Health Related Issues of the Golden Retriever

Golden Retrievers are generally a very healthy breed; however, like all breeds, they are subject to some genetic disorders and health problems. The following is a brief outline of some of the more common health concerns in the Golden:

Hereditary and Other Health Problems:


Hip & Elbow Dysplasia

Canine Hip Dysplasia afflicts millions of dogs each year and can result in debilitating orthopaedic disease of the hip. It is caused when the femoral head does not fit properly in the hip socket, causing instability of the joint. Over time, this malformation can cause degenerative joint disease which causes increased pain and immobility. Signs of hip dysplasia usually occur during the dog's rapid growth period between four and nine months of age. These signs can vary from slight gait irregularities to crippling lameness. Occasionally, symptoms will disappear as the dog matures but the dysplastic dog usually develops some degree of arthritis later in life.

Through selective breeding strategies, veterinarians and breeders are attempting to eliminate Canine Hip Dysplasia. All breeding dogs should be x-rayed and certified clear by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) and/or by the University of Pennsylvania Hip Improvement Program (PennHIP).

While the dysplastic dog should not be used for breeding, many can lead long and happy lives. In the older dog, moderate but regular exercise, control of weight and, if necessary, anti-inflammatory medication can be helpful in managing arthritis associated with hip dyslasia. Surgical procedures are also available when necessary. Like many of the Retriever breeds, Goldens can be stoic and often do not show any signs of pain.

Elbow Dysplasia may be due to different growth rates of the three bones making up the elbow. In affected dogs, the joint is lax or loose and, in mildly affected dogs, leads to painful arthritis. Severely affected dogs can develop osteochondritis dissecans (OCD), fragmented medial coronoid processes and united anconeal processes resulting from the stress in the joint.

Although symptoms of elbow dysplasia can appear at any age, this is also a developmental disease in young dogs. According to the Golden Retriever Club of America, Elbow Dysplasia is not as common as Hip Dysplasia in Golden Retrievers, however it is estimated to affect approximately 1 in 10 Goldens. Like Hip Dysplasia, Elbow Dysplasia is a inherited disease and only dogs certified clear, from X-rays submitted to the OFA for evaluation, should be used for breeding. Many afflicted Goldens show no signs while others show symptoms ranging from mild stiffness and discomfort to crippling. Many lead normal, happy lives and, those with symptoms can be helped through moderate exercise, weight control and anti-inflammatory medication. In addition, for those dogs with severe signs of the disease, there are surgical procedures available.

For additional information, see:

Eye Disease

Some Goldens carry the genes for Central Progressive Retinal Atrophy (CPRA) which is a progressive deterioration of the light-receptive area (retina) of the eye, and may result in complete blindness at a young age. PRA is a family of diseases involving the gradual deterioration of the retina. In the early stages of the disease, an affected dog becomes nightblind and cannot see well in dim lighting. As the disease progresses, daytime vision also fails. Provided that the affected dog's environment remains constant, an affected dog can adapt quite well to this handicap.

Hereditary cataracts are a common eye problem in the Golden Retriever. In Goldens, cataracts develop at varying ages, and at different lens locations, usually without visual impairment. At least one type of cataract does appear at an early age in affected Goldens and some do progress into severe or total loss of vision.

Goldens that are to be used for breeding should be examined annually by a board-certified Veterinary Ophthamologist and only those who have been found free of hereditary eye disease should be used in a breeding program.

For additional information, see:

von Willebrand's Disease

vWD is a blood disorder, a deficiency in clotting factor VIII antigen. This substance is called "Von Willebrand's factor." Dogs affected by the disease do not effectively utilize their platelets for blood clotting and therefore are more likely to have excessive bleeding episodes upon injury. This is similar to hemophilia in humans.

vWD is a common, usually mild, inherited disorder. There are three forms of the disease which are distinguished by vWF concentration and function. Type I vWD is the most common and can cause mild to moderate bleeding abnormalities. Types II and III vWD are much rarer and can cause severe bleeding disorders. Many breeds are affected by von Willebrand's disease and the Golden Retriever is said to have an increased risk of Type I vWD.

The main symptom of vWd is excessive bleeding, generally occuring after an injury or surgery. Dog's with Von Willebrand's disease may also develop nosebleeds or bleeding from the gums; bleeding in the stomach or intestine may also occur; and some dogs may have blood in their urine. Symptoms similar to those of arthritis may also occur if bleeding is into the joints.

For additional information, see:

Hypothyroidism

Canine Hypothyroidism is the most commonly diagnosed hormonal disease found in dogs. The term hypothyroidism simply means the underproduction of thyroxin, the hormone produced by the thyroid gland.

The thyroid gland is located on the trachea (wind pipe) of the dog, just below the voice box. It exerts its influence on the dog's body by producing and releasing thyroxin into the blood stream. This hormone, and thus, the thyroid gland itself, is very important in controlling growth and development and maintaining normal protein, carbohydrate and lipid metabolism of the dog.

Hypothyroidism usually occurs between the ages of two to six years. The most common sign is an increase in body weight. Lethargy and some form of skin disease (i.e., thin coat, loss of hair, dandruff, oily skin, increased scratching) are also common signs of Hypothyroidism.

The treatment is through thyroid hormone supplementation given orally once or twice a day. Usually thyroid supplementation improves the clinical signs associated with the disease within four to six weeks. All the clinical signs of hypothyroidism are reversible, once treatment is started.

For additional information, see:

Epilepsy

Canine Epilepsy is a chronic condition characterized by recurrent seizures. Seizures are the result of muscle responses to an abnormal nerve-signal burst from the brain. The cause can be anything that disrupts normal brain circuitry:

  • Idiopathic Epilepsy, meaning "no known cause", also referred to as Primary Epilepsy, is possibly inherited.

Secondary Epilepsy can be caused by:

  • Low blood sugar,
  • low thyroid function,
  • infections causing brain damage,
  • ingestion of toxins,
  • brain tumors, and
  • vaccinations.

Most dogs with Idiopathic Epilepsy suffer their first seizure between the ages of one and five years. A genetic basis for Idiopathic Epilepsy is strongly suspected in several breeds including the Golden Retriever.

For complete details on Canine Epilepsy, visit The Epi Guardian Angels — An extensive resource for information, support, treatments and solutions for veterinarians and owners of dogs with Canine Epilepsy.

For additional information, see:

Hereditary Heart Disease

Subvalvular Aortic Stenosis (SAS), a hereditary heart disease, is known to occur in the Golden Retriever breed. Congenital Aortic Stenosis is believed to be the most common heart defect in large breed dogs. Aortic Stenosis is a narrowing of the outflow channel between the left ventricle and the main artery of the body, the aorta. This can occur at the level of the aortic valve (valvular); above the aortic valve, in the aorta (supravalvular); or below the aortic valve, in the ventricle (subvalvular) — this is the most common. The cause of Aortic Stenosis is believed to be genetically inherited.

Symptoms can vary from no signs at all to sudden death. Dogs with mild stenosis will generally show no clinical effects and have a normal life expectancy. In most cases, an abnormal sound of the heart (a systolic murmur), detected by stethoscope, is the only finding. With moderate to severe stenosis, signs may vary. Some dogs may show signs of exercise intolerance or fainting. As the condition progresses, symptoms may include difficulty in breathing, coughing, abnormal heart rythms, and sudden death.

For additional information, see:

Cancer

Hemangiosarcoma is a form of cancer that originates in the endothelium, which is the lining of blood vessels and spleen. These tumors are highly malignant and can be found almost anywhere in the body but usually occur in the skin, soft tissues, spleen or liver with the spleen being the most common site to be affected.

These tumors are most common in medium-sized or large breeds of middle aged or older dogs (6 to 13 years of age) but can occur in any breed, including cross-breeds. The Golden Retriever appears to have a higher than normal incidence.

Quite often there is little warning of the presence of these tumors before severe clinical signs are seen. Virtually all dogs affected will develop metastases within six months of diagnosis. Most often, the cancer metastasizes to the brain but can also spread to the lungs, liver, spleen, heart, kidneys, muscle and bone.

The most common initial symptoms include visible bleeding, usually in the form of nosebleeds, and signs associated with blood loss, such as weakness, tiring easily, paleness to the mucous membranes of the mouth and eyes, increased respiratory rates, and abdominal swelling. In some cases, dogs just suddenly die with no clinical signs observed at all.

If a tumor in the spleen is found when it is small, it may be possible to remove the spleen or remove tumors found near the heart in order to prolong the dog's life. However, most often these tumors have spread by the time they are identified. According to published papers, the average survival time in dogs with Hemangiosarcoma is only three to four months.

For additional information, see:

Arthritis

Dogs can be affected by osteoarthritis which is caused by the degradation of the cartilage within a joint. The breakdown of cartilage can reduce the function of the joint and create pain or stiffness. Mild arthritis is uncomfortable but severe arthritis is very painful. Symptoms of osteoarthritis include: stiffness of the joints, favouring one leg over another, difficulty in sitting or standing, hesitancy to jump, and decreased activity level.

A Note of Caution on Rimadyl — There have been some major side effects (including liver toxicity and death) to the drug Rimadyl. It is strongly recommended that this issue be thoroughly discussed with your Veterinarian.

Additional Information:

Allergies

Dogs, like people, can be affected by allergies to certain substances, such as pollens, mold spores, mites, certain foods, and chemicals. Signs of allergies include scratching, face rubbing, biting and chewing at the skin.

See:

Bloat

Gastric Dilatation Volvulus (GDV) is a condition caused by a twisting of the stomach and thus trapping the stomach contents and gases resulting in a rapid swelling of the abdomen accompanied by pain and eventual death if untreated. It is an emergency, requiring immediate veterinary action. This condition is most often found in large, deep chested dog breeds. Anyone owning a deep chested breed, susceptible to Bloat should be prepared to handle the emergency procedures necessary, including having readily available the name and phone number of emergency clinics and/or after-hours Veterinarians.

Symptoms can be subtle. You should learn to recognize them:

  • Continuous pacing and/or lying down in odd places
  • Salivating, panting, whining
  • Unable to get comfortable
  • Acting agitated
  • Unproductive vomiting or retching (may produce frothy foamy vomit in small quantities)
  • Excessive drooling, usually accompanied by retching noises
  • Swelling in abdominal area (may or may not be noticeable)

If ANY combination of these symptoms are noticed, CALL YOUR VET and get the dog there as fast as possible. Bloat is LIFE-THREATENING.

For more information on what you can do in the case of a Bloat emergency, see First Aid for Bloat

Also see: Gastric Dilatation Volvulus (GDV) - Bloat


Note: This is only a partial listing of some of the health concerns that can be seen in Golden Retrievers and should not be considered as a complete listing. This section is provided as a source of information only. It is not intended as a substitute for professional care. Always consult with your Veterinarian about health related matters.