Written by Dr. Marcelle Landestoy, DVM
Golden Retrievers are known for their intelligence and friendly demeanor.
The breed is a long-standing favorite in US households.
While generally healthy and hearty dogs, Goldens are susceptible to various health issues that, if allowed to progress, can cause severe suffering in the long run.
Common Golden Retriever health issues include cancer, von Willebrand Disease, bloat, hypothyroidism, cataracts, and hip and elbow dysplasia. In addition, Goldens are prone to various skin conditions, chest problems, and ear infections.
Using my experience as a veterinary doctor, I’ve compiled the following list of common Golden Retriever health issues, their symptoms, how they’re diagnosed, and the best course of action.
Most Common Golden Retriever Health Issues
Some conditions are genetic and may not be avoidable; however, many others can be prevented with healthy routines and regular veterinarian visits.
If you own a Golden Retriever or are thinking about getting one, here are some of the more common health issues you should know.
Cancer is a point of worry for several pet owners, but especially owners of Golden Retrievers; this breed exhibits the highest cancer rate, nearly double that of any other.
Additionally, males are more likely to be affected than females, and statistics show that about 60% of Goldens die from some form of cancer.
Of the several cancer types this breed may develop, hemangiosarcoma, a blood vessel cancer, is the most common.
Also common are osteosarcoma (a bone cancer), mastocytoma (cellular cancer), and lymphosarcoma (cancer of the lymphocyte).
Cancer cannot be prevented entirely, as your Golden has a genetic predisposition to some types.
However, you can reduce the risk for most environmentally-caused cancers.
As an owner, the best thing you can do is provide a healthy diet, plenty of exercise, and regular checkups with a veterinarian for your pup.
While some cancers cannot be prevented, it is still important to continually look for symptoms, changes in behaviors, or other signs.
Depending on how the disease presents itself and how early it is detected, some treatments are available for certain cancers.
Unfortunately, in the case of hemangiosarcoma, the only clinical sign is a sudden and profound internal bleeding.
Keep in mind that many common Golden Retriever health issues can cause similar symptoms like cancer, and symptoms will vary depending on cancer type.
Symptoms of various cancers include:
- Unexplained lumps or bumps
- Pigmented sores
- Wounds that don’t heal
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Pale, almost white gums
- Gastrointestinal problems
- Labored breathing
- Lethargy or fatigue
- Unexplained weight loss
- Sudden weakness or collapse
- Sudden death
In the case of sudden collapse, as seen in dogs with hemangiosarcoma, you must act quickly, as time is of the essence.
These are legitimate medical emergencies requiring immediate surgery to remove a bleeding mass (if even possible) and subsequent supportive care to survive.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Regardless of cancer type, early diagnosis will provide a better success rate for treatment and recovery.
Detecting cancer in its early stages requires a thorough physical examination as well as regular blood tests.
It is also essential to know the types of cancer for which your Golden has increased risk and include cancer screenings in routine checkups.
Various imaging tools, such as CT scans, MRI scans, X-rays, and ultrasounds, may also be used for cancer detection.
As is true for people, the best treatments usually include a combination of chemotherapy, surgery, radiation therapy, and medications.
Veterinarians will determine which treatments should be combined based on the size, location, and stage of cancer to provide the best recovery chances.
If cancer is detected in an advanced stage to the point that it has spread, treatment may only involve symptom management.
In this case, medications can be used to ease the pain and, in some cases, add weeks or months to your dog’s life.
This is especially true if your Golden has hemangiosarcoma, as most will, unfortunately, die soon after diagnosis.
Hip and Elbow Dysplasia
Hip dysplasia is a common health issue seen typically in older Goldens.
The problem arises because the ball and joint socket that make up the hip are malformed; for example, the ball may be too large, or the socket is deformed in a way that prevents smooth movement.
Goldens tend to hide discomfort and pain from their owners if possible, which makes early diagnosis somewhat tricky.
Many remain unaware of the issue until mobility is impaired from aging.
In the same way malformation of a hip joint and socket causes dysplasia, a malformation of cartilage in the elbow causes similar issues in Goldens.
Humeral Condylar Osteochondrosis, otherwise known as elbow dysplasia, is just as common as hip dysplasia for this breed.
When HCO occurs, it means the elbow joint’s cartilage has grown to be much thicker than usual.
The subsequent effects on stability and mobility lead to ailments in otherwise healthy Golden Retrievers, including osteoarthritis and others.
If symptom management and diagnosis are delayed, hip and elbow dysplasia can lead to your Golden losing the ability to walk.
Since the conditions are genetic, they cannot be cured or even prevented.
However, treatments are available that can stop its progression and help dogs to cope with the pain.
If you suspect your Golden is suffering from this condition, take them to the veterinarian for x-rays.
Golden Retrievers may show signs of hip or elbow dysplasia as early as four months old. Others may develop these conditions as they age.
Symptoms of hip and elbow dysplasia include:
- Decreased activity
- Loss of balance
- Enlargement of the shoulder
- Loss of thigh muscle mass
- Reluctance to run, jump, or rise
- Decreased range of motion
- Narrowed stance
- Lameness in limbs
- Swaying while walking
Diagnosis and Treatment
Once you notice your Golden is feeling pain and discomfort, take him to see the veterinarian as soon as possible.
Extensive testing will need to be performed to diagnose dysplasia and determine the cause correctly.
Your dog will likely undergo a physical exam, blood tests, and x-rays.
The veterinarian will then decide what the best course of action should be.
For some minor cases, these issues may be resolved with a simple lifestyle modification.
Surgery will be needed to handle more severe cases.
Your vet may use some nonsurgical methods to improve your dog’s joint health and ease the pain. These options include:
- Physical therapy
- Join fluid modifiers
- Joint supplements
- Anti-inflammatory medications
- Weight loss
Hypothyroidism is quite common among medium and large-size breeds, which includes Golden Retrievers.
The thyroid is a small gland located in the back of the neck near the larynx or voice box.
It produces essential hormones, such as T3 (liothyronine) and T4 (levothyroxine), which help control metabolism and assist in various functions within your dog.
Hormone levels are lower in dogs suffering from hypothyroidism, and this issue will lead to further problems if left untreated.
For example, the lack of thyroid hormones will cause dry skin and lead to skin infections or skin allergy-like symptoms.
This can manifest in your Golden as itching and scratching, chewing, increased hair loss, and even sores and bleeding if a dog upsets an irritated area.
Often, hypothyroidism is brought on by an auto-immune response.
Basically, a dog’s immune system misinterprets the thyroid as a foreign invader and triggers an attack on the gland.
An outside force triggers the immune response itself.
Other issues, such as a shrinking of the gland, a tumor on the gland, or cancer, can all cause hypothyroidism as well.
Symptoms in your dog will develop gradually as the thyroid starts to deteriorate, and you may see both behavioral and physical changes.
Behavioral changes are typically noticed first, while physical symptoms tend to come later as the condition progresses.
Catching hypothyroidism early is the only chance to potentially stop its progression and heal the thyroid to avoid a lifetime of medication.
Keep in mind that dogs may only show a few symptoms, and the degree of any displayed symptoms will vary.
Symptoms of hypothyroidism in Golden Retrievers include:
- Sudden aggressive or otherwise uncharacteristic behavior (including depression)
- Lethargy and general weakness
- Mental dullness/ inattentive
- Unexplained weight gain
- Loss of appetite
- Droopy facial muscles
- Hair loss/excessive shedding
- Muscle loss
- Slow heart rate
- Dry, dull, or otherwise unhealthy coat
- Skin problems like flakiness, dandruff, and irritation
- Stiff joints
- Skin, ear, or nail infections
- Intolerance to cold
- A prevalent, yeasty smell emitted from the skin
Many of the hypothyroidism symptoms are also symptoms of aging, and it can be challenging to recognize the issue.
If you believe your Golden is having thyroid problems, visit your veterinarian for a proper diagnosis.
Diagnosis and Treatment
If you suspect your Golden is suffering from Hypothyroidism, it is vital to take them to your veterinarian.
Note all observed symptoms and communicate your concerns about this particular condition with the doctor.
Hypothyroidism is often misdiagnosed in its early stages as a skin allergy and then incorrectly treated.
A thyroid blood test will be required to verify whether your dog is suffering from this condition.
Hypothyroidism is easily treated with hormone supplements, which correct the imbalance so that your dog’s body functions appropriately.
Usually, supplements are either chewable or in liquid form and must be taken daily.
Von Willebrand Disease
Von Willebrand Disease (vWD) is a genetic blood clotting disorder. It is not hemophilia; it is a distinct disorder.
The cause of this is defective or missing von Willebrand factor (vWF) protein.
This specific protein is a clotting protein circulating in the bloodstream that must be present at the blood vessel injury site to control the vessel’s bleeding.
Golden Retrievers are typically diagnosed with type 1 vWD, characterized by a low concentration of vWF and a typical plasma structure.
The disease interferes with clotting and results in excessive external and internal bleeding.
It is possible for dogs to have this disease and not display symptoms, but some will have severe symptoms, including:
- Spontaneous hemorrhaging from the mouth, nose, and reproductive, urinary, or intestinal tracts
- Prolonged blood loss after surgery, injury, or dental work
- Anemia after prolonged bleeding
- Bruising of the skin
Additionally, endocrine disorders, infections, and some medications may worsen bleeding.
Diagnosis and Treatment
As a genetic disease, a veterinarian can test to see if your Golden is a carrier.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for vWD, and treatments are focused on maintenance.
One standard treatment is a blood transfusion with blood that has the vWF present.
Veterinarians may also administer cryoprecipitate, a blood product rich in vWF, which can temporarily assist with clotting.
Goldens diagnosed with a mild case of vWD need little extra care; however, it is critical to protect them from injury.
Severe cases may require reduced activity and regular blood transfusions.
Any dog diagnosed with vWD that experiences prolonged bleeding should be taken to the veterinarian as quickly as possible.
Bloat is caused by gas getting trapped in a dog’s stomach.
Deep chested dogs, such as Golden Retrievers, are more likely to develop extreme cases of this disorder.
Bloat is a painful condition for your dog and, if left unchecked, it can be fatal.
Surgery is usually the treatment; however, there is a 20% chance of death even then.
The medical name for this health disorder is gastric dilatation and volvulus, otherwise called GDV.
Gastric dilatation refers to a bloated stomach. When food or gas stretch beyond normal, the pressure builds, causing expansion and abdominal pain.
Volvulus describes the stomach twisting or torsion that occurs after gastric dilatation, and it is unknown why this happens.
When a distended stomach rotates, it can twist as much as 180 degrees.
This cuts off the route for gas to escape as well as the stomach’s blood supply. Nearby organs have normal functions affected by this also.
Bloat must be dealt with quickly. Goldens suffering from this condition have mere hours before this becomes fatal.
Knowing the symptoms of bloat beforehand will help you to identify this condition before it is too late.
Remember, if you observe these in your Golden, you only have minutes to respond and should head to the veterinarian immediately.
Symptoms of bloat include:
- Swollen belly
- Shortness of breath or heavy panting
- Sudden weakness
- Excessive drooling
- “Dry” vomiting (motions produce nothing)
- Arching lower back (due to pain)
Diagnosis and Treatment
If you notice signs of bloat in your Golden Retriever, call or go to your veterinarian or local pet emergency hospital right away.
Immediate surgical intervention is your dog’s best chance to survive an encounter with this condition; if you wait too long, torsion can go beyond the point of correction and become fatal.
The procedure rapidly decompresses the stomach and corrects torsion by repositioning the stomach.
While it is possible to have the gas removed from the stomach, it is best to consider the surgical procedure to prevent an occurrence from arising again.
Without surgery, statistics show the recurrence rate of bloat to be as high as 75%; Surgically tacking the stomach into place drops the recurrence rate to 6% and survival rate to 95%.
Preventing bloat is more straightforward than managing other Golden Retriever health issues, and your veterinarian can help you develop a prevention plan.
Cataracts, particularly congenital cataracts, are one of the most common eye problems for Goldens.
Typically, this issue begins to occur around the ages of four to six, and it can cause poor vision or even blindness.
A cataract appears when the eye lens loses transparency. It will cloud your dog’s lens, which obstructs the path of light to the retina, and any lens opacity, big or small, is considered a cataract.
This is usually an inherited condition, though there are circumstances where this may not be the case.
It might be a symptom of another issue, such as eye inflammation, diabetes mellitus, electric shock, exposure to radiation, old age, or others.
If there is less than 30% lens opacity, vision may not be affected at all or very little.
If there is greater than 60% opacity, dogs will have trouble seeing in the dark or lose their vision completely.
Cataracts are not to be confused with nuclear sclerosis, which is a normal occurrence in an aging lens.
It causes a bluish haze in the lens that does not create significant visual impairment, and treatment is not needed.
Cataracts start and the center of your dog’s lens and gradually grow out toward the periphery.
Once progressed into the mature stage, this condition will cause the entire lens to become opaque.
Keep in mind that while both eyes can develop cataracts, they tend to mature at different rates.
The one common symptom of any cataracts is a cloudiness of the eyes.
However, some other symptoms may be seen in some instances, including:
- Vision impairment
- Increased thirst
- Change in urination frequency
- Weight loss
Diagnosis and Treatment
If you notice cataracts in your Golden, a veterinarian can confirm the diagnosis and suggest an appropriate treatment.
The main option is surgery, which removes the lens and replaces it with an artificial one.
It is considered relatively safe, but it does come with some risk and isn’t recommended for some instances.
Talk with your veterinarian about the best treatment options.
Golden Retrievers are generally healthy dogs, but they aren’t invincible.
But by keeping an eye out for potential health issues, providing proper nutrition and exercise, and maintaining regular checkups with the veterinarian, you can help your Golden to live a long, healthy life.
- Morris Animal Foundation: Hemangiosarcoma – A Heartbreaking Cancer That Strikes Without Warning
- The Goldens Club: Elbow Dysplasia In Golden Retrievers
- Golden Retriever Club of America: Hypothyroidism in Golden Retrievers
- Cornell University – Animal Health Diagnostic Center: Canine von Willebrand Disease
- Vets Now: GDV study using Vets Now data reveals 80% survival rate in dogs who undergo surgery
- Golden Retriever Dogs: Dog Bloat: Symptoms And Treatment, Case of Golden Retrievers
- DogzHealth.com: Cataracts in Dogs
- PetvBlog: The Most Common Golden Retriever Health Issues And Their Remedies
- Lucy Pet Products: Common Golden Retriever Health Issues
- Golden Retriever Dogs: Golden Retriever Health Problems and Issues
- Golden Meadows Retrievers: Golden Retriever Health Issues and Problems
- Golden Retriever Society: Golden Retriever Health Issues: Common Problems
- Official Golden Retriever: The Most Common Golden Retrievers Health Problems
Veterinary Hospital Director at UCE
Dr. Marcelle is a general veterinarian with a Small Animal Medicine Specialty | Director of the UCE School of Veterinary Medicine | Certified by the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society