Genetic Diseases in Golden Retrievers--
Updated 5/2012

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Here at Gaylan's, we take the reduction of the rate and severity of genetic diseases in goldens as an important part of our role as breeders. On this rather lengthy page, we lay out our priorities, production rates and thoughts on the health issues facing goldens. We hope this information will be helpful to golden buyers and owners, regardless of where they get their dogs. However we want to make it clear that we do not believe it is possible to produce 100% perfectly healthy dogs anymore than it is possible to produce 100% healthy human children. Life itself is imperfect and the creation of life is fraught with challenges and hurdles.

Despite this belief, we do aggressively seek to reduce the number of seriously affected dogs we produce. To do this, we:
  • study the diseases affecting goldens and their underlying genetics,
  • include our dogs in as many valid research programs as possible,
  • are passionate and public supporters of information sharing among golden owners and breeders as well as databases that enable this information to be tracked forever;
  • collect and release genetic data on all of our dogs and as many of their relatives and ancestors as possible, and
  • rigorously screen our breeding stock, including DNA testing with reliable and valid tests, when appropriate and as it becomes available
  • .
We also prioritize genetic problems, aggressively avoiding those that cause early death. Presently, goldens live an average of 10 1/2 years; that means about half of goldens live longer and the other half live shorter lives. Our breeding goal is that our dogs live till 12 years of age on average. Right now, cancer is the main cause of death of American golden retrievers, with between 50-60% of goldens succombing to it so it is our priority.

However, there are other diseases that cause early death in goldens, so our entire top priority list includes the following. Limiting these diseases in our dogs is our top breeding priority!
  • cancer
  • uncontrollable epilepsy
  • severe heart disease
  • severed immune-mediated diseases, like autoimmune hemolytic anemia and muscular dystrophy
  • swallowing disorders (dysphagia), such as megaesophagus and cricopharyngeal dysfunction
Our next priority are those inherited problems that cause a lifetime of discomfort or pain to the animal, require expensive treatment or severely limit the dog's activity through much of its lifetime. Diseases we put into this category include:
  • moderate and severe elbow and hip dysplasia
  • moderate heart disease
  • entropion
  • ectropion
  • osteochondritis dessicans
  • allergies
  • hot spots
  • ear infections
  • atopic dermatitis
  • immune-mediated diseases like lupus
  • severe pigmentary or golden retriever uveitis
  • prcd-PRA
  • PRA1
Lower on our priority list are those problems that can be easily managed with exercise, care and/or inexpensive medication. Here we put:
  • hypothyroidism
  • ichthyosis
  • distichia
  • mild elbow and hip dysplasia
  • mild heart disease, such as mild mitral and tricuspid valve dysplasia
And, finally, there are those that have no visible effect on the animal and require no treatment. In their mild form, none of these issues are serious enough for us to do more than monitor in our breeding program. These genetic issues include:
  • missing teeth
  • panosteitis
  • cryptorchidism
  • white or black spots
  • non-scissors bites
Health screenings, such as those registered with the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) and the Canine Eye Registry Foundation (CERF), are a critical part of our investigation into our breedings, both before and after. However, we acknowledge the inherent weakness of this process; most health screenings tell us only what the dog's health is at one period of time. They do NOT tell us the dog's lifetime risk OR its genetic makeup. DNA tests offer more potential but, at present, we have very few DNA tests available for golden retrievers.

As we make our breeding decisions, we keep in mind that there are no perfect dogs in the world. This point is so important, let me say it again...THERE ARE NO PERFECT DOGS! Breeding is not a manufacturing process, instead it is a matter of making tradeoffs and weighing risks. Therefore, we are avid students of genetics and seek to make our breeding decisions based on sound science not simply health clearances. We seek to manage risks since completely alleviating them is not possible. Therefore, there may be times that we won't breed to a dog with all of his clearances because we believe the risk of genetic disease is too great and there may be times when we do breed to a dog who lacks a clearance because we believe what he has to offer outweighs this gap.

Over the decades we have been involved in breeding goldens, our breeding goals and priorities have clarified. Like most breeders, we started out enamored with the prospect of producing conformation champions. However, we realized that we were not interested in breeding for traits that might diminish the dog's quality of life, such as too much coat, or even considering a trade off between looks and healthy. So today, our top goal is longevity. Our second tier of goals cannot be prioritized; we seek to produce long-lived dogs that are exceptional in Temperament, General Health, Working Ability and Structure/Conformation. You can read more about our breeding philosophy here.

You can be sure that we will discuss all of this thoroughly with our buyers and we will stand behind our decisions with our warranty. We also expect our buyers as lovers of the golden retriever breed to to contribute to the breed's health and our breeding program by submitting your Gaylan's dog to numerous genetic screening tests and providing us with the results.

We do a tremendous amount of work to reduce the risk of genetic defects but we don't want to mislead you--it is NOT possible to successfully avoid all genetic problems in a breeding program. To expect this of a breeder is foolhardy. For example, in a Swedish study of elbow dysplasia, even when dogs cleared of the disease were bred, 31% of their offspring were affected with elbow dysplasia. However, this percentage grew substantially when one or more parent was affected, even with mild disease. So, screening methods that we use are not perfect but they have been shown to reduce rates and severity of genetic disease so we use them. However, we also encourage researchers, foundations and registeries to continue to refine and advance screening methods.

Even with all of our screening efforts over the last three decades, we have experienced nearly every common genetic problem. With experience, we have come to realize that those we have no personal experience with are likely to show up in the future. Breeding dogs, like any adventure in genetics, is a risky activity. At the present state of DNA testing, we cannot know the genetic makeup of our dogs thoroughly enough to avoid all diseases. But, we can study, test and research with the goal of limiting problems. We cannot promise you a perfectly healthy puppy but we can promise that we have used our experience and expertise to make sound judgements about genetic disease, that we have discussed the risks with you ahead of time, and that we will stand behind our puppies for their lifetime.

In addition, temperament remains the top priority for good golden breeders. We make every attempt to breed only dogs free of the problems listed above and who possess the ideal golden temperament as outlined in the Standard of the Golden Retriever,
...possessing a personality that is eager, alert and self-confident. Friendly, reliable, and trustworthy.  Quarrelsomeness or hostility toward other dogs or people in normal situations or an unwarranted show of timidity or nervousness, is not in keeping with the Golden Retriever character.

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