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Golden Retriever

Golden Retrievers are one of the most popular dog breeds in the United States for good reason. They are intelligent, loyal, easy to train, and very affectionate. They make wonderful family dogs because they are great with young children and other dogs.

Golden Retrievers are medium-sized sporting dogs that weigh on average 55-75 pounds, with females weighing on the lower end of this range. Their height can range from 21-24 inches tall. They have a broad head, short ears, deep chest, and very muscular build. 

Caring for a Golden Retriever

Golden Retrievers are known for their thick, lustrous golden coats, which are water-repellent. The golden color of their fur can range from light to dark. They have a double coat, which means that they have a thick undercoat of short hair covered by a layer of longer hair. Due to this double coat, Golden Retrievers shed a lot. They also tend to develop matted hair behind their ears and on their hind limbs. Consequently, Golden Retrievers require a lot of grooming—either at home or by a professional groomer—to keep their coats healthy.

Golden Retrievers have a moderate amount of energy, even in their senior years. They enjoy a wide variety of activities such as running, going on long walks, retrieving, and swimming. They make excellent therapy dogs and guide dogs for people with impaired vision. 

Golden Retriever Health Issues

Golden Retrievers are usually healthy dogs that live for 10–12 years. However, due to poor breeding, some Golden Retrievers may have allergies, heart disease, eye issues, hip dysplasia, cancer, hypothyroidism, or a bad temperament. Make sure to do your research when looking to adopt a Golden Retriever, or find a reputable breeder so that medical issues are less likely.

The medical issues listed below are some of the most common health issues that Golden Retrievers are predisposed to, but this list is not all-inclusive.

Hot Spots

Due to their thick coats and love for swimming, Golden Retrievers are prone to developing hot spots, localized areas of skin that are inflamed and infected with bacteria.

Hot spots develop more often in warm, humid environments and after swimming because moisture gets trapped near the skin by a Golden Retriever’s thick fur coat. The moist skin causes discomfort that leads to scratching, chewing, and licking. These behaviors then cause the skin to become inflamed and infected.

A hot spot usually develops rapidly and can at first look like a small red spot on the skin. It can then quickly grow into a large area of hair loss, redness, and moist skin that may ooze or have crusts or thick scabs.

Hot spots can appear anywhere on the body but most commonly are found near the ears, the underside of the neck, or on the hips of a Golden Retriever.

Hot spots usually resolve quickly with a combination of topical and oral medication prescribed by a veterinarian. To help prevent hot spots, it’s important to keep your Golden Retriever current on flea and tick prevention, make sure they are thoroughly dried off after swimming or a bath, and identify and treat underlying issues like allergies.

Atopic Dermatitis (Atopy)

Atopic Dermatitis (Atopy) is an inflammatory and extremely itchy skin condition that Golden Retrievers are predisposed to, triggered by environmental allergens such as pollen, dust mites, or mold. It’s believed to be a genetic predisposition.

Symptoms usually develop at 2 to 6 years of age, so regular veterinary visits are important to monitor your dog’s skin health.

Golden Retrievers with atopy are constantly scratching, chewing, or licking at themselves. This self-trauma leads to hair loss, thickened skin that can be red or black in color, or a rash consisting of macules (discolored skin) or papules (raised skin lesions).

Atopy commonly leads to secondary bacterial and yeast infections that most often develop in the armpits, groin, between the digits, and around the eyes, mouth, or anus.

For dogs with atopy, a vet visit is needed quickly to manage the itch and treat for any skin infection present. There are now very effective and safe anti-itch medications available (Apoquel and Cytopoint) that dogs with atopy can be on seasonally or year-round to relieve itchiness and help to prevent secondary skin infections.

Hypothyroidism

Hypothyroidism is an endocrine disorder that is often due to an immune-mediated disease or inflammation of the thyroid gland (thyroiditis).

The thyroid gland loses its ability to produce thyroid hormones, which leads to symptoms such as:

  • Unexplained weight gain

  • Decreased energy level
  • Recurring skin and ear infections
  • Thinning of the fur and dry, scaly skin

Golden Retrievers are predisposed to hypothyroidism and typically develop symptoms when they are middle-aged. Thankfully, this endocrine disorder is not common.

It can be diagnosed with a thyroid test that measures thyroid levels in the bloodstream. Hypothyroidism can also be well-managed with a thyroid supplement taken once or twice daily for the rest of the dog’s life.

Ear Infections

Golden Retrievers are prone to ear infections for several reasons.

First, they have ears that hang down loosely and contain numerous glands that help to produce wax, which can trap moisture and lead to inflammation and infection within the ear canal.

Second, Golden Retrievers have a love for the water, and if they get water in their ears during swimming or a bath, this can also lead to an ear infection.

Finally, for Golden Retrievers that have allergies (environmental or food allergies) or hypothyroidism, ear infections can be a common secondary health issue.

Symptoms of an ear infection can include:

  • Redness of the ear canal

  • Brown or yellow debris or wax in the ear canal
  • Head shaking
  • Head tilt
  • Rubbing ears on carpet/furniture
  • Odor/smelly ears

  • Pawing at their ears

To minimize the risk of ear infections in Golden Retrievers, it’s best to clean their ears with a product that contains a drying agent (like Epi-Otic Advanced Ear Cleaner) every 2-3 weeks for maintenance and after swimming or a bath.

Hip Dysplasia

Hip dysplasia is an inherited orthopedic condition where the top of the femur does not sit snugly in the hip joint. As a result, it rubs against the hip socket, which over time causes bony remodeling of the hip joint and development of arthritis. Hip dysplasia can develop in one or both hip joints.

Some Golden Retrievers are born with congenital hip dysplasia—which is rare—while others can develop this condition during their senior years.

Symptoms include:

  • Lameness

  • Slowness to rise from a lying position

  • Bunny-hopping” gait when running

  • Reluctance to run, jump, or go up or down stairs
  • Holding of the affected leg out to the side when sitting up

PennHIP is a screening method used for detecting hip dysplasia. It can detect which dogs will likely develop hip dysplasia during their lifetime.

A PennHIP evaluation allows for early detection and treatment for dogs that have signs of hip dysplasia.

Reputable breeders make sure their Golden Retrievers have PennHIP evaluations as part of their health screening, to prevent breeding dogs that have a genetic predisposition for hip dysplasia. Therefore, it is best to purchase a Golden Retriever puppy from a breeder that has had their dogs certified with a PennHIP evaluation.

It’s also recommended to neuter male Golden Retrievers after they are over a year of age as this can lessen the risk of hip dysplasia later in life.

Hip dysplasia can be managed with joint supplements and certain medications, but in serious cases, surgical intervention may be required.

Elbow Dysplasia

Elbow dysplasia encompasses several different inherited orthopedic conditions that ultimately lead to degenerative joint disease (DJD) within the elbow.

Pain is often detected when a veterinarian checks the range of motion in the elbow. Sometimes elbow dysplasia can be in both elbows. X-rays or advanced imaging (CT scans) are the most common diagnostic tests run to diagnose elbow dysplasia.

Orthopedic surgery is needed to treat elbow dysplasia. There is generally a good prognosis if surgery is done in young dogs when the disease process is in its early stages. Since this can be a genetic disease, Golden Retrievers with a history of elbow dysplasia should not be bred.

Pigmentary Uveitis

Pigmentary uveitis is a commonly inherited eye condition in Golden Retrievers. It first starts with formation of one or more fluid-filled brown or black cysts in the uvea, the pigmented layer of the eye.

These cysts are usually benign and can occur in one or both eyes. They typically develop when a Golden Retriever is at least 5 years of age.

If a cyst is thin-walled and adhered to the uvea, it can lead to pigmentary uveitis. This term refers to inflammation of the uvea that leads to the formation of scar tissue between the iris and the eye lens and pigmentation of the anterior lens capsule. The pet parent may see this condition present itself with symptoms like:

  • Changes in color (pigment deposits) around the edges and iris of the eye

  • Visible uveal cysts (discoloration or pigmented  dots on the eye)

  • Decreased vision

Over time, pigmentary uveitis can cause cataract formation and glaucoma, which are very painful conditions that require emergency treatment.

This condition can be diagnosed with a thorough eye exam by a veterinary ophthalmologist.

Treatment usually includes eye medications and sometimes oral medications as well. However, for Golden Retrievers, this condition is likely to progress to blindness over time, despite therapy, because of the frequent development of glaucoma.

Golden Retrievers that have primary uveitis or pigmentary cystic glaucoma should not be bred, to prevent future generations from being at risk for these eye disorders.

Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA)

Progressive retinal atrophy (PRA) is a disease of the eye that can occur due to various genetic mutations. This disease causes the retina to slowly degenerate over a period of time, which leads to permanent dilation of the pupils and eventually blindness.

PRA can be diagnosed with an eye exam and usually develops in Golden Retrievers between the ages of 3 and 9 years.

Gene therapy may help dogs with this condition, but more research needs to be done to improve the outcome of this condition. Reputable breeders will have their dogs’ DNA tested to see if they carry the genetic mutations for PRA. Dogs that carry these genetic mutations should not be bred.

Lymphoma/Lymphosarcoma

Lymphoma/Lymphosarcoma is a type of cancer that originates in the lymph nodes and typically spreads to other organs. There is a relatively high prevalence of this condition within the Golden Retriever breed.

Symptoms of lymphoma can include markedly enlarged lymph nodes (most common), decreased appetite, lethargy, weight loss, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Treatment usually involves chemotherapy.

Hemangiosarcoma (HSA)

Hemangiosarcoma (HSA) is an aggressive form of cancer that most often originates in the spleen, liver, or heart in Golden Retrievers. This type of cancer forms a blood-filled tumor that can rupture at any time and cause a dog to bleed internally. A ruptured tumor can be life-threatening if not treated immediately.

Clinical signs of hemangiosarcoma include weakness, pale gums (white), fluid in the abdomen, loss of appetite, and difficulty breathing.

Hemangiosarcoma spreads very quickly to other areas of the body and may not be detectable with imaging (x-rays, ultrasound, or CT/MRI). This cancer has a very guarded prognosis, even when caught in the early stages of the disease.

Subaortic Valvular Stenosis (SAS)

Subaortic valvular stenosis (SAS) is a genetic heart condition that Golden Retrievers inherit from their parents. It develops during the first year of life, so responsible breeding is key to ensuring prevention of this condition.

SAS occurs when fibrous tissue slowly forms in the heart and causes an obstruction of blood flow. Over time, this condition causes the heart to stop functioning properly, resulting in heart damage.

Golden Retrievers with mild to moderate SAS may not show any symptoms. However, those with severe SAS are lethargic, tired after short periods of exercise, may collapse, and can die suddenly. 

Golden Retrievers with SAS often have a heart murmur that can be heard during a routine physical exam. Additional diagnostic tests (ECG, chest x-rays and an echocardiogram) are needed to diagnose SAS. There is currently no genetic test that can be done to detect SAS, but breeders should not breed Golden Retrievers that have been diagnosed with this heart condition.

Typically, mild cases of SAS only require consistent monitoring and no treatment. In cases of severe or moderate SAS, your veterinarian may recommend medications to help regulate heart rate and increase heart efficiency.

Dogs with this condition will need to be under a lifetime exercise restriction to minimize the overworking of their heart, which can lead to sudden death.

Nutritional Dilated Cardiomyopathy (Nutritional DCM)

Nutritional dilated cardiomyopathy (nutritional DCM) is a heart disease that Golden Retrievers may acquire by eating a grain-free diet that contains legumes, such as peas and lentils, among the top five ingredients.

DCM causes the heart to become dilated and unable to function properly. Golden Retrievers that have mild to moderate DCM may be asymptomatic. Severe DCM causes rapid heart rate, cough, difficulty breathing, lethargy, loss of appetite, collapse, weight loss, and death.

Heart murmurs can be the first sign detected by your veterinarian that DCM may be an issue. A canine Cardiopet proBNP blood test can also be used to measure heart function. If this blood test indicates that heart disease is likely, additional testing will be done.

If nutritional DCM is diagnosed early on, it can be reversed by feeding a Golden Retriever cardiac supplements along with a well-balanced diet including grain. Advanced stages of the disease cannot be reversed, but heart medications may be able to manage the condition for a period of time.

This heart condition can be prevented by feeding Golden Retrievers a high-quality diet containing grain.

What to Feed a Golden Retriever

Golden Retriever puppies should be fed a large-breed, high-quality puppy formula that contains grain until they are a year of age. Once they reach maturity, they will need to be transitioned to a large-breed, high-quality adult formula containing grain over five days to avoid an upset stomach. Choosing an AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials)-approved food is a great place to start, but your veterinarian can help you narrow down your options to find the best food for your Golden Retriever.

It is very important to NOT feed a Golden Retriever a grain-free diet that contains any legumes within the top five ingredients, because a correlation has been found between these diets and dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM). Therefore, make sure to check the ingredients in the dog food prior to purchasing it and talk with your veterinarian for diet recommendations specific to your dog’s needs.

How to Feed a Golden Retriever

Golden Retrievers do well with twice-daily feedings, in morning and evening.

Golden Retrievers love to eat, so a slow feeder bowl can be a great way to help them slow down their eating and prevent digestion issues. If a Golden Retriever eats food too quickly, it can cause vomiting and possibly bloat—an emergency situation where the stomach twists on itself. 

How Much You Should Feed a Golden Retriever

Golden Retriever puppies have rapid growth spurts, which means it’s important to feed them puppy food when they are less than a year old to provide the extra calories that they need to grow to their full potential.

Follow the feeding guidelines on the back of the bag of the large-breed puppy formula, based on their age and expected body weight.

Once a Golden Retriever is a year of age, transition them to a large-breed adult formula that has fewer calories, to prevent unwanted weight gain. 

Your veterinarian is your best resource for determining how much to feed your Golden Retriever to maintain a healthy weight.

Nutritional Tips for a Golden Retriever

Starting a Golden Retriever on a joint supplement early in life can help slow down or possibly prevent arthritis. Movoflex, Synovi Chews, Dasuquin, Cosequin, and Flexadin are some examples of joint supplements that have gone through clinical trials and are proven to be effective.

Another supplement to consider for a Golden Retriever is an omega-3 fatty acid supplement (fish oil). This supplement helps to reduce inflammation in the joints, makes the coat more lustrous, and protects the skin barrier from allergens in the environment. Some good fish oil supplements are Nordic Naturals Omega-3 Pet, Vetoquinol Triglyceride Omega-3 Fatty Acids, and Nutramax Welactin Omega 3.

Behavior and Training Tips for Golden Retrievers

Golden Retriever Personality and Temperament

Golden Retrievers generally have a great temperament—they are often friendly with children, other pets, and even strangers. They enjoy being the center of attention.

Golden Retrievers also love affection and being petted and will nudge you gently so that you continue to pet them.

It is very rare for a Golden Retriever to show any sign of aggression.

Golden Retriever Behavior

Golden Retrievers are prone to eating things they shouldn’t, especially when they are puppies. They may try to eat socks, shoes, furniture, and other items, or get into the trash. To keep your Golden Retriever safe and prevent digestive issues or gastrointestinal obstructions, keep a watchful eye on them when they are puppies and spend the time to train them on what they can and cannot eat.

Golden Retrievers do have a lot of energy throughout their lifetime, and therefore require lots of exercise to keep them happy and healthy. They are considered a quiet breed, as they bark infrequently and are not known for digging up yards.

Golden Retriever Training

It is usually easy to train Golden Retrievers, due to their kind temperament and their eagerness to please others. They are very food-motivated, so using small treats as rewards is highly effective. 

Socialization is also a very important part of training when your Golden Retriever is a puppy. Puppy training classes and obedience training classes can be a great way to work on training, while also providing socialization with other people and pets.

Golden Retrievers require proactive training to help prevent the development of behavioral issues such as biting, growling, destructive chewing, and eating inappropriate items.

Fun Activities for Golden Retrievers

  • Agility

  • Obedience training

  • Tracking

  • Dock diving

  • Bird hunting

Golden Retriever Grooming Guide

Regularly checking your Golden Retriever’s skin can help you detect hot spots or other skin issues. If you notice an increase in scratching, chewing, or licking, consult your veterinarian, because it could signal the development of a skin issue.

Coat Care

Golden Retrievers have a dense double coat, so they shed a lot. It is important to brush a Golden Retriever at least once or twice weekly to prevent the fur from matting, especially behind the ears and on the hind limbs. Regular brushing can also help to reduce the amount of shedding inside the house.

A good brush to use for a Golden Retriever is the FURminator brush. It can remove the undercoat and loose hairs, helping to reduce shedding.

Eye Care

Golden Retrievers often have a mild amount of clear or brown eye discharge, which is normal.  You can use a moistened washcloth to clean the eye discharge away when it forms.

Ear Care

Due to their pendulous (floppy) ears,  ceruminous (wax-producing) glands, and love for swimming, Golden Retrievers are prone to ear infections.

To help prevent these, clean their ears every 2 or 3 weeks and after baths or swimming. Use an ear cleaner that contains a drying agent.

Considerations for Pet Parents

Golden Retrievers make great family dogs due to their jovial and friendly disposition. They have  moderately high energy, so a daily exercise routine is needed. Their heightened energy level and size means that you should keep a close eye on them around young children or fragile individuals, to prevent your dog from knocking them over. It’s also important to train them early about what are and are not appropriate things to eat—this may mean preventing access to things like garbage cans, laundry, and house supplies.

However, Golden Retrievers do have a lot of predispositions for illnesses. This means that regular vet visits and additional vet costs will be common while caring for a Golden Retriever. They also have a thick, long coat that is prone to matting, so consistent grooming and brushing are necessary to keep the coat healthy and manage their shedding. 

Golden Retrievers FAQs

Is a Golden Retriever a good family dog?

Yes. Golden Retrievers make excellent family dogs due to their wonderful temperament. They are friendly with children and other pets. They do not mind when company comes to visit.

Are Golden Retrievers smart dogs?

Yes. Goldens are very intelligent, which makes them easy to train as puppies. They can also be trained to be therapy dogs, guide dogs for people who are blind, or search-and-rescue dogs. 

What are the drawbacks of a Golden Retriever?

Golden Retrievers shed a lot due to their dual layer coat; they require a lot of grooming to maintain their coat health. Their floppy ears also require continued care to prevent ear infections.

As puppies, they tend to eat things that they shouldn’t. So taking the time to train them properly at a young age is important.

Golden Retrievers that were poorly bred can be predisposed to atopic dermatitis, hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, pigmentary uveitis, progressive retinal atrophy, cancer (lymphoma and hemangiosarcoma), hypothyroidism, and subaortic valvular stenosis. Finding a reputable breeder or rescue group is important to making sure you are bringing a healthy dog into your home.

How much do Golden Retrievers cost?

Golden Retrievers can cost $1,000 to $3,500 if purchased from a reputable breeder.

What are the three types of Golden Retrievers?

There are British/English, Canadian, and American Golden Retrievers. The differences between these types are minimal and have to do with their physical characteristics, like the color of their coat and the thickness of their fur.

The British or English Golden Retriever typically has a thick blond or lighter coat color, and is stocky with a short muzzle and a blocky forehead.

The Canadian Golden Retriever has a taller, leaner figure with a thinner and darker coat that tends to have a reddish hue.

The American Golden Retriever is usually lanky and has a feathered fur coat that is truly golden in color.

Is there a difference in the size of male and female Golden Retrievers?

Yes. According to the American Kennel Club (AKC), males weigh 65-75 pounds and females weigh 55-65 pounds. Males are also taller than females by as much as 2.5 inches.

References

UC Davis. Golden retriever study suggests neutering affects dog health. 2013.

U.S. Food and Drug Association (FDA). FDA Investigation into Potential Link between Certain Diets and Canine Dilated Cardiomyopathy. 2019.

Veterinary Information Network (VIN). Iris Cysts – Canine. 2016.

Veterinary Ophthalmology. Golden retriever pigmentary uveitis: Challenges of diagnosis and treatment. 2020.

Featured Image: iStock.com/Tatyana Consaul

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