The Most Serious and Costly Health Issues in Golden Retrievers


Like any dog breed, Golden Retrievers can be prone to some severe and costly health issues. Some conditions are manageable through medications, and others require surgery. Some diseases are thankfully rare but have a very dire prognosis.

Health issues are a part of life, and our dogs are not immune from health problems. Golden Retrievers quickly become cherished family members, and no canine parent wants to see their Golden Retriever become ill.

It’s important then for owners to educate themselves. A prospective buyer should be aware of the Golden Retriever’s more severe health issues, the prevalence of each condition, the cost of treatment, and screening tests available to reduce their likelihood.

The most common and serious health issues for Golden Retrievers include:

  • Cancer
  • Hip/Elbow Dysplasia
  • Sub-Aortic Stenosis 
  • Portosystemic Shunts
  • Entropion 
  • Cataracts
  • Pigmentary Uveitis
  • Progressive retinal atrophy
  • Shoulder/Elbow Osteochondrosis
  • Ichthyosis

Treatment costs can range from $200 to $15,000 or more. 

Selecting a breeder who screens for inherited health issues and works to keep them out of bloodlines can help mitigate some problems down the road. Breeders with healthy lineages may charge upwards of $3000 or more for a dog that has had a thorough health screening. 

Breeders should make documentation for screening assessments available to all buyers.

Prospective buyers will have to weigh the upfront cost of paying more for a Golden Retriever puppy with health assessments versus the potential benefit of fewer serious health issues down the road.

Keep in mind that the cost of a Golden Retriever struggling with health issues can be expensive. Both on the wallet and the mental and emotional toll it takes on the dog and its owner.

The Most Serious Health Issues and There Prevalence in Golden Retrievers 

Health ConditionPrevalence
CancerHigh
Hip DysplasiaHigh
Elbow DysplasiaMedium
Sub-Aortic StenosisLow
Portosystemic ShuntsMedium
Osteochondrosis of the Shoulder/ElbowMedium
EntropionHigh
CataractsHigh
Pigmentary UveitisLow to High
Progressive retinal atrophyLow
IchthyosisHigh

Cancer

Cancer is the leading cause of death in Golden Retrievers, and some studies put the cancer rate for Golden Retrievers in the 60% range. Females Golden Retriever fares a bit better than males, but the rate in both genders is high (57% for females and 66% for males). 

According to an article published by Golden Retriever Club of America, the two most common cancers found in the Golden Retrievers are hemangiosarcoma, which affects about 20%; and lymphoma, which affects 12.5% of Golden Retrievers. These two cancers represent about half of all the cancers in the breed. 

Hip Dysplasia

Hip Dysplasia is very common in Golden Retrievers, and the risk level is high. According to Embrace Pet Insurance, the incidence of hip dysplasia in Golden Retrievers is 20% and 3.3 times as likely as a mixed breed dog. Hip dysplasia affects the rear limbs of the Golden Retriever. 

Hip dysplasia is a defect in the inner working of the hip joint, specifically the ball socket. In a nutshell, it’s when the ball of the femur doesn’t fit well or line up with the pelvis’s hip socket.

Hip dysplasia is genetic and most often affects large breed dogs the most. However, smaller dogs can suffer from the condition as well. 

Large dog breeds dogs that are predisposed to this condition must not undergo too fast of growth and be limited to specific exercises that are easier on the joints. Ensuring the dog is kept at a proper weight and meeting its particular nutrition requirements are part of the management protocol. 

Elbow Dysplasia

In contrast to hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia most commonly affects the front limbs. It is a medium-risk ailment for Golden Retrievers. Elbow dysplasia occurs when the elbow bones do not develop correctly and do not fit together properly. 

According to Embrace Pet Insurance, the Golden Retriever is number 24 on the list of breeds to develop elbow dysplasia, with 11.4% of all Golden Retreivers that were evaluated being graded as dysplastic. 

Subaortic Stenosis

Subaortic Stenosis (SAS) is a heart condition that poses a medium risk level for Golden Retrievers. Dogs affected with this ailment are born with a narrowed aorta, and oxygen caring blood out of the heart is restricted as a result. 

The condition is inherited, and breeders should do screening to ensure puppies are not affected.

The good news is that the disease rarely progresses to a more severe form. The condition is often managed through drug therapy. Surgeries show little success and are therefore not recommended. 

Portosystemic Shunts

Portosystemic shunts are a health issue affecting the liver and are a medium risk level for Golden Retrievers. Shunts occur when the portal vein, which carries blood and toxins to the liver for filtering and detoxification, is not connected to the liver correctly.

Toxins carried by the blood bypass the liver, and therefore the blood does not get detoxified. Instead, the blood is directly circulated throughout the body. 

Osteochondrosis of the Shoulder/Elbow

Osteochondrosis is a developmental disease that occurs mostly in large breed dogs and especially those that grow rapidly. The condition typically manifests between 6 to 9 months of age and occurs more so in males than female dogs.

Osteochondrosis causes the abnormal growth of cartilage at the end of the shoulder and elbow bones. Golden Retrievers are a medium risk for this disease. 

The disease is usually diagnosed through x-rays under the use of a sedative.

Entropion

Golden Retrievers can be at high risk for some eye conditions. Entropion is one of these. Entropion is a condition of the eyelid, where the eyelid rolls inward. It’s believed to have a genetic basis.

Entropion can cause pain and irritation. The irritation can lead to corneal ulceration and continue to worsen if not corrected. Entropion can affect one or both eyes. 

Entropion is relatively easy for owners to identify as it can be quite noticeable; however, your vet will need to perform an eye exam to confirm the diagnosis. Your vet will also perform a fluorescein stain test on the eye to look for corneal damage. 

Cataracts

Another widespread eye condition for Golden Retrievers is cataracts. Cataracts are the clouding or opacity of the lens in the eye. Severe cataracts can cause blindness.

Cataracts in Golden Retrievers are an inherited condition, and its prevalence level is high. Dogs with cataracts should not be bred.

Cataracts are identified by the clouding of the eye and an eye examination.

Pigmentary Uveitis

An eye condition often seen in Golden Retrievers is Pigmentary Uveitis or Golden Retriever Uveitis (GRU). The disease appears to be inherited, but the exact cause of GRU is unknown.

Often GRU is a precursor to secondary glaucoma. GRU can lead to irritation, pain, and eventually vision loss. The disease is chronic, and there is no cure. 

According to AnimalEyeCare.net, GRU prevalence ranges from small to high depending on the Golden Retriever’s age and geographical location studied. GRU is a concern because its rate in Golden Retrievers seems to be rising and spreading. 

Often the early signs are just redness, so it can be difficult for owners to notice at an early stage. Difficulty with identifying early signs can lead to the disease progressing to advanced stages before diagnosis and treatment. 

Progressive Retinal Atrophy

Progressive retinal atrophy (PRA) is an inherited disease of the retinas. It can be either early or late-onset. In Golden Retrievers, the late-onset is most common, manifesting itself in a dog around 6-7 years of age.

In this disease, the retina begins to atrophy or thin. The disease affects a Golden Retriever’s night and peripheral vision and eventually progresses to vision loss. 

Fortunately, the incidence of PRA is low in Golden Retrievers. Golden Retrievers that develop PRA should not be bred. It’s essential to test Golden Retrievers for PRA to eliminate them from the breeding pool if they show signs of this disease.

An eye exam or genetic test can be done to determine if a Golden Retriever carries the gene.

Ichthyosis

Golden Retrievers can be prone to certain skin diseases, and a high-risk one is called ichthyosis. The condition is inherited, and, fortunately, it is not dangerous to your Golden Retriever’s health.

Ichthyosis results in a gene mutation where the outer layer of skin does not develop properly. The skin becomes rough, darkened, and thickens, and the skin resembles fish scales that flake off. Symptoms of ichthyosis can range from mild to severe, but the disease worsens with age.  

As with PRA, a genetic test can determine if a Golden Retriever is prone to this ailment. If the dog is affected or a carrier, it should be removed from the gene pool.

While Ichthyosis is not dangerous, it can be unsightly and very uncomfortable for your Golen Retriever. It can also result in secondary conditions such as fungal or yeast infections.

What Is the Cost of Treatment for These Serious Health Issues?

The cost for treating health issues for Golden Retrievers can be costly. The graph below shows the maximum potential costs for some of the most serious health issues often found in Golden Retrievers.

Treatments can range anywhere from $200 – $1000 for treating ichthyosis to $1500 – $6000 for hip or elbow issues. Cancer treatments are the most costly and run upwards of $15,000 or more. 

Cancer

Treatments vary by cancer type and can include surgery to radiation, or chemotherapy. Many of the same treatments used on humans are used on our canine friends as well.

The treatment of cancer can be very costly. Depending on the type of cancer and the treatment used, treatments can range from $8000 to $15,000 or more.

Hip and Elbow Dysplasia

Treatment for hip dysplasia can include surgery in severe cases to supplements, weight loss, exercise restriction, and anti-inflammatory options for less severe cases.

Treatment options for hip dysplasia can depend on the dog’s age, the severity of dysplasia, and whether an owner can afford the surgery. Costs can range from $1500 to $12,000 depending on the treatment protocol and whether one or both hips are treated. 

For example, a bilateral hip replacement can be as high as $12,000. However, typical costs for most hip surgeries are $1500 to $3000 per hip. 

Treatments for elbow dysplasia depend on severity and budget. They include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, joint supplements, and physical therapies. Exercise restriction and weight management are also part of the management plan.

Treatment for elbow dysplasia can be about $1500 to $4000. Surgical options include performing an arthroscopy using a fiber-optic scope to repair the damage.

Subaortic Stenosis (SAS)

Treatment for SAS includes monitoring the condition through regular examinations and tests (x-rays, electrocardiogram (EKG) and ultrasound, and the use of beta-blocker drugs.

Treatments can range from $500 to $1500, but the cost of regular monitoring, including x-rays and EKGs, can add up. 

Portosystemic Shunts

Surgery is often required to tie off the shunt to allow blood to pass through the liver directly. If surgery is not an option, then the veterinarian may treat your Golden Retriever using a medical management program that includes diet change, supplements, and medication.

Costs can range from $2000 to $6000 for surgical options with supplements and medications costing $100 or more each month. 

Osteochondrosis of the Shoulder/Elbow

Treatments can include a management plan for exercise restriction, rest, pain medication, and anti-inflammatory medication and supplements. If severe or there is no improvement through conservative approaches, then your dog may require surgery. 

Costs can range from $30 or more each month for medications and supplements, depending on the severity. Surgical options are more costly and can run from $2000 to $4000 per joint

Eyes Issues: Entropion, Cataracts, Pigmentary Uveitis, and Progressive Retinal Atrophy

Entropion

Treatment includes antibiotics and monitoring for mild conditions to surgery for more severe cases that involve corneal damage. Often plastic surgery is performed on adult dogs to reshape the eyelids, and the procedure is called a blepharoplasty.

Costs range from $300 to $1500 depending on whether a general veterinarian or surgeon performs the procedure. 

Cataracts

Treatment options for cataracts often include surgery to dissolve or remove the lens. Recently, sound waves to dissolve the cataract has become the preferred course of treatment. The procedure is called phacoemulsification and is much less evasive.

An artificial lens can then be placed within the eye after lens removal to ensure the dog can focus properly. Treatment costs for cataracts are about $1500 to $5000 per eye if surgery includes a lens replacement. 

Pigmentary Uveitis

Treatments for Golden Retriever Uveitis (GRU) include topical or anti‐inflammatory medications. Secondary glaucoma is treated with medications to control ocular hypertension.

If caught early then, daily eye drops may be all that is required. If detected later, then the disease may progress to vision loss, and treatments are more extensive. Ongoing, regular exams by a veterinarian ophthalmologist are required for Golden Retrievers with this condition. Laser surgery may also be required for late-stage or severe glaucoma due to the pain it causes your dog. 

Costs for medication such as eye drops to control intraocular pressure can be $10 to $100 or more per month. Routine eye exams can run from $60 to $100 (or more). Keep in mind that exams might be required every 3 or 6 months to monitor the condition. Surgery, if needed, can be quite costly. 

According to WagWalking, the average cost for treating Uveitis ranges from $300 to $2000. However, monthly eye drops and regular exams can add up quickly, so prices can easily exceed the maximum average and run into the thousands. 

Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA)

Unfortunately, to date, there is no treatment – surgical or medications – for PRA. Affected dogs will eventually progress to blindness.

The best course of treatment is prevention. Golden Retrievers that develop PRA should not be bred. It’s wise to get a dog from a breeder who has tested for PRA, even though PRA has a minimal prevalence. 

Ichthyosis

Treatment for Ichthyosis involves special shampoos, supplements, topicals, and sprays. There is no cure, and the disease can cycle between flares where it worsens then gets better.

Treatment for Ichthyosis ranges from $200 to $1000 for specialty shampoos and medications such as antimicrobials. 

What Is the Cost of Pet Insurance for a Golden Retriever?

Health insurance, on average, can cost $40 to $100 (or more). According to Embrace Pet Insurance, the average Golden Retriever owner pays between $39-$89 per month for a $10,000 annual maximum, $500 yearly deductible, and 80% reimbursement rate for their pet insurance. 

ValuePenguin.com found the average cost of dog insurance over 11 of the top pet insurance agencies was $42.45. Prices can be more or less depending on whether insurance coverage includes both illness and accident versus accident alone.

ValuePenguin also found that the average cost for insuring a Golden Retriever was $40.59 per month, which was the highest among the five dog breeds compared (Labrador Retriever, German Sheppard, Golden Retriever, Beagle, and Bulldog).

Getting pet insurance can be very expensive, and availability usually depends on a person’s budget. If it’s not financially feasible to get pet insurance, then check out my article: 

The Full Cost of Owning a Golden Retriever (Plus Cost-Saving Tips)

In that post, I discuss the cost of owning a Golden Retriever, and I provide some cost-saving tips and resources if you require low-cost veterinarian care. 

Still, Golden Retriever owners should consider health insurance or set aside money each month to cover unexpected costs related to health issues.

Dealing with a sick dog can be extremely stressful, but having to worry about affording costly treatments on top of that can make it even more distressing.

Life happens, and unexpected expenses can be sudden and often large, as evidenced by the vet receipt below for our Golden Retriever Bailey. While that wasn’t for an illness, it demonstrates how quickly vet costs can add up.

Unexpected expenses for your Golden Retriever can happen. X-rays and procedures can add up quickly.

Most often, it’s cheaper to pay out of pocket for treating the more common but less severe conditions than paying for the cost of annual insurance. The real value of insurance is to cover or lower the cost burden for treating the more severe and expensive diseases or ailments.

What Are the Recommended Health Tests for Breeding Golden Retrievers? 

The following health tests are recommended for breeding dogs by the American Kennel Club.

  • Hip Evaluation
  • Elbow Evaluation
  • Cardiac Exam
  • Ophthalmologist Evaluation
  • Neuronal Ceroid Lipofuscinosis 10 (NCL10)

Health screening in breeding stock for Golden Retrievers can reduce or eliminate many of the common inherited health issues for dysplasia, eye conditions, and cardiac problems, specifically SAS.  

Hip Evaluation

Symptoms or signs of hip dysplasia cannot be detected in puppies less than four months old. Hip dysplasia typically shows in dogs between 4 to 24 months.

Golden Retrievers must be at least 24 months old to receive a final hip certification. Responsible breeders should all have this evaluation performed, and documentation should be made available to prospective buyers. 

A hip evaluation consists of a veterinarian specialist performing an exam on the dog and taking x-rays of the hip joints. The x-rays are sent to a panel of experts – such as the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) or PennHIP – for evaluation, scoring, and final determination. 

Elbow Evaluation

Elbow dysplasia affects the front limbs and is not as common as hip dysplasia; however, it still has a medium risk prevalence. Elbow dysplasia is inherited and thought to be due to multiple genes. As such, breeders should evaluate elbow dysplasia for Golden Retrievers, and affected dogs should not be used for breeding. 

Like hip dysplasia, dogs must be 24 months of age to receive a final elbow certification. Similarly, a veterinarian specialist should perform an elbow evaluation consisting of an exam on the dog and taking x-rays of the elbow joints.

The x-rays are then sent to a panel of experts for evaluation, scoring, and final certification. 

Cardiac Exam

The most commonly seen heart issue in Golden Retrievers is Subaortic Stenosis (SAS), but fortunately, the disease is rare.

However, while it is only seen in a small percentage of Golden Retrievers, the illness can be severe, so dogs need to be evaluated for the condition. If SAS is present, a Golden Retriever should not be bred. 

Breeders should have dogs over 12 months of age evaluated for SAS. A veterinarian cardiac specialist or cardiologist will perform the assessment.

If an initial exam reveals anomalies such as a heart murmur, then further diagnostics are required. Test results should be sent and evaluated by a panel such as the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) for final certification. 

Ophthalmologist Evaluation

Because Golden Retrievers can be prone to frequent eye issues, an Ophthalmologist evaluation is recommended for any dog in a breeding pool. Both hereditary cataracts and Entropion have a high prevalence in Golden Retrievers. 

Addressing hereditary eye conditions in Golden Retrievers is often tricky because these diseases do not develop until later in life. A veterinary ophthalmologist should perform a thorough eye exam, and exams for breeding dogs should be performed every 12 months.

Eye exams should be certified by the Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF) or the OFA and are valid for only 12 months from the date of examination. Any dogs diagnosed with eye issues should be removed from the breeding pool.

A concerning eye condition that seems to be rising in prevalence is Golden Retriever Uveitis (GRU). GRU is believed to have a genetic basis. There are no tools available to diagnose GRU in the early stages to prevent breeders from producing offspring affected by this disease.

Only when the disease manifests can a definitive diagnosis be made. Breeders should not breed any dog diagnosed with GRU. 

A much more rare but severe eye condition found in Golden Retrievers is progressive retinal atrophy (PRA). PRA, while rare, eventually results in blindness, and there are no effective treatments.

Due to the severity of PRA, breeders should screen for this condition to ensure any offspring do not inherit it. Fortunately, there are simple DNA tests that can help breeders avoid passing PRA to puppies. 

Neuronal Ceroid Lipofuscinosis 10 (NCL10)

The AKC also recommends breeders do a DNA test for Neuronal Ceroid Lipofuscinosis 10 (NCL10). NCL is thankfully extremely rare, but this heartbreaking disease is so severe and the prognosis so poor that dogs with this disease are typically euthanized by ages 2 or 3.

NCL is a disease of the central nervous system and affects a dog’s coordination and movement. 

A simple DNA test can quickly identify NCL 10 in Golden Retrievers, and if evident, the dog should never be bred. 

Ichthyosis

Ichthyosis, a skin condition, has a relatively high prevalence in Golden Retriever. While the AKC does not recommend testing for ichthyosis, according to AnimalGenetics.us, a simple DNA test can quickly identify the disease in dogs.

Considering such a test is available, it’s a bit surprising that breeding clubs do not recommend it as part of their routine screening.

However, it would be wise for breeders to consider this test to ensure no offspring is affected by this skin condition. 

Final Thoughts

Golden Retrievers, like other dog breeds, are prone to specific and serious health conditions. Some are common to the breed, while others are less common or rare.

Risks for certain severe health issues can be reduced significantly through careful breeding practices that thoroughly screen for identifiable and inherited health conditions. 

Golden Retriever owners should also be aware that other conditions can also be present in the breed, such as epilepsy, other skin conditions, hypothyroidism, etc.

Screening may not be performed for these conditions either because their prevalence is low, they’re not severe or are easily manageable, or there are no reliable diagnostic testing or examination tools available.

In cases where health assessments are available for inherited conditions, breeders need to conduct health examinations on dogs before undertaking a breeding program. Breeders should also make assessments and certifications available to potential buyers. 

Prospective buyers should avoid puppy mills or backyard breeders. Buying from an unreputable breeder often leads to genetic conditions being passed onto offspring. In turn, this affects the dog’s welfare and causes distress for the dog and owner alike. 

Prospective buyers should also ask for documentation as proof when purchasing a Golden Retriever from a breeder who has stated that their dog has all of its health clearances.

Alternatively, buyers can also search the online database available on the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) website that lists all dogs with normal health tests submitted since 1974. 

Golden Retriever owners should also keep in mind that lifestyle management such as proper nutrition, weight management, exercise, and routine veterinary care plays an integral role in maintaining a healthy dog. 


Disclaimer: This article is intended to give a general overview of some severe health issues seen in Golden Retrievers, their prevalence, treatment costs, and some available health assessments. The article is not intended as a diagnostic tool, and it does not constitute medical advice for Golden Retrievers. Please consult a licensed veterinarian for any medical advice or diagnosis concerning your Golden Retriever.

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