Common health problems with Golden Retrievers

30 May 2024 - 4 min read
Golden Retriever puppy lying down on a beige background

They're one of the most popular dogs in the world, and you can see why: Golden Retrievers are easy to train, have a lovely temperament and make wonderful companions no matter who you are.

They love being part of a family, and they're considered one of the most intelligent dog breeds. But despite their superstar status, they are prone to some health issues.

Below, we discuss the most common health problems with Golden Retrievers, how they're diagnosed and how to care for one.

The most common Golden Retriever health issues

Image of a Golden Retriever lying down on a beige background

Hip dysplasia

Hip dysplasia is one of the most common orthopaedic conditions in dogs. Dysplasia happens when the soft tissues that stabilise the hip joint loosen in the first few weeks of life, causing changes to the ‘ball and socket’ joint. Over time, especially if combined with obesity or overexercise, the problem gets worse.

Dogs with hip dysplasia always develop a type of arthritis called osteoarthritis. Symptoms start between six months and a year. They include:

  • Hindlimb lameness

  • Stiffness

  • Problems jumping or climbing stairs

Vets will usually prescribe anti-inflammatories, physiotherapy and hydrotherapy to treat hip dysplasia. But severe cases will need a total hip replacement.

Elbow dysplasia

This condition is the most common cause of forelimb lameness in dogs. It refers to several abnormalities that can occur during the development of the elbow joint. It is a genetic condition, but obesity and overexercise in puppyhood contribute to the problem.

A vet will usually diagnose the condition before a dog is two. In the long term, it leads to pain and osteoarthritis. There's an increased risk of microfractures due to the abnormal forces in the joint, too.

Like hip dysplasia, vets will recommend anti-inflammatories and physio/hydrotherapy, with severe cases needing surgical intervention.

Eye problems

Golden Retrievers are prone to a few eye problems, like hereditary cataracts, Multifocal Retinal Dysplasia (MRD), Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA) and Golden Retriever Pigmentary Uveitis (GRPU).

Hereditary cataracts cause the eye to appear cloudy and the condition is usually spotted in puppies. Cataracts prevent light from getting through the eye leading to vision problems and blindness. Many dogs manage well with restricted vision, but surgery can be performed to remove cataracts.

MRD often has no symptoms but can cause vision disturbance, but rarely blindness.

PRA, meanwhile, causes progressive blindness as the retina degenerates. Unfortunately, there's currently no treatment.

GRPU is an inflammatory condition that eventually leads to glaucoma and vision loss in dogs over 8.5 years old. It's a condition specific to Golden Retrievers.


Hypothyroidism is where an underactive thyroid gland leads to insufficient thyroid hormone. It happens to some dogs when they're born with a dysfunctional thyroid gland. Thyroid hormone has lots of roles in the body but plays a particularly important role in metabolism.

Symptoms of hypothyroidism are often very vague and develop slowly over time. The most common signs are:

Your vet will need to diagnose it with a blood test, and if positive, your dog will need lifelong medication.


Ichthyosis is a rare skin condition that affects Golden Retrievers from birth. It's usually diagnosed by one year of age. A genetic mutation prevents the outer layer of skin from developing properly leading to thick, rough and greasy skin that often looks dark or scaly.

Unfortunately, this is a chronic lifelong condition with no specific treatment. But the symptoms can be managed by regularly bathing dogs with medicated shampoos and using topical treatments.

How to care for a Golden Retriever

Image of a middle-aged Golden Retriever looking to the side

Genetic screening and responsible breeding

Several conditions that affect Golden Retrievers are inherited and can be screened for. There are specific screening schemes for the breed such as the Kennel Club and BVA Hip and Elbow Scoring schemes, which assess the hips and elbows on x-rays. They assess any any breeding adult for their risk of passing on problems to their young.

Registered breeders must comply with this scheme, which prevents dogs with poor hips and elbows from breeding. Look out for responsible registered breeders and always get puppies from those who have complied with these important health checks. Adult dogs who suffer from hip or elbow dysplasia should not be bred.

There are also genetic tests available for Ichthyosis, hereditary cataracts and PRA. Hypothyroidism can only be ruled out with a clinical examination and blood tests. Any dogs affected by the condition should not be bred.

Always speak to breeders to find out what health checks their dogs have had. Picking a responsible breeder is one of the most important steps for any dog owner.


It’s sensible to give all large-breed dogs a joint supplement to support their joint function and slow the progression of osteoarthritis.

Our supplementation guide can help.

Careful exercise

You should also be very careful when your Golden Retriever puppy is growing - they shouldn't climb stairs or jump into the car when their bones are developing, and walks should be kept short.

It's important for your dog to have regular exercise, but just be a extra careful if they're at risk of dysplasia.

Having a good relationship with your vet

If you are concerned about your dog’s health, you should always speak to your vet who will carry out any relevant or necessary health checks.

Having a good relationship with your vet is the foundation for good, long-term Golden Retriever health.

How dog insurance helps

Golden Retriever insurance can help you prepare for unforeseen health issues and protect your pet.

Dog insurance helps with up to £15,000 vet fee cover, unlimited 24/7 vet calls with FirstVet and a host of other perks.

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