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Hereditary Problems

The vast majority of dogs of all breeds (as well as mixed breeds) can live long, healthy lives if given proper care and routine veterinary attention. Nevertheless, any dog can fall victim to a wide range of acquired problems, just as humans can, that range from acne to viral diseases, from allergies to cancer and so on. In addition, each breed of dogs has its own particular hereditary problems; some minor, some impairing, and some possibly fatal. Some may show a very strong hereditary basis and others not much more than a tendency to “run in families. The Golden Retriever is no exception and unfortunately the problems multiply as the breed continues to increase in popularity and there is an increase in indiscriminate breeding. Failure to screen for hereditary problems before breeding often results in the “doubling up” of unfavourable genes, and the results are distressing for the buyer and dog alike. The following, while not all-inclusive, are some of the more common hereditary problems that may be encountered in Goldens.


The term hip dysplasia means poor formation of the hip joint, and describes a developmental disease in young dogs of many different breeds. Unsound hip joints are a common problem in the larger breeds, and hip dysplasia can be a serious problem in any dog that is to be trained for a demanding activity. Hip dysplasia is an inherited defect which is believed to have a polygenic mode of inheritance. The expression of this genetic defect can be modified by environmental factors, such as changes in nutrition, exercise and trauma. The degree of heritability is moderate in nature, meaning that the formation of the hip joints can also be modified by environmental factors such as overnutrition, excessively rapid growth, and certain traumas during the growth period of the skeleton. As with any quantitative trait, hip joint conformation can range from good to bad with all degrees in between.

Signs of hip dysplasia cannot be detected in the new born puppy, but usually appear in the rapid growth period between four and nine months of age. Signs of the disease can vary widely from slight irregularities of gait to crippling lameness. Improvement or even apparent disappearance of lameness can occur as the dog matures, as a result of the joint stabilizing, inflammation subsiding, and musculature strengthening. However, the dysplastic dog will usually develop some degree of arthritis later in life. X-rays should be sent to either the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) or (OVC) Ontario Veterinary College or to Synbiotics (PennHIP) for diagnostic evaluation. While the two evaluation procedures differ somewhat, GRCC & GRCA recognizes the validity of both and encourages all breeders of Golden Retrievers to determine the conformation health of the hips for any potential breeding animal.

The dysplastic dog should not be used for breeding, but may well lead a long, happy, useful life. During the acute phase of the disease, your veterinarian may suggest rest and supportive care. Moderate and regular exercise, control of weight, and perhaps anti-inflammatory drugs, are helpful in the management of arthritis associated with hip dysplasia in the older dog. Many Goldens with hip dysplasia will show no outward signs at all, until perhaps 7 or 8 years of age when muscle tone decreases and arthritis and wear and tear on the joint become more noticeable. Surgical procedures are also available to alleviate the pain of hip dysplasia. Goldens and other breeds of retrievers often seem to have high pain thresholds, and do not show signs of pain when other breeds might be very uncomfortable. An X-ray does not always show you how your dog feels, as many dysplastic Goldens are completely unaware that they have a problem!


Hereditary cataracts are a common eye problem in Golden Retrievers. (“Cataract” is defined as any opacity within the lens of the eye.) At least one type of hereditary cataract appears at an early age in affected Goldens, and while these may or may not interfere with the dog’s vision, some do progress into severe or total loss of vision. There are also non-hereditary cataracts which sometimes occur, and examination by a board-certified veterinary ophthalmologist is necessary to determine if the cataract is or is not of concern from a genetic standpoint. If there is any question, the dog is certainly not to be recommended for breeding.

A few families of Goldens carry genes for Central Progressive Retinal Atrophy (CPRA) which is progressive deterioration of the light-receptive area (retina) of the eye, and may result in complete blindness at a fairly young age. There are also other eye defects, such as retinal dysplasia, that prevent consideration of a dog as a breeding animal.

Eyelid and eyelash problems also may occur in the breed; some have an hereditary basis, and some are due to other factors. Entropion and ectropion are the turning in or turning out of the eyelids. Trichiasis and distichiasis involve eyelashes or hairs rubbing on and irritating the eye. Surgery may be needed to correct these problems, and while it is a fairly simple procedure, such dogs should not be bred and are ineligible to be shown under CKC/AKC rules.

Examination of breeding stock should be done annually, until at least eight years of age and preferably longer, as hereditary eye problems can develop at varying ages. The examination should be made by a board-certified veterinary ophthalmologist, who has the special equipment and training needed to properly examine the dog’s eyes.

Dogs that have been examined by a board-certified veterinary ophthalmologist and found to be free of hereditary eye disease can be registered with the Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF). CERF assigns the dog a number which, when properly understood, helps to make eye clearances more meaningful. For example, CERF GR 1857/89-102 means that this dog was the 1,857th Golden Retriever to be registered with CERF; that the most recent examination indicating this dog free of hereditary eye disease was done in 1989; and that the dog was 102 months old at the time of the examination. Dogs with hereditary eye disease should not be used for breeding.


Hereditary heart disease, most commonly Subvalvular Aortic Stenosis (SAS), is known to occur in the Golden Retriever breed. All prospective breeding animals should be examined by a board certified veterinary cardiologist. If a murmur is detected through auscultation (listening with a stethoscope), additional diagnostic tests are available and may be recommended. However, even if the results are negative, this does not rule out heart disease, as some mild but hereditary forms may be undetectable except on necropsy. Animals with hereditary heart disease should not be used for breeding. There are additional topics such as hypothyroidism, seizure disorders and other orthopedic disorders for which routine screening of Golden Retrievers is not performed. This may be because acceptable examination standards have not yet been developed or because the incidence of the defect is low in the Golden Retriever breed. Potential buyers should feel free to ask the breeder about these, or any subjects of concern to them. The exchange of such information is an expected and customary practice.


Information provided by the Golden Retriever Club of America

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