Because they have been so popular over the last 50 years or so, Golden Retrievers have been over-bred, resulting in a genetic predisposition to experience specific health problems. Unfortunately, as greedy breeders often fail to screen their breeding animals, additional hereditary health problems are introduced to the breed. If you have a Golden, or plan to bring one into your home, you should know about the more common hereditary problems that may reduce the quality or length of your Golden Retriever’s life.
Health Problems Known to Be Inherited by Golden Retrievers
Hip and Elbow Dysplasia: When growing hip joints don’t form properly, juvenile and adult Retrievers may have an uneven gait or even severe lameness. This inheredited disorder is common to many large dogs, and while is not usually noticeable in puppies, hip dysplasia will begin to show when your Golden is between four and nine months old. The severity of the condition varies greatly from dog to dog, but most Goldens with hip dysplasia will develop arthritis as they age. Moderate exercise, weight control, and inflammatory medications will help with the discomfort of this problem. Not all Golden Retrievers will show, or even know about, their hip dysplasia if it’s a mild form. Golden’s with hip dysplasia can live long, happy lives, but they should not be bred.
Like hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia is developmental problem in young dogs. It is not as common as hip dysplasia, but it can be aggravated by over-feeding and too much nutrition in early puppyhood. Care and treatment are the same as for hip dysplasia. And, of course, Golden Retrievers with hip dysplasia should not be bred.
Eye Disease: Golden Retrievers frequently suffer from hereditary cataracts. They can range from mild problems that do not interfere with your Golden’s vision to severe cataracts that cause blindness as the dog ages. Eyelid and eyelash problems may be hereditary, though not all are. When the lids or lashes turn in, they may irritate the eyeball. Depending on the severity of this problem, surgery may be necessary. Because it’s hard to tell whether eye diseases result from heredity or environment, it’s best not to breed a Golden Retriever with frequent or chronic eye problems.
Heart Disease: Golden Retrievers are known to inherit Subvalvular Aortic Stenosis (SAS) that may be hard to detect. Heart murmur is the best indicator, although it is not always present when the problem exists. Your veterinarian may be able to identify the problem by listening with a stethoscope or more invasive necropsy. If your Golden has SAS, consult with your veterinerian about the best treatments.
Golden Retriever Health Problems Suspected to be Inherited
Epilepsy: Characterized by seizures, epilepsy can result from environmental sources and viral infections. While watching your Golden Retriever go through a seizure is very uncomfortable, it may not be dangerous to your dog’s long-term quality of life. You can get medications from your vet to control the seizures. Do not breed a Golden Retriever that has seizures to avoid the chance of passing the disorder on to its puppies.
Skin Allergies: The most common medical problem that Golden Retrievers experience is skin allergies, although it’s difficult to know if they are genetic or environmental in nature. Your Golden may have skin allergies if it obsessively bites or scratches. It can even create bald spots in its coat if it goes untreated. Skin allergies are a natural reaction to flea, mite, and tick bites and can be reduced or avoided by regular grooming and shampooing with commercial flea and tick products. Your Golden could also be allergic to mold and other indoor air pollutants. Regular house-cleaning should reduce the problem. Diet can be very important to treating and avoiding allergic reactions in Golden Retrievers, so do your research to find the appropriate feeding regimen for your dog.
Hypothyroidism: Golden Retrievers affected by this failure of the thyroid gland to function properly may be obese or have problems maintaining a healthy coat. Some Golden’s with hypothyroidism will also have seizures. However, most problems should resolve upon the administration of oral medicines. Assuring your Golden is generally healthy by providing a balanced nutritious diet, plenty of exercise, and a safe living environment will do much to prevent or reduce the impacts of hypothyroidism. Goldens with this problem may have more difficulty breeding than you’d expect, although it is recommended that you do not even try to breed a Golden Retriever with this or other hereditary conditions.
Tips on Selecting and Caring for Your Golden Retriever
These are a few of the medical problems often found in Golden Retrievers. It’s an unfortunate irony that the more popular a dog is, the more likely breeding is to bring out health problems specific to the breed. One way to avoid these problems is to be very careful in selecting the breeder, shelter, or pet store that supplies your dog. Insist on reviewing the dog’s records, and inspect the facility. Knowing that the offerer has a passionate love for Golden Retrievers is one way to assure your Golden is not plagued by the problems that result from breeding and over-breeding unhealthy dogs.
No matter what symptoms your Golden Retriever exhibits, the careful pet owner does not jump to conclusions or make uneducated diagnoses. If you are concerned about your Golden, be sure to take it to the vet as soon as you can. Rely on the education and experience of a certified veterinarian in identifying health problems and treating them.