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Five Genetic Diseases of Golden Retrievers

Golden Retrievers are known for their affectionate, obedient and fun-loving nature. Devoted, friendly, intelligent, and playful, they are considered to be a perfect family pet. Genetics play a key role in many of the common diseases of Golden Retrievers.


1. Joint Disease - Elbow and Hip Dysplasia result from an abnormal development of the joint. Symptoms include limited range of motion, weakness, difficulty moving, loss of balance, stiffness, trouble rising, and lowered energy levels. Osteochondritis Dissecans (OCD) occurs when a piece of bone and/or cartilage inside a joint loses blood supply and dies. Treatments include exercise, weight loss, joint supplements, physical therapy, anti-inflammatory and pain medications, acupuncture, and cold laser therapy. Surgery or arthroscopy (a minimally invasive procedure) may also be indicated for OCD. Learn more about supporting joint health.

2. Heart Disease - A hereditary condition known as Aortic Stenosis is a narrowing just above the aortic valve in the heart, causing blood flow from the left ventricle to the aorta to be partially blocked. Moderate to severe cases may require long-term medication. Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM) is a condition where the heart cannot pump blood effectively because the left ventricle is enlarged and weakened. Recently, there has been much reporting in the media about grain free diets contributing to cases of taurine-deficient DCM in dogs. Some studies seem to confirm this supposition; however, the jury is still out on this conclusion, as additional studies need to be conducted to confirm the correlation. Taurine deficiency is likely caused by several factors, including diet, metabolic and genetic factors.

3. Cancer - Cancer diagnoses in Golden Retrievers are more common than many other dog breeds. Hemangiosarcoma is cancer of the blood vessels and can occur anywhere in the body. Common signs include enlarged abdomen, pale gums, weight loss, panting, decreased appetite, and lethargy. Osteosarcoma (bone cancer) can be subtle and include pain, loss of mobility, limping, and nosebleeds. Lymphoma is a blanket term used by doctors to describe a group of cancers that stem from the lymphocytes, which are a type of white blood cell that helps the immune system fight off infection. There are several types of lymphoma and symptoms can be wide-ranging, including but not limited to: swollen lymph nodes, vomiting, abdominal pain, anorexia, diarrhea and weight loss. Mast Cell Tumors (MCT) are found primarily on the skin, but can spread to internal organs in an advanced stage. Mast cells are white blood cells found in many tissues of the body and play a role in the allergic response of the animal.

Conventional treatment for these cancers includes chemotherapy, radiation and surgery. Treatment for Osteosarcoma may include amputation of the limb, or limb-sparing surgery. However, there are a wide variety of alternative therapies available including acupuncture, cold laser, and TCVM food therapy, herbs and supplements such as mushroom powders or tinctures. Support the immune system as much as possible.

4. Eye Conditions - Entropion is a painful condition when the eyelid rolls inward causing the hair on the surface of the eyelid to rub against the cornea. This condition results in squinting and watery eyes and may require surgery to remove a section of skin from the affected eyelid. Ectropion or “droopy eye,” occurs when the eyelid rolls outward, causing redness and inflammation. Horner’s Syndrome, a neurological disorder that impairs the eye and facial muscles, also causes “droopy eye,” and is more common in Goldens than Ectropion. Severe Pigmentary Uveitis is an inflammation of the uveal tract (the middle layer of the eye between the retina and the white of the eye (sclera)). This condition can lead to cataracts, glaucoma, or blindness. Symptoms include eye redness, cloudiness, and light sensitivity. Treatments include oral anti-inflammatory drugs, or an anti-inflammatory eye drop.


Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA) is a degeneration of the retina resulting in progressive vision loss and blindness. A specific gene mutation, called CNGB1, has been linked to PRA. The two primary forms of PRA are known as PRA1 and PRA 2. The genes that carry PRA are recessive; however, matings between two carriers of the same gene (i.e. PRA1 or PRA2) result in a 25% chance of passing the gene to their offspring. There is no cure for any form of PRA. Gene therapy may offer dogs with PRA a cure by introducing a normal copy of the CNGB1 gene, but it is not yet widely available and it is not yet considered a cure.

5. Skin Conditions - Atopic Dermatitis is an allergic skin disease common to Golden Retrievers. It has a strong inherited component in Goldens, and causes mild itching, scratching or rubbing, which can lead to skin damage, irritation, infection, and discomfort. Symptoms can be seasonal, but usually occur year round. The conventional medications used to treat Atopic Dermatitis (i.e. Apoquel and Atopica) are immunosuppressants designed to suppress the body’s response, creating a risk for even greater problems. There are many alternative treatments that can relieve symptoms including food therapy, regular bathing with natural products to soothe the skin, adding supplements to decrease inflammation, and supporting the gut microbiome with a high quality probiotic. Hot Spots are one of the most common skin conditions in dogs. Goldens are particularly susceptible due to their long, thick coat. Hot spots are very itchy and painful. Moist areas may discharge fluid or puss. 


For these dogs, a high quality, species-appropriate diet is key. Learn more about Dog Longevity Made Easy. 

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