Golden Retriever Genetic Problems

Unfortunately, Golden Retrievers don’t live forever. 

A Golden Retriever’s lifespan is usually between 10 and 12 years. However, they’re prone to diseases and health issues that can cut their time shorter. Some of the conditions they’re prone to aren’t fatal, but might mean you need to make frequent trips to the vet and buy various medications.

If you have any concerns about your Golden Retriever’s health, the most important thing to do is to get them to a vet ASAP. The earlier you can catch whatever is bothering them, the better.

Read on to find out which health problems Golden Retrievers are most prone to getting and the signs and symptoms to look out for – including allergies, ear infections, and more.

What Health Problems Are Golden Retrievers Most Prone To?

Golden Retrievers are incredible pets. 

But like a lot of purebred dogs, there are a handful of health conditions which these beautiful dogs seem to be ailed with. 

These are the most common issues they have:

  • Hip dysplasia
  • Elbow dysplasia
  • Allergies
  • Ear infections
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Cancer
  • Eye issues (Cataracts & Glaucoma)
  • Skin conditions
  • Chest problems
  • Von Willebrand Disease

Keep reading for a description of these problems and the common signs of them in a Golden Retriever.

Hip Dysplasia

This issue is one of the most common health complaints from Golden Retriever (and other large dogs) owners. It’s caused when the hips (which are a ball and socket joint) develop abnormally.

A normal joint moves comfortably within the socket as the dog moves.

But with hip dysplasia, the socket is deformed. This could mean the ball is too large, the socket is too small, either is misshapen or the ligaments which hold everything in place are unusually weak. 

If these issues are left untreated, the joint will deteriorate and leave the dog with inflammation, pain, and loss of mobility.

Hip dysplasia is often passed down genetically. This is why it’s important that you check that both parent dogs have been screened for hip problems when buying a large breed puppy (like Golden Retrievers).

Each hip is given a grade between 0 and 53, giving a combined score of up to 106. Ideally, a combined score of less than 20 is considered good (the lower it is the better). For example: Left hip – 7, and right hip – 5 would give a combined score of 12.

However, it is worth noting that sometimes hip problems in your pup can develop despite both parents showing no signs. The problem can also be made worse if your dog is overweight (which can put more stress on their joints) or by over-exercising puppies.

Symptoms to look out for:

  • ‘Bunny hopping’ when both of their back legs move together.
  • Lameness/stiffness when moving.
  • Trouble getting up and lying down.
  • Loss of interest in walks.
  • Difficulty with stairs or climbing onto furniture.
  • A swaying walk.
  • Hips that lack muscle bulk/tone due to weak muscles.

Elbow Dysplasia

This is an issue usually inherited from a parent. It’s where the elbow joint doesn’t form correctly. Wear and tear from aging can cause discomfort and lameness along with loss of function. The parent dogs can be screened for this issue – it’s graded between 0 and 3, with 0 being best and 3 being the worst. This should be checked before the dog is used for breeding.

Generally, responsible breeders will only breed their dogs if they have a score of 0. Signs of this usually show up before the dog turns one – but in some milder cases, symptoms will present when the dog is middle-aged or older due to painful arthritis stemming from this problem.

Symptoms to look out for:

  • Lameness in one or both front legs.
  • Reluctance to exercise.
  • Stiffness.
  • Front feet turning out.


Unfortunately, Golden Retrievers are vulnerable to a variety of allergies. 

Atopic Dermatitis

One of the most common allergies in Golden Retrievers is Atopic Dermatitis. This is generally a chronic condition and will need lots of care and ongoing treatment to manage. You may be able to lower its impact by regularly grooming and bathing them and using prescribed medication.

Symptoms to look out for with Atopic Dermatitis:

  • Lots of licking/scratching themselves (particularly their paws, abdomen, and hindquarters).
  • Sometimes your golden will present with redness around their paws and/or their groin.
  • You may notice inflamed/hot/red inner ears.

Flea Allergy

Another allergy you may find in your golden retriever is a flea allergy. This usually occurs when fleas bite your dog and they have a reaction to the flea’s saliva. 

You may never see any fleas present on your dog – as they don’t stay on the dog long after feeding. A flea allergy can develop at any age, but it most commonly shows up between ages 2 and 5 years.

Dogs with other environmental allergies are more likely to suffer from a flea allergy. This allergy may present with similar symptoms to other common skin issues so careful consideration will be needed to differentiate between them.

 Symptoms to look out for with flea allergies:

  • Patches of hair loss along the dog’s back, tail base, and thighs.
  • Skin can be hot to the touch and several small scabs are sometimes visible. 

Food Allergies

Food allergies are another big contender for common allergies seen in Goldens – which is unfortunate for them, as anyone that has one knows that this breed loves their food!

If you suspect your dog has a food allergy, your vet will be able to conduct some tests to find out what exactly your dog is having issues with so you can find suitable food for them.

Symptoms vary a lot between dogs, but some signs to look out for include:

  • Itchiness.
  • Headshaking.
  • Over-licking paws.
  • Stomach/gastrointestinal issues including gas and diarrhea.
  • Itching of their rear end after bowel movements, sometimes signaled by frequent licking of the area.
  • Sometimes chronic ear issues are present.

All allergies can be treated in a few different ways. It’s best to speak with your vet to decide on the best action to take for your dog.

Ear Infections

Golden Retrievers are known for their velvety floppy ears – but sometimes their ears can cause recurrent issues with ear infections. Sometimes lack of airflow allows the right conditions for their delicate inner ear system to get out of balance.

Other times, chronic ear infections can be signs of something else – such as an allergy. Endocrine (hormone) problems can also play a part. Your vet will be able to advise the best form of treatment for your dog.

Symptoms to look out for:

  • Head shaking. 
  • Pawing at their ears/affected ear.
  • Smelly discharge in and around the ear canal of the infected ear(s).
  • Red and inflamed or scabbed inner/outer ear.
  • Signs of pain from the ear or ears. 


Hypothyroidism (not to be confused with Hyperthyroidism) generally (but not always) shows up in dogs between 4 and 10 years old. The thyroid is a gland found in their neck which produces a hormone to regulate the process of turning food into fuel. 

If your dog has hypothyroidism, this means that the thyroid is producing a lower level of this hormone than is needed for their metabolism to work productively. Speak to your vet if you suspect this, as the sooner you get it under control the better. It’s generally easy and fairly inexpensive to treat.

Symptoms to look out for:

  • Weight gain – even though you might notice a decrease in appetite. 
  • Flaky/dry skin.
  • Hair loss around their trunk, back of their legs, and tail.
  • Dull and thin fur.
  • Lethargy.
  • Ear infections.
  • Cold intolerance.
  • Low heart rate.


Golden Retrievers seem to have a higher prevalence of cancers than other breeds. There are 4 types of cancer most commonly seen: Hemangiosarcoma, Osteosarcoma, Lymphoma, and Mast Cell Tumors. 

Symptoms to look out for are similar to what humans see with cancer:

  • A lump or growth.
  • Wounds that aren’t healing.
  • Enlarged lymph nodes.
  • Abnormal bleeding.
  • Unexpected lameness.
  • Lethargy.
  • Loss of appetite.

Some dogs show no initial signs that they are ill. But if you feel like your dog is acting abnormally, or you feel something is off, you should seek advice from your vet.

Eye Issues

Cataracts are a common problem which eventually causes blindness in older dogs. Sometimes treatment may be offered – but Golden Retrievers often adjust well to living with limited sight during their final years. 

Glaucoma is another eye condition which goldens can sometimes suffer from. The disease is painful and can lead to blindness without treatment. If symptoms of glaucoma arise, treatment should be sought as soon as possible from your vet. 

Symptoms of eye issues to look out for include: 

  • Watery or squinting eyes.
  • Cloudy eyes.
  • Hazy or blue tinge to the eye.
  • Redness of the white of the eye.
  • Signs of pain.
  • Head tilting to one side.
  • Sudden lack of vision.
  • Dilated pupil that does not respond to light.

Skin Conditions

Because of their long overcoat and dense undercoat, bacteria can get trapped – causing skin conditions. This can look like allergies, or appear as red, flaky, itchy skin. Most skin conditions require vet treatment to sort out.

Golden Retrievers that are exposed to cold or warm air, parasites, insects, pollen, ticks, mites, fleas, dirt, and mold are more likely to develop a skin condition. One example of this is Pyoderma – a skin infection containing pus.

Symptoms to look out for include: 

  • Excessive licking.
  • Scratching/ itching.
  • Inflammation.
  • Signs of infection (pus or hot to touch).

Chest Problems

Chest problems can develop from health issues in the lung, heart, or circulatory system. 

  • Pneumothorax: When air leaks into the chest cavity. It can cause labored breathing, coughing, blue gums, inflated chest, and discomfort. In the worst cases, their lungs could collapse.
  • Aortic Stenosis: The narrowing of the aorta valve that restricts blood flow and puts too much pressure on the heart.

These can be hard to detect until it’s too late, so it’s smart to have a vet regularly check their heart and lung health.

Von Willebrand Disease

This is a blood-clotting disease that’s common in Golden Retrievers. The von Willebrand Factor is a protein that is supposed to make the blood clot – and is usually only found if a Golden Retriever has an injury (or surgery) and the wound doesn’t clot as it should.

Sometimes there aren’t any symptoms of this disease, and it’s genetic – so it’s something that’s passed down from their parents. 

Symptoms to look out for include: 

  • Spontaneous hemorrhaging.
  • Bruised skin.
  • Anemia.
  • Internal bleeding.
  • Blood in their urine.
  • Bleeding gums.
  • Bleeding nose.

How to Help Your Golden Retriever Stay Healthy

Some of these conditions are genetic and will affect your Golden Retriever no matter how healthy they are. 

But by helping your Golden to be as healthy as possible, you’re giving them the best chance to avoid preventable problems.

Tips on keeping your Golden Retriever healthy:

  • Research when you get your Golden: This means checking the elbow and hip scores of the parent dogs and the family history of health problems. A reputable breeder will be happy to provide you with all this information.
  • Daily care: This covers bathing, brushing their teeth, cleaning their ears, grooming, and more. Not only will they look good, but it’ll help avoid dental problems, skin irritations, and ear infections if you stay on top of it.
  • Exercise: Adult Golden Retrievers need a lot of exercise (around 2 hours a day). This will keep your Golden fit, healthy, and happy.
  • Healthy diet: Make sure that you do your research so you’re giving your Golden Retriever a healthy, balanced diet. Eating the wrong food can upset their stomachs and cause long-term health issues like obesity.
  • Regular vet check-ups: Almost any health problem is best if it’s found early and treated. Being proactive as soon as you suspect something isn’t right is critical. Yearly check-ups are also advised.
  • Get health insurance: Getting pet insurance means that if there are any problems, you can get treatment without having to suddenly find a lot of money.

Closing Thoughts

As mentioned above, always seek veterinary advice if your dog is not well.

The best way to help your Golden Retriever is to get a diagnosis as soon as you notice something is wrong, which means that they can get treatment as soon as possible.

Don’t let these potential health conditions put you off this loving, loyal breed though.

There’s always a chance of a health problem with any type of dog, but it’s not a guarantee. And once you’re aware of the risks, you can be proactive in looking out for early symptoms that something is amiss.

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