Golden Retrievers are generally a very healthy breed; however, like all breeds, they are subject to some genetic disorders and health problems. The risks for many significant health issues can be greatly reduced through careful breeding practices, beginning with screening examinations of the parents of a litter. Each breed (and mixed-bred dogs too) has its own particular hereditary problems and Golden Retrievers are no exception. Failure to screen for these conditions before breeding results in taking unnecessary risks for genetic disease and frequently leads to distress for the buyer and dog alike. Below are the diseases for which the GRCWA Code of Ethics recommends pre-breeding health testing.
Reputable breeders are expected to conduct screening examinations for these diseases on the parents of a litter and show copy of the health certificates to prospective puppy buyers.
A brief outline of diseases that are health tested in the Golden are below: If you would like further information about these and other health matters of the breed please check out the following Fact Sheets
HIP DYSPLASIA (HD)
Hip dysplasia refers to abnormal formation of the “ball-and-socket” hip joint and occurs in many breeds, particularly larger dogs. It is primarily inherited and believed to be influenced by multiple genes. However, risk and severity of hip dysplasia may also be increased by environmental factors such as unbalanced diet, overfeeding that leads to rapid growth during early puppyhood, neutering prior to maturity and possibly certain types of exercise. Hip dysplasia is a disease caused by multiple genes and as it is also influenced by environmental factors, its elimination is not straightforward. Currently, Australian Breeders use the ANKC’s Canine Hip and Elbow Dysplasia Scheme (CHEDs) to assess the degree of hip dysplasia a dog has.
Dog’s are x-rayed after 12 months of age and the hips are scored by a specialist. The score can range from 0-53 for each hip and the lower the score the better the hip. The average hip score for golden retrievers which is determined from x-rays submitted into the CHED scheme is 11 (ANKC 2020).
Signs of hip dysplasia cannot be detected in very young puppies, but often appear between four and twelve months of age. Symptoms can vary widely from mild stiffness after exercise to severe lameness. Improvement or even resolution of symptoms can occur as the dog matures and muscles stabilize the joint; however, dysplastic dogs usually develop some degree of arthritis and discomfort later in life.
Dysplastic dogs generally are not used for breeding, but may lead long, happy lives. The radiographic appearance of the hips does not always correlate with clinical symptoms and many dysplastic Goldens show no outward signs until middle or older age when secondary arthritis may cause increasing discomfort. However, regular, moderate exercise and weight control are important to managing all dogs with hip dysplasia, even those without symptoms. Depending on severity, dogs with symptomatic disease may be treated with dietary supplements, medication, and/or surgery.
ELBOW DYSPLASIA (ED)
“Elbow dysplasia” is a term used to describe one or more inherited developmental abnormalities in a dog’s elbow joint. Generally speaking, elbow dysplasia means the development of arthritis in the elbow joint. Elbow dysplasia often first appears as front leg lameness in young dogs, although symptoms can appear at any age. Like hip dysplasia, many affected dogs have no symptoms, yet can pass more serious disease to their offspring. For other affected dogs, symptoms range from mild stiffness to severe lameness.
Elbow dysplasia is primarily inherited and development is believed to be influenced by multiple genes. However, severity of elbow dysplasia may also be increased by rapid growth during early puppyhood as a result of over-feeding.
Golden Retrievers are susceptible to elbow dysplasia and breeders screen their dogs under the CHED’s scheme. The dogs elbows are x-rayed after they are over 12 months of age and the x-rays are assessed by an expert. The score given ranges form 0-3, with 0 being normal and 3 being badly affected.
Although dogs with elbow dysplasia generally are not bred, many lead normal, happy lives. Depending on severity, dogs with symptomatic disease may be managed by weight control, dietary supplements, medication and/or surgery.
There are various conditions that Goldens are susceptible to some serious and sight affecting such as, Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA) and Hereditary Cataracts (HC) and other conditions that don’t affect the sight such as, Multifocal Retinal Dysplasia (MRD) and Post Polar Cataract (PPC). In Australia, Breeders screen there dogs annually for these conditions.
Hereditary cataracts, usually appear between 1-3 years of age, but fortunately do not usually cause any functional impairment. Non-hereditary cataracts also occur, and examination by a board-certified veterinary ophthalmologist is necessary to determine if the cataract is suspected to be hereditary.
Eyelid and eyelash disorders also may occur in the breed, and are generally believed to have a hereditary basis. Entropion and ectropion are conditions that cause the eyelids to roll inward or outward, respectively; and distichiasis is a condition in which misdirected hairs touch and irritate the surface of the eye. Depending on severity, surgery may be advised to correct these problems. Although dogs with these conditions can receive eye certifications, these diagnoses will be noted on the forms.
Annual examination by a board certified veterinary ophthalmologist is recommended for the lifetime of any dog that has been bred, because hereditary eye problems can develop at varying ages and certificates are valid for only 12 months from the date of examination.
There are several DNA tests available for PRA to help guide breeders, so that they can avoid producing affected puppies. It is acceptable to breed dogs that are carriers for PRA, providing the mate has been DNA tested as normal; and puppies produced from such matings are not at elevated risk to develop the disease.
HEART DISEASE (SAS)
Canine subvalvular aortic stenosis (SAS) is an abnormal, congenital heart murmur caused by subaortic stenosis (SAS) that has been detected in Goldens. There is very good evidence that it is heritable and thought to be multifactorial, so that the inheritance is complex. A dog might carry the genes for SAS, yet have no actual sign of SAS. Also, a dog might have signs of SAS and yet offspring with signs of SAS may not be seen for a couple of generations. Any animal that has SAS should not be bred, because they can definitely pass the defect on to future offspring. Puppies and dogs diagnosed with SAS can suffer from heart failure and sudden death. If a dog with SAS develops heart failure, medications can be prescribed to alleviate the clinical signs (sudden/strong lethargicism, continuous heavy panting, rise in temperature etc.) In Australia, breeders have their dogs examined by a veterinary cardiologists for heart murmurs. A dog which auscultates normally at 12 months of age is considered to be free of congenital heart disease; and a clear certificate is issued.