Golden Retriever Health Problems

Portosystemic Shunt

Portosystemic Shunt (PSS) is an inherited or acquired condition in dogs and cats when the blood flow is diverted from the liver which results in the accumulation of toxins in the liver and its disfunction. The disease occurs in Yorkshire Terrier, Maltese, Himalayan and Persian cats and other breeds.

A portosystemic shunt is an abnormal vessel that allows blood to bypass the liver. As a result the blood is not cleansed by one of the bodies filters: the liver which results in neurological diseases. Dogs with PSS have small liver, large kidneys, and stones in bladder or kidneys. First signs of PSS are usually found in young puppies and may include loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, pica (hunger for non-food substances), depression, lethargy, frequent urinating, excessive thirst, weakness, poor balance, blindness, seizures, and intolerance of protein-rich food. The exact causes of PSS are unknown. Surgery is the best treatment for a shunt. Many dogs become normal and require no medication or diet control providing the surgery did not have any complications and was performed before the atrophy of the liver.

Most Golden Retrievers with congenital portosystemic shunts show clinical signs before 6 months of age. Where signs are subtle, the condition may not be diagnosed until much later. Shunts are significantly more likely to be found in female than male dogs.

Retinal Dysplasia

Retinal Dysplasia (RD) is a congenital, local or generalized malformation of the retina that may result from trauma, a genetic defect, or damage caused by a viral infection, such as herpesvirus and parvovirus. Most forms of retinal dysplasia in dogs are inherited. The retina is a layer of nervous tissue which covers the back of the eyeball where the sensation of vision occurs. The whole eye is just a container for this tissue that supplies the eye with the necessary nutrition and focuses light on the retina. Retinal dysplasia is an abnormal development of the retina. Light microscopic examination of affected eyes will show folds and rosettes within the outer retinal layers. Heritable retinal dysplasia is the most common form and has been described in many breeds of dogs.

Retinal folds rarely cause serious vision problems as they are usually just small blind areas which may not be noticed by the dog. However, large areas of dysplasia (geographic dysplasia) may lead to visual impairment and dogs with retinal detachments may become totally blind. Congenital cataracts, often accompany the retinal dysplasia. Retinal dysplasia is a congenital defect and does not progress as the dog ages. Some dogs will not have any symptoms and can only be identified with an ophthalmic examination. More severely affected puppies may be partially or totally blind. Retinal dysplasia can be found through a special eye exams performed by the Canine Eye Registry Foundation (CERF) certified ophthalmologists. In most cases retinal dysplasia is hereditary, also prenatal infections with herpesvirus and parvovirus, radiation exposure, toxins and trauma may lead to it. The herpes infection in puppies usually results in severe eye inflammation with subsequent retinal dysplasia. There is no effective treatment for RD. The only way to prevent it is to make sure that the active carriers of RD gene do not breed. All breeding dogs should be registered with the Canine Eye Registry Foundation and should be evaluated before being bred, and then tested yearly by certified eye specialists.

Hip Dysplasia - Bone Problem

Hip dysplasia is a progressive degenerative condition of the pelvic joint that can lead to severe lameness and pain in large breed dogs. It can be very debilitating, but with the help of several ingenious surgical techniques, the function of the leg can be restored-sometimes almost to normal capacity. Hip dysplasia occurs when the head of the femur (the upper bone in the hind leg) does not fit into the socket, or acetabulum, of the joint properly. Patients that develop this condition are often first seen for the problem when they are fairly young.

Atopy - Skin Problem

Atopy dermatitis is the predisposition to allergic disease in response to environmental allergens. One of the most common source of allergens causing atopy is the house dust mite. Tree, grass and weed pollens can also cause this disease. Flea allergic dermatitis and parasitic infections such as sarcoptic mange (scabies) and otodectic mange also cause allergic-type reactions. Crusted red spots affecting the ear flaps, outer aspect of elbows and hindlimbs with intense itchiness, sometimes with family members affected, is typical of sarcoptic mange. Itching with hair loss, crusting and scaling affecting the lower part of the back and tail base, often with sudden spinning round to nibble, is indicative of flea allergy dematitis. Foot licking, recurrent ear inflammation, face rubbing, itching of the armpits and groin in a young animal is very suggestive of atopy.

However, diagnosis of allergies is a complicated task.The investigation of a suspected allergic dog should include rigorous treatment for external parasites and secondary bacterial and yeast infections which often complicate and contribute to the itch.A diagnosis of food intolerance is made in 2-10% of 'itchy' dogs. It can be controlled without using drugs and is worth ruling out by introducing an elimination diet followed by dietary challenge to confirm the diagnosis.Elimination diets are time consuming and require considerable owner commitment. It can be up to 3 months before the dog stops scratching.Once other causes of itch have been ruled out, specific tests to detect allergic antibodies to environmental allergens can be undertaken to confirm the diagnosis of atopy.

Unfortunately, dogs rarely 'grow out' of their allergies and most atopic dogs require lifelong therapy. Various treatments are available and your veterinary surgeon will recommend the best regime. Unfortunately, many atopic dogs are prone to recurrent secondary bacterial and yeast infections which will require intermittent or ongoing therapy as well as treatment to control the underlying allergic disease. An atopic dog can be difficult to treat and expensive.

Veterinary dermatologists recognise that certain breeds are predisposed to develop allergic skin disease and that the tendency to develop atopy is often inherited.Therefore, affected animals should not be used for breeding. The breeders of atopic animals should be informed if a particular sire and dam produced affected offspring and this should influence decisions regarding future breeding.

Nodular Dermatofibrosis

Nodular dermatofibrosis is a health disorder when lumps form on the dog skin. These lumps can grow and, in severe cases, thmeasuring from 0.1 to 2 inches ose on the feet often ulcerate or cause foot deformities and lameness. This skin disorder is usually associated with underlying canine kidney or uterus cancer (in unspayed female dogs). If you noticed lameness and any unusual growths on the dog's legs, and that your dog drinks and urinates more than usual, has blood in the urine, lost his appetite, vomits and loses weight, then kidney, uterus cancer or intestinal polyps should be considered as a possible cause of these symptoms. Although the diagnosis is fairly simple, there is no treatment for this condition. It is thought to be hereditary.

Affected dogs should NOT be bred. The mean age at the first detection of nodular dermatofibrosis in dogs is 3-5 years, therefore it is very important for the young dogs to be tested for microscopic kidney lesions as early as 1 year of age before the dogs are used for breeding to detect possible disease carriers. The most commonly affected breed is German shepherd dog, but has also been reported in Golden Retrievers and some other breeds.

Aortic Stenosis - Heart Problem

In the mildest form, aortic stenosis is undetectable and will not cause any problems for the dog. However the defect may still be passed on to offspring. The challenge for breeders and veterinarians is to identify affected Golden Retrievers with very mild or no clinical signs of the disorder.

Canine Congenital Subaortic Stenosis (SAS)

The Canine Congenital Subaortic Stenosis (SAS) is a heart condition when the arteries of the middle muscular layer of the heart (myocardium ) narrow thus creating obstructions to the normal blood flow in the heart. The narrowing of the arteries develops due to abnormal formations on the arteries walls. These malformations substantially increase the risk of a sudden death which usually occurs in the first three years of life. Signs of SAS may include exercise intolerance, labored breathing, increased rate of respiration, cough, fatigue, fainting or collapsing. Breeds that are at the highest risk of SAS are Golden Retrievers, Rottweilers, Newfoundlands and German Shepherd dogs. The disorder is often linked to endocarditis - inflammation of the lining of the heart and its valves. Subaortic stenosis has a tendency to progress and often needs to be treated surgically to remove the blood outflow obstruction.


Dermatophytosis is a fungal skin infection caused by dermatophytes (Microsporum canis, Microsporum gypseum, or Trichophyton fungi) that affects humans and animals. Infected animals release infective spores in the environment which will then contaminate other animals or humans. Infected animals usually develop immunity so the infection will spontaneously disappear after a few weeks to months. Young dogs up to one year old and dogs with weakened immune system, having other health disorders (for example, diabetes) or infected with ringworms, are most frequently affected. In cats skin lesions are more frequent, in dogs more severe. Male dogs are most often affected. If your dog has alopecia (hair loss) or skin lesions, inflamed hair follicles (facial folliculitis), acute abscess of a hair follicle due to infection by Staphylococcus (furunculosis) on legs and paws, nailbed and nail infection, skin irritation, scaly skin, itching, then dermatophytosis should be considered as a possible cause of these skin disorders. Dermatophytosis in dogs reveals in different forms and can often mimic other skin diseases. Diagnosis is based on clinical signs. Often additional laboratory tests are needed for a final diagnosis. A systematic diagnostic procedure can prevent a wrong diagnosis and allow for the right treatment. Treatment consists of application of different antifungal medications, rinses and shampoos: lime sulfur, enilconazole rinses, 2% miconazole/chlorhexidine shampoo, itraconazole, lufenuron and other medications. The cure may take from to 2 to 4 months. The use of desinfectants such as bleach or enilconazole has been proven effective to destroy the spores in the environment.

Studies show that infected cats appear to cause substantial environmental contamination and spread Microsporum canis , contaminating house air and surfaces. Dogs seem to contaminate surfaces, but they never contaminate the air.

Since dogs and cats live more and more in contact with humans, and a lot of dogs and cats are carriers of dermatophytes, dermatophytosis is the most important risk of developing a "mange" in humans.