonged anti-itch remediation can help stop the symptoms before they worsen.
A disease that doesn’t discriminate, pyotraumatic dermatitis—also known as a doggy “hot spot”—is a localized skin infection prevalent in a range of dog breeds.
For golden retrievers, hot spots are directly linked to their heavy coat, as it traps moisture under their fur and leads to discomfort, which leads to self-grooming, which eventually leads to inflammation and bacterial infection.3
Warning signs include a small reddish spot on the skin and possible hair loss in that area. If left untreated, this initial hot spot can spread, eventually cracking and bleeding—leaving your dog’s skin at even further risk of infection.4
Golden retrievers’ adorably floppy and silky-soft ears are another lovable trait that, unfortunately, brings them health challenges from time to time.
Ear infections are remarkably common in golden retrievers, caused by allergies, wax buildup, moisture (this is a common theme) within the ear canal, and even hormonal imbalances. Their floppy, fuzzy ears work against them in this case, trapping any residual water from swimming or outdoor debris from play.
Luckily for golden retriever guardians, an ear infection is rather easy to spot. Watch for symptoms of ear infection, like redness, discharge, or scabbing outside the ear canal, as well as if your pup looks itchy or like they’re in pain. If this happens to be the case, don’t hesitate to schedule a vet visit.5
Veterinarians can easily provide remedial care for ear infections with antibacterial ear drops. Just make sure to follow through with the entire prescription, even if the symptoms clear out before the medication does. Routine care and cleaning will help prevent ear infections in the future.
Hip dysplasia is an orthopedic condition in which the femur rests awkwardly in the hip joint, leading to bone friction against the hip socket. This is an uncomfortable and often painful situation for dogs, making it difficult to stand, lay down, or walk normally.
Symptoms of hip dysplasia in golden retrievers include:
- Weakened legs
- Difficulty standing up
- Limited movement
- Sticking the affected leg out to the side
Treatment usually involves everyday joint supplements and, in more extreme cases, surgery to repair the askew bone placement. It’s crucial to make an action plan with your vet as soon as they diagnose hip dysplasia because, left untreated, dysplasia can lead to arthritis. And arthritis and hip dysplasia is a wicked combination, especially for senior dogs.6
The useful point to remember is that hip dysplasia (and the analogous elbow dysplasia, also seen in dogs) isn’t life-threatening, and, with proper care, golden retrievers can live lengthy lives with minimal discomfort.
Major Health Issues Common to Golden Retrievers
Despite golden retrievers’ promising lifespans and overall happy-go-lucky personalities, they’re still susceptible to major health complications, especially as they head toward older age.
Whether from poor breeding, unlucky genetics, or environmental factors, golden retrievers can see their health compromised by a few more severe conditions, including:
- Heart disease
- Endocrine disease
- Eye growths
- Other major conditions
The best way to avoid these serious health issues, and care for your sweet golden bear if they arise, is to be prepared and informed.
Subaortic Valvular Stenosis
Subaortic valvular stenosis (or SAS for short) is an early-onset genetic heart condition that appears in golden retrievers as puppies and affects their heart health their whole life.
SAS develops as excess tissue within the canine heart valves, blocking proper blood flow and straining the heart muscle.7
Depending on the severity of the SAS case, some golden retrievers might not present with any symptoms at all. In contrast, others are extremely lethargic after brief walks and risk fainting if overexerted.4
While there are indeed medications that aid heart health generally, there’s not much to be done in terms of removing the cardiovascular growths. Your role as a caretaker of your canine companion is consistently monitoring pet health and taking them in for regular veterinary appointments. You might also need to modify your golden retriever’s exercise routine to prevent overexertion.
Golden retrievers have an increased risk of cancer, and when that’s the case, it’s unluckily most often the diagnosis of hemangiosarcoma.
Hemangiosarcoma isn’t localized to one single body part but rather forms throughout a golden retriever’s muscle tissue—usually in the spleen, liver, or heart. Uniquely, the tumor is blood-filled, and its rupturing can lead to dangerous internal bleeding. (In the case of tumor rupture, head directly to the emergency veterinarian.)8
Look out for the following symptoms, and if they appear, make sure to discuss them with your veterinarian:
- General weakness and lethargy
- Whitened gums
- Swollen abdomen
- Difficulty breathing
- Lack of appetite
Be aware that it is possible for this kind of cancer to bypass imaging detection like X-rays, ultrasound, or MRI, which can make it difficult to treat, prevent, or even detect during its development.9 Make sure to partner with a proactive veterinarian and ask them about your options for preventing hemangiosarcoma before it develops.
Just as common for them as ear and skin issues, eye ailments are frequently diagnosed in golden retrievers (in fact, sometimes pigmentary uveitis is simply called “golden retriever uveitis”). Pigmentary uveitis is an eye disease that forms in the pigmented tissue of the eyeball, leaving painful fluid-filled cysts in its wake.
Uveitis usually develops during a golden retriever’s middle age. Symptoms are visible cysts and bumps in the eye, changes in color, and increasingly limited vision.10
Treat your beloved golden with uveitis as soon as possible in order to prevent worsening eye health. Without treatment, glaucoma and cataracts can enter the picture, which can develop into pain or even blindness.
An experienced veterinarian will offer medication to reduce inflammation in the eye, relieving pressure and restoring some balance in your dog’s vision.11
BARK: Your Home for Healthy Dogs
Following the ups and downs of your pup’s health journey, especially at its low points, can be difficult. We know every dog owner could use help sometimes. At BARK Post, we’re here for you and your pet on your sunniest and your gloomiest days.
Our BARK subscription boxes are designed to prioritize the fun and fitness of your furry friend. With a unique collection of toys and treats delivered to your (doggie) door every month, we keep your pooch merrily on the move.
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- Universities Federation for Animal Welfare. Golden Retriever – Canine Atopic Dermatitis. https://www.ufaw.org.uk/dogs/golden-retriever-canine-atopic-dermatitis
- Veterinary Partner. Itch Relief for Dogs and Cats. https://veterinarypartner.vin.com/default.aspx?pid=19239&id=4951477
- Animal Hospital of North Asheville. Hot Spots – ‘Tis the Season. https://www.ahna.net/site/blog-asheville-vet/2020/03/30/hot-spots-tis-season
- Pet MD. Golden Retriever. https://www.petmd.com/dog/breeds/c_dg_golden_retriever
- Golden Hearts. Golden Retriever Ear Infection: Symptoms, Causes, & Treatment. https://goldenhearts.co/golden-retriever-ear-infection/
- Pet MD. Surgery for Dog Hip Dysplasia. https://www.petmd.com/dog/general-health/surgery-dog-hip-dysplasia
- Pet MD. Heart (Aortic) Valve Narrowing in Dogs. https://www.petmd.com/dog/conditions/cardiovascular/c_dg_aortic_stenosis
- Pet MD. What is Hemangiosarcoma in Dogs? https://www.petmd.com/dog/conditions/cancer/hemangiosarcoma-dogs
- NC State Veterinary Hospital. Medical Oncology: Hemangiosarcoma. https://hospital.cvm.ncsu.edu/services/small-animals/cancer-oncology/oncology/hemangiosarcoma/
- Eye Care for Animals. Pigmentary Uveitis in Golden Retrievers. http://www.eyecareforanimals.com/conditions/pigmentary-uveitis-in-golden-retrievers/
- Wiley Online Library: Veterinary Ophthalmology. Golden Retriever pigmentary uveitis: Challenges of diagnosis and treatment. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/vop.12796