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Golden Retriever 101: 8 Common Health Issues & How to Prevent Them

Diana Bocco - Writer for DailyTails
By Diana Bocco
Davor Štefanović - Editor for DailyTails
Edited by Davor Štefanović

Updated July 17, 2023.

Young golden retriever playing outside. Dog sitting.

If you’ve decided to bring a golden retriever into your home, you’re not alone—this is one of the most popular dog breeds in the US. Golden retrievers have a reputation as excellent family dogs and are loyal and easy to train (though you should be prepared for lots of shedding!). Although they are medium-sized, they usually live up to 12 years, as long as you keep an eye on common medical issues.

Here are some of the most common medical problems in golden retrievers.

8 Most common health issues in Golden Retrievers

  • Hip Dysplasia
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Skin Problems
  • Ear Infections
  • Pigmentary Uveitis
  • Progressive Retinal Atrophy
  • Heart Disease
  • Stomach Issues

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1. Hip Dysplasia

Hip dysplasia is a very common condition that results in the loosening of the hip joint. This means the two parts of the joint (the top of the femur and the hip socket) do not move smoothly but instead rub constantly against each other.

Hip dysplasia is mainly hereditary, but it's also possible for it to develop as your dog gets older. Common symptoms include difficulty getting up, limping, abnormal sitting positions with legs out to one side, and a reluctance to run, jump or climb stairs.


A proper diet that provides all essential nutrients and is specially formulated for larger-breed puppies will ensure that the skeletal system develops properly.

Wait until your male dog is at least one year old before neutering him. Research shows that neutering too early might affect bone growth and could contribute to the development of hip dysplasia later in life. Early health screenings are essential to detect abnormalities.

2. Hypothyroidism

Hypothyroidism is a medical condition where the thyroid gland cannot produce enough essential hormones. The most common causes for it include inflammation of the thyroid gland and immune-mediated diseases, where the dog's own immune system attacks the thyroid. Although hypothyroidism can affect any dog, some breeds, including golden retrievers, are more predisposed to it.

Symptoms of hypothyroidism include:

  • Hair loss
  • Slow heart rate
  • Dark patches of skin
  • Lethargy and cold intolerance
  • Unexplained weight gain


Hypothyroidism cannot be prevented and it’s not curable, but it can be easily treated using a thyroid replacement hormone. Veterinarians can diagnose hypothyroidism easily with a blood test known as TT4.

3. Skin Problems

Golden Retriever Skin Problem

Common skin issues seen in golden retrievers include:

  • Hot spots: Also known as acute moist dermatitis because it often appears in humid environments or wet skin. It causes painful raw skin and can lead to intense scratching and licking.
  • Hemangiosarcoma: This type of blood vessel cancer can cause tumors on the skin but also in the spleen, liver, and other organs. For skin tumors, surgery is recommended. Common symptoms include lethargy and weakness, labored breathing, and increased heart rate
  • Mast cell tumors: Golden retrievers are prone to this type of cancer, which causes inflamed masses on the skin. Surgical removal is the most common treatment.
  • Atopic Dermatitis: Common in golden retrievers 2–6 years old, this condition causes intense itching and inflammation, which lead to chewing and obsessive licking, hair loss, and skin lesions.


Prevention of skin problems should cover different areas, including using flea and tick medication regularly and always drying up the skin well after swimming or a bath to prevent hot spots. Sunscreen and light clothing can help protect your dog against skin cancer, while omega-3 and 6 fatty acids are great for problems like itching and inflammation.

4. Ear Infections

Dogs with long, hanging ears, like golden retrievers, are prone to ear infections. Because of the floppy ears, the wax produced by glands in the ear can accumulate and trap moisture more easily—which in turn can lead to inflammation and infection in the ear canal. Water getting into the ears during a bath or swimming can increase bacteria accumulation and lead to an infection.

Symptoms of an ear infection include:

  • Redness in the ear canal
  • Brown or yellow wax discharge
  • Odor
  • Head shaking
  • Scratching or rubbing the ears against something


Regular ear cleaning will help prevent wax and dirt buildup in the ear canal. You can use a medicated ear-cleaning product to thoroughly wash the ears every 2–3 weeks or after your dog goes swimming. Good nutrition will also help boost the immune system to fight infections.

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5. Pigmentary Uveitis

Pigmentary uveitis is an inherited inflammatory eye disease that results in severe, progressive vision-related complications. A common one is the appearance of cysts that are only visible using special veterinarian tools. Redness, cataracts, and glaucoma can also appear. Surgery is sometimes necessary.


Pigmentary uveitis can’t be prevented, but routine checkups can help minimize complications. If detected early, pigmentary uveitis can be treated with topical anti-inflammatory medications, NSAIDs, and sometimes corticosteroids.

6. Progressive Retinal Atrophy

Veterinarian stroking golden retriever dog after appointment in clinic

Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA) is a hereditary degenerative disease that causes dogs to slowly lose their vision. In some cases, dogs with PRA also develop cataracts. As the disease progresses, the eyes become reflective, causing pupils to dilate. This makes the dog's vision worse, causing them to bump into things or become uncomfortable and lost in dark environments.


There’s no treatment for PRA, but research shows antioxidants might help delay cataract formation. Don’t make significant changes to your home or move furniture around to avoid confusing your dog.

7. Heart Disease

Golden retrievers are prone to dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), a disease that causes the heart muscle to become weak and enlarged. As a result, the heart cannot pump blood to the rest of the body properly.

Symptoms can include:

  • Coughing and labored breathing
  • Fluid accumulation and bloating
  • Weakness, lethargy
  • Refusing to go for walks or getting more tired during one


There’s no specific way to prevent DCM, but a healthy lifestyle that includes frequent light exercise such as walking, playing, and swimming can help. Some dogs might also benefit from a specialized diet.

8. Stomach Issues

Golden retrievers have sensitive stomachs and are prone to digestive problems. These can be caused by everything from parasites to viruses to food intolerances or allergies. Retrievers are also prone to “dietary indiscretions” — stealing food, eating garbage, or swallowing non-food items. Signs of stomach issues can include constipation or diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal bloating, gas or flatulence, and loss of appetite.


A balanced, healthy diet is essential to protect the digestive system. Only feed high-quality dog food and avoid table scraps. Keep up to date with regular check-ups, vaccination, and parasite prevention to ensure your dog stays healthy.

Keep Your Golden Retriever Happy and Healthy

Getting sick is part of life, but your Golden retriever relies on you to identify and seek treatment when necessary. For peace of mind when unexpected vet costs come up, consider getting pet insurance.

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