6 Golden Retriever Common Health Issues [+Signs and Prevention]

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golden retriever dressed like a doctor

A friendly, intelligent dog, the Golden Retriever is generally healthy, but the breed also has its share of health issues. 

When you understand the particular genetic predispositions your Golden has for developing some health conditions, you’ll be able to recognize problems and seek veterinary care as soon as possible. Early intervention can make a difference in your dog’s quality of life.

A genetic predisposition to certain diseases is not a guarantee that your Golden Retriever will develop any of these conditions. But, most dogs deal with at least one health challenge in their lifetime. We’re just giving you a list of the most likely problems that Goldens encounter.

The most common diseases that Golden Retrievers can develop include orthopedic issues, allergies, hypothyroidism, bloat, eye conditions, and Von Willebrand’s disease.

In this article, we’ll break down the common health problems for Golden Retrievers and discuss how they affect the breed throughout the lifecycle. Then, we’ll provide a list of signs you should watch out for and offer some health care and prevention tips for your furbaby.

Common health problems

Golden retrievers tend to be healthy dogs, but they do have their share of genetically-linked health conditions. 

Orthopedic issues

As a large breed, Golden Retrievers commonly suffer from hip and elbow dysplasia. Dogs that suffer from this condition are born with shallow joint cups that allow for extra movement and degenerative changes.

Hip and elbow dysplasia usually occur in Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, German Shepherds, Great Danes, and other large and giant breeds.

Although these orthopedic issues are linked to anatomy that’s present from birth, you usually see symptoms of degenerative change in middle-aged or senior dogs.

Goldens with hip and elbow dysplasia are born with an anatomical structure that causes loose joints. In the hip, the socket is too shallow, while in the elbow, the joint cartilage is too thick. Over time, repetitive movement in the joint creates chronic inflammation, pain, and degeneration.

Symptoms of hip and elbow dysplasia include:

  • Difficulty walking
  • Bunny hopping when running
  • Difficulty rising
  • Difficulty or reluctance when climbing stairs, getting in the car, or getting on furniture
  • Sitting with a leg out to the side
  • Chronic pain

Untreated hip and elbow dysplasia will grow worse over time and lead to painful, degenerative arthritis. As the condition progresses, your Golden’s mobility will decline.

Your first line of defense in preventing genetically linked orthopedic issues is buying your puppy from a reputable breeder that won’t breed dogs with a family history of these conditions. Once you purchase a Golden Retriever, use proper nutrition and supplements to help minimize joint degeneration. 

Hip and elbow dysplasia may be managed medically or surgically, depending on the severity of the condition. Medical treatment may include anti-inflammatory drugs, pain medications, joint supplements, physical therapy, weight management, restricted activity,  and joint fluid modifiers. Surgical correction may be the treatment of choice for severe conditions.


Like many breeds, Golden Retrievers are susceptible to developing skin allergies to certain triggers. While they can become sensitive to various food or environmental stimuli, Goldens are most likely to react to seasonal allergens.

Allergies are common in many dogs, including Golden Retrievers, French Bulldogs, Bichon Frise’, Cocker Spaniels, and Maltese. 

Regarding Goldens, allergy symptoms usually surface when dogs are 1-3 years old. Sensitivities usually build with repeated exposures to the trigger allergen.

Contact with an allergen triggers the body to release histamine, which causes an inflammatory response. With Goldens, the substance usually causes symptoms in the skin, such as extreme itching or rashes.

Signs of allergies in Golden Retrievers may include:

  • Extreme itchiness
  • Red, inflamed skin
  • Constant licking or scratching, especially the paws
  • Rubbing or itching the face/ears
  • Recurrent ear infections
  • Excessive shedding/patches of hair loss
  • Foul or yeasty odor

Allergies often grow worse with repeated exposure, and reactions can eventually become life-threatening. If your Golden shows signs of allergies, consult with your veterinarian about treatment options to help prevent severe allergic reactions. Any time you observe symptoms like hives, respiratory difficulty, sudden itchiness, or swelling around the face, take your dog to the veterinary clinic immediately.

Prevention of allergies involves avoiding known triggers, but this can be difficult with environmental allergens. If your pooch has any food sensitivities, consult with your veterinarian about dietary management.

Treatment for chronic allergies may include antihistamines, anti-inflammatory drugs, or steroids to control the reactions. Your veterinarian will also use antibiotics to treat any secondary skin infections.


Golden Retrievers have a tendency to develop hypothyroidism or a drop in thyroid hormone production as they age.

Medium and large-breed dogs including Golden Retrievers, Beagles, Boxers, Alaskan Malamutes, and Doberman Pinschers. 

Hypothyroidism is a slowly progressive condition, so symptoms of the disease usually manifest when Goldens are middle-aged.

In Golden Retrievers, an autoimmune response usually causes the thyroid gland to lose its ability to produce enough hormones. When this happens, the body treats the tissue as a foreign invader and attacks it, causing it to shrink.

Signs of hypothyroidism include:

  • Weight gain
  • Lethargy
  • Mental dullness
  • Sudden changes in behavior
  • Vulnerability to skin and ear infections
  • Thin, brittle hair and bald patches
  • Reduced heart rate

Leaving hypothyroidism untreated can leave your dog open to infections and unwanted weight gain that places a strain on other body systems. Your Golden’s health and quality of life will slowly deteriorate.

Because there is a likely genetic predisposition for hypothyroidism in Golden Retrievers, you should seek puppies from reputable breeders. Ask for details about your dog’s family history.

Treatment for your Golden’s hypothyroidism involves hormone supplementation, regular monitoring, and weight management.


As a large-breed dog with a deep chest, Golden Retrievers are prone to develop bloat.

Bloat, or gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV), is common in larger dogs with deep, narrow chests, including Golden Retrievers, Great Danes, Saint Bernards, Boxers, and Weimaraners.

Bloat is more common in middle-aged and older dogs. Once your Golden reaches about 7 years of age, the risk of developing GDV increases by approximately 20% every year.

When bloat occurs, the stomach fills with gas and expands, causing the wall to stretch beyond normal. As pressure builds in the stomach, it can shut off blood to other organs and cause a life-threatening emergency. Sometimes, the stomach also rotates on its axis, causing a torsion.

Signs of bloat include:

  • Anxiety, pacing, acting uncomfortable
  • Turning and looking at the abdomen
  • Distended abdomen
  • Dry heaves/retching 
  • Panting or drooling
  • Praying/downward dog posture where the front end is lowered, and the hind end is elevated

Bloat is an emergency condition. If you don’t seek immediate treatment, your Golden can develop shock and collapse. 

Bloat usually occurs when the stomach is over-full with food or air, but it also has genetic/familial links. Preventative measures for bloat include: 

  • Purchasing a puppy from a family line that has no history of bloat
  • Dividing your Golden’s daily food into 2-3 smaller portions
  • Avoid exercising your dog for about an hour after meals

Treatment for bloat depends on the severity of your dog’s symptoms. Simple bloat may be treated with hospitalization, supportive care, and leash-walking to help the gas and food to move out of the stomach. Treatment for severe bloat or torsions can include:

  • Pain medications
  • Supportive care, including IV fluids
  • Stomach decompression
  • Surgery 

Eye conditions

Golden retrievers have genetic predispositions for developing cataracts, glaucoma, and progressive retinal atrophy (PRA).

Eye conditions are not unique to Goldens. They also affect other breeds, including. Siberian Huskies (cataracts/PRA), Lhasa Apsos (cataracts/PRA), Cavalier King Charles Spaniels (Cataracts), Akitas (glaucoma), and Dalmatians (glaucoma).

Each of the above eye conditions takes time to develop. Dogs usually show symptoms of these diseases as adults or seniors.

With cataracts, the lens slowly hardens and grows cloudy. Glaucoma is a buildup of fluid pressure in the globe because the aqueous liquids won’t drain from the globe. PRA involves retinal deterioration over time, which eventually results in blindness. 

Signs of eye conditions in your Golden Retriever may include:

  • Cloudiness of the cornea (glaucoma)
  • Eye pain (glaucoma)
  • Swollen eyeball (glaucoma)
  • Watery discharge from the eye (glaucoma)
  • Cloudiness in the eye lens (cataracts)
  • Night blindness (PRA)
  • Stumbling, bumping into objects (PRA)
  • Blindness (PRA, glaucoma, and cataracts)

Leaving cataracts and glaucoma untreated leads to blindness and eye damage. PRA is a progressive condition that has no known treatment.

The first step in preventing eye disease in your Golden Retriever is buying your puppy from a reputable breeder. Once you have your furbaby, feed him food that’s rich in antioxidants and omega fatty acids to help promote healthy eyes. Additionally, minimize your Golden’s exposure to UV light exposure.

Cataract treatment involves surgical removal of the lens. To treat glaucoma, your veterinarian will prescribe painkillers and drugs to reduce intraocular fluid production and promote drainage. In severe cases of glaucoma, surgery may be needed to relieve the pressure or to remove the eyeball.

Von Willebrand’s disease

Golden Retrievers are genetically prone to have a blood clotting disorder known as Von Willebrand’s disease. This condition is unique to hemophilia.

Breeds that can be born with Von Willebrand’s disease include Golden Retrievers, Doberman Pinschers, Shetland Sheepdogs, and Chesapeake Bay Retrievers.

While dogs can show signs of the disease as puppies, it’s more likely to manifest in adult Goldens.

Dogs with this disease either lack or have defective clotting proteins known as Von Willebrand’s factor, which help platelets stick together to form a clot.

Signs of Von Willebrand’s disease include:

  • Excessive bruising around an injury or surgery site
  • Prolonged bleeding after an injury or surgery
  • Spontaneous bleeding from the mouth, nose, or genital area

There is no cure for Von Willebrand’s disease, but without medical maintenance, your Golden is at risk of severe anemia and death.

Because Von Willebrand’s disease is genetically linked, you should only buy puppies from family lines that have no history of the condition. If your Golden is diagnosed with Von Willebrand’s, talk with your veterinarian about avoiding drugs that can further interfere with platelet function. You should also try to protect your Retriever from injury.

Treatment for Von Willebrand’s disease involves giving affected dogs a blood transfusion that includes Von Willebrand’s factor. If your dog has the disease, you should immediately take him to the vet any time he has prolonged bleeding issues.

Golden Retriever Health issues across the lifecycle

While orthopedic conditions like hip and elbow dysplasia are present at birth, they usually manifest later in life. Other health issues your Golden Retriever may experience, like eye conditions and bloat, also tend to appear in adulthood or later in life.

Golden Retriever Puppy Health Issues

Certain genetically linked conditions in Goldens are present at birth, but their symptoms usually manifest in older dogs. For example, dogs are born with anatomical abnormalities that predispose them to develop hip and elbow dysplasia. They also have defective or non-existent Von Willebrand’s factor proteins from birth. 

Adult Golden Retriever Health Issues

Many of the health issues that Golden Retrievers face develop over time. As a result, signs usually manifest in the adult years or later.

Conditions that usually surface in adult Goldens include allergies, hypothyroidism, and Von Willebrand’s disease.

Senior Golden Retriever Health Issues

Many of the conditions that affect Golden Retrievers in their senior years involve progressive change. Signs of orthopedic issues like elbow and hip dysplasia typically appear in senior years. Eye conditions also usually are slow to develop. Cataracts, glaucoma, and PRA are most likely to appear as your dog gets older.

Golden Retriever Health Issues and Average Lifespan

On average, Golden Retrievers live about 10-12 years. However, they can suffer from conditions that significantly affect their quality of life such as elbow and hip dysplasia or eye conditions. When dogs develop hypothyroidism, the condition can affect the organs and shorten your Golden’s life.

Golden Retriever Health Issues VS Other Dog Breeds

In comparison to other dog breeds, Golden Retrievers tend to be healthy and live long, full lives. They do share tendencies for orthopedic problems like other large and giant breed dogs. Most of the serious conditions your Golden might face are linked to poor breeding practices, so you may be able to avoid them by working with a trustworthy breeder.

Health Signs Golden Retriever Parents Should Beware Of

Because your Golden Retriever is at risk of developing certain conditions, you should know how to identify key signs of disease. The following are symptoms that may indicate your furbaby has a health issue.

  • Difficulty walking or rising
  • Bunny hopping when running
  • Difficulty or reluctance when climbing stairs, getting in the car, or getting on furniture
  • Sitting with a leg out to the side
  • Extreme itchiness
  • Excessive scratching or licking of the paws
  • Recurrent ear infections
  • Weight gain
  • Lethargy
  • Mental dullness
  • Thin, brittle hair and bald patches
  • Turning and looking at the abdomen
  • Distended abdomen
  • Dry heaves/retching 
  • Night blindness
  • Bumping into things
  • Swollen eyeball
  • Cloudy lens or cornea
  • Sudden or excessive bruising
  • Prolonged bleeding
  • Spontaneous bleeding

Golden Retriever Health Care Tips and Prevention

When you own a Golden Retriever, there are things you can do at home and take the best possible care of your precious furbaby. Some of these actions can also help prevent or minimize health issues.

  • Buy your Golden from a breeder with a good reputation
  • Schedule annual health checks, vaccinations, and other routine care for your furbaby
  • Maintain a healthy weight for your furbaby. Healthy adult males should weigh 65-75 pounds, and females should weigh 55-65 pounds, depending on their frame size.
  • Groom your Golden by brushing her coat daily and cleaning her ears once a week.
  • Feed a balanced diet, including nutrients to support the eyes, muscles, and joints.
  • Give your dog joint supplements like glucosamine and chondroitin
  • Use an orthopedic bed with memory foam to support your Golden’s joints

The Final Woof

Golden Retrievers are hearty and healthy dogs, as a rule, but they can suffer from certain conditions. Your furbaby may not suffer from any health issues, but it helps to know about them. That way, you’ll be better prepared to identify potential problems and seek the appropriate care.

The conditions that Golden Retrievers are prone to develop include orthopedic issues, allergies, bloat, and eye conditions. Many of these issues surface during the adult years. Understanding common signs of trouble helps you to take the best possible care of your furbaby. You can also do some things at home to maximize your Golden’s quality of life.

Photo of author
Dr. Libby Guise earned her DVM from the University of Minnesota in 1994. After working in private practice in Wisconsin for two years, she joined the USDA as a Veterinary Medical Officer. In 2011, Libby came home to focus on raising and teaching her adoptive daughter. She lives in Wisconsin with her daughter, husband, and two furbabies: Charis, a lab-mix rescue pup, and Chesed, a Springer Spaniel.

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