The Golden Retriever is a wonderful dog to own for many reasons. As with any breed that has become very popular, there are many people that have bred Golden Retrievers not in the best interest of the breed but rather to make a quick profit. It should be noted that most of these individuals are not true breeders or those that have legitimate kennels; rather they are individuals that are simply in it for the short term. The result of these backyard breeders, plus the puppies produced in puppy mills, has led to some health problems within some lines in the Golden Retriever breed.
This unfortunate situation is not uncommon in any popular breed of dog. The good news is that buying from a reputable breeder that knows the breed and is more interested in the dogs than the profit will greatly minimize the chance that your puppy will have any of the inherited types of disease and conditions. Always check to ensure that both parent dogs have been hip and eye checked and certified and any reputable breeder will provide this information, typically without even a request. Most breeders also will only sell to approved buyers, so you may have to go through an application process. Talk to a breeder about any questions you have regarding health issues with Golden Retrievers and also do some research on your own.
The Golden Retriever is not an extremely long lived dog and the typical lifespan for the breed is between 10 to 12 years. There are Golden Retrievers that do live into their mid teens, but this is not common within the breed. Most dogs, when fed properly, routinely exercised and not allowed to become obese will remain moderately active throughout their senior years. Some Golden Retrievers used as hunting dogs continue in the field well into their later life.
As can be expected with any larger breed, canine hip dysplasia can certainly be a significant issue within the Golden Retrievers, as it is within a great many of the other sporting breeds. The incidence of canine hip dysplasia is higher in American and Canadian bred Golden Retrievers than in British and United Kingdom bred dogs, likely because the American standard is calling for a taller, leggier dog while the UK standard has the shorter legs. This difference in skeletal structure may somewhat diminish the pressure on the hip joint ligaments, resulting in less serious conditions. CHD, canine hip dysplasia, is genetically inherited, so ensuring that both of the parent dogs are OFA or PennHIP certified as free from the condition. Even minor signs of CHD should result in the dog being spayed or neutered and removed from any breeding programs.
The good news about canine hip dysplasia is that it can be managed in all but the most severe cases. New surgical procedures as well as the various non-steroid long use medications to help with pain relieve and even rebuilding the joints are proving effective. Feeding a good, high quality diet and given the dog lots of exercise to keep weigh within the normal range can also help in both reduction of problems as well as in keeping the range of motion in the joint as normal as possible.
The biggest and most life threatening condition for most Golden Retriever is cancer. It is estimated that about 60% of all Golden Retriever that die in a given year are affected by cancer of one or more types. This breed is very prone to several types of cancers, with the most frequently diagnosed being hemangiosarcoma. This particular type of cancer is also common in the German Shepherd breed, however in Golden Retrievers it is the single most commonly found cancer type. Typically hemangiosarcoma is an internal type of tumor that tends to show few if any signs until it is massive in size or has ruptured. The tumors are often found on the spleen, liver, heart or more rarely the central nervous system. Less often the tumors can also be found on the skin.
Since the condition is typically not detected until the tumor has ruptured or is completely impeding the organ, there is little that can be done in the way of treatment. In some cases the affected organ can be surgically removed and chemotherapy completed, however survival is typically less than one year after the treatment. Skin types of cancers, including mast cell tumors, have a much higher survival rate. Other types of cancers found in Golden Retriever include lymphosarcoma or cancer of the lymph glands or osteosarcoma, cancer of the bones.
Eye conditions can be found in the breed and can include treatable issues such as entropion, which is turned in eyelids, to cataracts, which can be treated surgically under specific conditions. More problematic issues include progressive retinal atrophy, which will lead to eventual blindness, or retinal dysplasia, which may cause loss of sight or visual impairments.
Heart conditions such as cardiomyopathy and subvalvular aortic stenosis (SAS) occur within the breed. SAS is a malformation of the heart that is present at birth and results in a murmur and restricted blood flow through the heart. Over time the condition may worsen, often very suddenly, resulting in death. Other dogs may live relatively normal lives with restricted activity and careful monitoring. Keeping the dog's health and weight optimal is essential for dogs with either cardiomyopathy or SAS. Von Willebrand's Disease (vWD), a condition that occurs when a lack of clotting factors exist in the blood, is also noted within the Golden Retriever. This condition is not always severe and many dogs live very healthy lives with vWD.
Skin allergies and severe types of hot spots on the skin are a real problem in the heavy coat of the Golden Retriever. Routine grooming and proper nutrition and care can help prevent this from becoming a problem, or from secondary infections from developing.
Although this may seem daunting, most of these conditions are also found within any of the other breeds of large dogs. Always ask for the health records of both the mother and the father dog's lines, going back as many generations as possible. Since most of the conditions mentioned above have some genetic component, there is a way to screen for the most significant issues.