Health concerns

Medical issues common to Golden Retrievers 

Common inherited conditions


At the top of the list of health concerns in the breed is cancer. A Golden Retriever Club of America study in 1998 found that 61.8 percent of all Goldens die of cancer, including hemangiosarcoma, lymphosarcoma, mast cell tumors and bone cancer.

Some veterinarians call Goldens "Cancer retrievers," and treatments for this disease can be emotionally and financially devastating. It's not known to what extent all these forms of cancer are genetic or exactly how they're transmitted from one generation to the next, but the sky-high rate of cancer in Golden Retrievers is at least partly inherited.

Hip Dysplasia

Goldens also suffer from a high incidence of the painful genetic hip deformity known as "hip dysplasia," where the head of the thighbone doesn't fit properly into the hip socket. A study published in Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association in 2005 reported that prevalence values of hip dysplasia range from 23.5% to 55.7% for Golden Retrievers. Serious hip dysplasia requires very costly surgical treatment and can lead to crippling arthritis. Golden Retrievers can also have genetic elbow deformities.

Eye Disease

Eyes are another problem area in the breed, so make sure the parents have been examined by a board certified veterinary ophthalmologist and certified by the Canine Eye Registry Foundation or equivalent in the country of origin of your Golden.

Heart Disease

Heart disease is also prevalent in Golden Retrievers, primarily the condition known as sub-aortic stenosis, a narrowing of the aorta that carries blood away from the heart. This usually shows up first as a slight heart murmur, but murmurs often occur in puppies that have no heart problems as adults. SAS can lead to sudden death, even at a young age, so have your dog's heart checked at least once a year, and investigate any murmurs thoroughly.


Epilepsy, ear infections, allergies, itching and skin infections, immune and auto-immune diseases like lupus are some other common conditions that affect Golden Retrievers.


Prevention, management and treatment

Your vet will be the best person to advise you on managing health issues of your Golden Retriever. However, advances in diagnostics, technology, treatment protocols and rehabilitation tools and programs have vastly improved the quality of life for Goldens suffering from these common health issues.

We will be keeping abreast of new treatments and management techniques and bring you regular updates. We’ll also be expanding our panel of specialist consultants on Golden Retriever health, and sharing their experience, expertise and advice with you.

Visit this page periodically to get your updates.


Is your dog constantly scratching, chewing, and licking? If so, there is a possibility that he may be suffering from some form of allergy.

In recent years, the number of dogs suffering from dog allergies has increased dramatically, and in particular, Golden Retrievers seem disproportionately afflicted. Many dogs have been mis-diagnosed as having allergies when in fact they are suffering from something else, e.g. hypothyroidism in dogs frequently results in skin infections that are often mis-diagnosed as canine atopic dermatitis.

A proper diagnosis is very important before any treatment is given. As more and more of our Goldens are suffering from allergies, it is vitally important that we educate ourselves as much as we can about canine allergies.

Although dogs are exposed to a lot of allergens, not all dogs develop symptoms of allergies. Most problems develop in dogs with an already weakened immune system, hormonal imbalance, bacterial or fungal infections, or those with emotional stress due to boredom, a lack of exercise, etc. When exposed to outside allergy-causing factors, (such as fleas, poor quality food, environmental toxins, over vaccination), these dogs are more prone to develop symptoms of dog allergies.

If your Golden Retriever shows allergy symptoms, it is very important that you consult your vet and ask that a thorough check-up (skin and blood tests) be carried out to identify the cause of the allergy. Finding out the root problem and getting rid of that problem will strengthen the overall health of your dog, increasing resistance against the allergens.

Very rarely, your dog may have severe allergic reactions that include urticarial (hives), angioedema (facial swelling) or anaphylaxis, which is a life threatening, immediate allergic reaction to something ingested or injected. If untreated, it can in some cases result in shock, respiratory and cardiac failure, and death.


Common dog allergies include ...


Canine atopic dermatitis

One of the most common dog allergies is canine atopic dermatitis, or canine atopy. Canine atopic dermatitis is a genetic inflammatory skin disorder, in which the dog becomes sensitized to environmental allergens such as pollens, molds, house dust mites, etc. Depending on the allergens, canine atopy can be seasonal (e.g. pollen allergies) or it can be year round (e.g. house dust mites, molds, etc.). Allergies usually occur within 1 to 3 years of a dog being exposed to continual environmental allergens.


Lick granuloma

A lick granuloma is an open sore, usually at the ankle or wrist, perpetuated by constant licking.

Previously, lick sores were thought to be psychogenic in origin and related to boredom and inactivity. It now appears that many cases are preceded by an itchy skin disease (such as canine atopy) that starts the lick cycle.

Other possible initiating causes include demodectic mange, a bacterial or fungal infection, prior trauma, and underlying joint disease. The precipitating event focuses the dog’s attention on the area. The licking then becomes a habit that may be perpetuated by psychological events, so behavior may still be a factor.


Flea allergies

Flea allergy dermatitis is caused by the saliva of the flea which contains a number of chemicals that can induce an allergic response in dogs. More common in the Americas, our local Goldens can suffer a similar reaction from tick bites.


Food allergies

Canine food allergies result when a dog develops allergic reactions to one or more ingredients in his food. It causes intense itching to the allergic dog.

Suspect dog food allergies if your dog shows allergy symptoms all year round and does not respond to anti-inflammatory and anti-itching medications such as corticosteroids.

To diagnose dog food allergies, you need to feed your dog an "elimination diet" in order to isolate and identify the allergen. We have more information on food allergies under our “Nutrition” section of this website.


Contact dermatitis

Irritant contact dermatitis produces itchy red bumps and inflammation of the skin. You may notice moist, weepy spots, blisters, and crusts. The skin becomes rough and scaly and hair is lost. Excessive scratching damages the skin and sets the stage for secondary pyoderma.

Contact dermatitis is caused by direct skin contact with an allergen, and allergic reactions are commonly found in areas such as the "armpits", the stomach and groin areas.

Common culprits that may cause contact dermatitis in dogs are chemicals found in some flea collars, soaps and disinfectants, weed killer, fertilizers, and insecticides. Sometimes, the dog may also develop mouth lesions if she licks the affected areas.



When a scaling skin disorder first showed up in Golden Retrievers in the 1990s, it was frequently misdiagnosed as seborrhea, a condition that also causes scaling and dandruff. More than a decade later, veterinary specialists began studying the disorder and realized it is specific to Golden Retrievers. More recently, geneticists identified the causative mutation and developed a direct DNA test to identify affected and carrier dogs.

Fortunately, Golden Retriever ichthyosis is seldom severe. The disorder is named for the Greek word ichthys, meaning fish, because it looks like fish scales. Breeders sometimes refer to the condition as "puppy dandruff" since puppies usually outgrow signs of flaky skin as they mature, although ichthyosis also occurs in adult dogs. Research in Goldens led to the discovery that the disorder is similar to one of the human autosomal recessive congenital ichthyoses (ARCI).

Tick fever

Tick Fever, or Ehrlichiosis, is a common blood disease of the dog and occasionally people. The disease is found worldwide and is transmitted by the Rihipicephalus sanguineus tick, which is abundant in our area. The tick ingests the organism when feeding on an infected host and transmits the disease to subsequent dogs that it feeds upon. The incubation period is seven to twenty one days.


Symptoms of Tick Fever depend upon which phase of the disease is present in your dog. The acute phase of the disease is accompanied by rather non-specific symptoms and may include listlessness, poor appetite, fever, cough and discharge from the eyes or nose. The chronic phase of the disease may display the acute phase symptoms as well as nosebleeds, other abnormal bleeding, swelling of the legs and weight loss. In both phases, symptoms result from destruction of red blood cells, platelets and occasionally white blood cells.


Diagnosis of Tick Fever relies upon blood tests. Initially, an in-house profile indicates anemia, thrombocytopenia (decreased platelets) and increased globulins (antibodies are one type of globulin). In-house Idexx snap test confirms presence of antibodies. At two weeks or more post therapy, an ehrlichia PCR test confirms that the organism causing tick fever has been eradicated. Diagnosis of Tick fever is important since the similar clinical signs are present with several other diseases, including cancer. It is also important to note that titers may be negative early in the course of the disease.


Treatment of Tick Fever is a one month course of Doxycycline. The disease usually responds rapidly. The chronic phase of the disease is often more serious, requiring hospitalization, intravenous fluid and antibiotic therapy and transfusions. The chronic phase of the disease may be fatal.


Prevention of tick fever centers on tick control. This includes the use of several products such as Frontline, Revolution, Certifect etc to repel ticks from your dog. Always consult your vet on which products best suit your Golden before applying any of these products. Equally important is the need to keep your dog’s environment free of ticks by having your yard and house spayed for ticks.



How Heartworm Happens -The Life Cycle

First, adult female heartworms release their young, called microfilariae, into an animal's bloodstream. Then, mosquitoes become infected withmicrofilariae while taking blood meal from the infected animal. During the next 10 to 14 days, the microfilariae mature to the infective larval stage within the mosquito. After that, the mosquito bites another dog, cat or other susceptible animal, and the infective larvae enter through the bite wound. It then takes a little over 6 months for the infective larvae to mature into adult worms. In dogs, the worms may live for up to 7 years. Microfilariaecannot mature into adult heartworms without first passing through a mosquito.


What Are the Signs of Heartworm Disease?

For both dogs and cats, clinical signs of heartworm disease may not be recognized in the early stages, as the number of heartworms in an animal tends to accumulate gradually over a period of months and sometimes years and after repeated mosquito bites.

Recently infected dogs may exhibit no signs of the disease, while heavily infected dogs may eventually show clinical signs, including a mild, persistent cough, reluctance to move or exercise, fatigue after only moderate exercise, reduced appetite and weight loss.

How Do You Detect Heartworm Disease?

Heartworm infection in apparently healthy animals is usually detected with blood tests for a heartworm substance called an "antigen" ormicrofilariae, although neither test is consistently positive until about seven months after infection has occurred.

Heartworm infection may also occasionally be detected through ultrasound and/or x-ray images of the heart and lungs, although these tests are usually used in animals already known to be infected.


Because heartworm disease is preventable, the American Heartworm Society recommends that pet owners take steps now to talk to their veterinarian about how to best protect their pets from this dangerous disease. Heartworm prevention is safe, easy and inexpensive. While treatment for heartworm disease in dogs is possible, it is a complicated and expensive process, taking weeks for infected animals to recover.

There are a variety of options for preventing heartworm infection, including daily and monthly tablets and chewables, monthly topicals and a six-month injectable product available only for dogs. All of these methods are extremely effective, and when administered properly on a timely schedule, heartworm infection can be completely prevented. These medications interrupt heartworm development before adult worms reach the lungs and cause disease.

It is your responsibility to faithfully maintain the prevention program you have selected in consultation with your veterinarian.


Usually, all but the most advanced cases of heartworm disease can be successfully treated in dogs; however it is always best to prevent the disease.

Adult heartworms in dogs are killed using a drug called an adulticide that is injected into the muscle through a series of treatments. Treatment may be administered on an outpatient basis, but hospitalization is usually recommended. When the dog is sent home, exercise should be limited to leash walking for the duration of the recovery period, which can last from one to two months. This decreases the risk of partial or complete blockage of blood flow through the lungs by dead worms.

Re-infection during treatment is prevented by administration of a heartworm preventive. These preventives may also eliminate microfilariae if they are present. Dogs in heart failure and those with caval syndromerequire require special attention.