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Genetic Health Testing for the Golden Retriever Breed

Genetics can be very interesting but very confusing to those who are not familiar with them! You may be wondering what it means when your puppy is or has the potential to be "clear" or a "carrier" for a certain disease. You may not even know that was a thing...As a pet owner you may not think that finding a breeder that conducts genetic testing is important but it is probably one of the most important things to make sure your breeder does!  If you are purchasing as a breeder, genetics are one of the important aspects to consider when planning pairings. 

Genetic testing is essential to being a responsible breeder in order to produce the healthiest puppies possible! All of these diseases are avoidable!


Clear, Carrier, Affected 


All of the diseases below are common golden retriever genetic diseases. They are all recessive diseases, which means the dog has to have 2 genes to be affected, dogs can be clear (no gene), carrier (1 gene), or affected (2 genes). There is absolutely NOTHING wrong with a carrier because it only has one gene. So a carrier dog does not have the disease nor will it ever show any signs or symptoms of the disease. AT ALL. EVER. That should be obvious but I do like to specify that again, a carrier will NEVER have any signs or symptoms. It is not affected.  As a pet owner, all you need to understand is clear and carriers are good because they are not and will never be affected, but as a breeder it means that if you have a carrier,  you need to breed to a dog that is "clear" for that specific disease to avoid having any affected puppies.


The chart below shows what each breeding will produce based on what the parent is. Breeding-wise clear to clear (acceptable) is always clear. Clear to carrier (acceptable) is 50/50 for clear or carrier. Clear to affected is all carriers (acceptable), carrier to carrier (not acceptable) is 25% clear, 50% carrier, and 25% affected, affected to affected (not acceptable)  is 100% affected.

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Just as a note: In regards to Ich, it is important to remember that Goldens can have dry skin and are more prone to hot spots/ear infections because of their double coat and floppy ears. Just because they have this issue, does not mean they are affected with Ich or allergies. Genetic Testing and/or an allergy panel is recommended always to know for sure if your breeder did not genetic test. We test all of our adult dogs so we will NEVER produce an affected puppy. Climate/diet/grooming/environment will also have a big affect on these issues. That is why it is important to keep their ears clean and brush and groom them to get any shedding hair out so it does not build up and hold moisture to create a hotspot. Make sure you are using a quality shampoo/bath mist and ear cleaning products. We recommend Life's Abundance because they are a recall free company and the ingredients are all high quality! 


You may ask "Why not breed just clear dogs" and my answer to that is, there is nothing wrong with a carrier if you are being a responsible breeder. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with a carrier for pet owners. There is no reason to limit the gene pool by only breeding clear and as a responsible breeder that is trying to better the breed OVERALL you have to take ALL factors into consideration when choosing breeding pairs, not just genetics. Although genetics are a big factor to ensure you never produce an affected puppy. You have to take pedigree, other health testing results such as OFA's, temperament, build, and looks into consideration also. You are not bettering the breed if you limit your gene pool by one specific trait of a dog.


If you are purchasing for breeding I do offer to send in testing for puppies via Animal Genetics between 1-3 days old in case that helps with your pick or you can do it after you get the puppy if you want. If you do not do testing prior to getting your puppy, we do not guarantee whether it is clear or a carrier. We do guarantee it will not be affected. If we do test puppies, you just have to pay for the testing.

Common Golden Retriever Diseases

All the diseases below are avoidable! Make sure your breeder is doing the genetic testing to ensure no affected puppies are produced! 

Ichyosis (Ich/Ict)-Ich is the genetic variant that affects Golden Retrievers and is an autosomal recessive genetic mutation that affects the skin of Golden Retrievers and a few other dog breeds. The mutation prevents the outer layer of the epidermis (skin) from forming properly, resulting in skin that becomes darkened and thick, with excessive flaking. ICH is very common in Golden Retrievers. The name Ichthyosis comes from the Greek word for fish because of the resemblance to fish scales resulting from this condition if your dog is affected.  A common slang name for the condition is “Fish Scale Disease”.  The most common symptom is flaking of the skin similar to dandruff in humans.  It is also possible to have hardening and darkening of the skin.  Which symptom experienced and it’s individual severity varies and can become worse or better over time based on hormone levels and stress.  The visible symptoms in an affected dog can present themselves at any stage of life but most often are seen before the puppy’s first birthday.  Symptoms can be nonexistant, mild, moderate, or severe. The ONLY way to confirm ICH is via a simple, inexpensive DNA test.  If you Golden gets flaky skin, it is not necessarily Ich. Ich can be managed with regular grooming, skin and coat supplements, high quality diet, and skin lotions/conditioners.  


Muscular Dystrophy (MD)-MD is seen in many breeds, but is seen the most frequently in Golden Retrievers. This is a result of low amounts of dystrophin, resulting in the progressive degeneration of muscles.  Muscular dystrophy occurs when the dog lacks dystrophin. Dystrophin is a protein necessary for the proper function of muscle membranes. There are several types of Muscular Dystrophy. Duchenne is the most common form of MD in canines.  Symptoms generally begin showing up between 6 to 8 weeks of age. Things you'll want to watch out for include: Difficulty swallowing due to an enlarged tongue, lack of interest in playing/exercise, muscular weakness, excessive drooling, difficulty breathing, muscle spasms, difficulty moving tongue, limb deformity, tremors/shaking. There are no cures for muscular dystrophy. There are no therapies, either. Progression of the disease can be slowed, in some cases, with anabolic supplements – that is, steroid hormones.


Degenerative Myelopathy (DM)- Canine Degenerative Myelopathy, also known as chronic degenerative radiculomyelopathy is a spinal cord disease that is present in older dogs. This spinal cord disease typically affects dogs between 8 and 14 years of age. This disease results in a loss of coordination and mobility of the hind limbs, causing to the dog to wobble, sink, and/ or drag the back legs while walking. This disease is most commonly in German Shepherds and Corgis but can happen in Golden Retreivers. Unfortunately, there aren’t any specific treatments or cures available for DM in dogs. 


Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA 1 & 2, prcd)-Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA) in dogs is the canine equivalent of retinitis pigmentosa (RP) in humans and is characterized by vision loss due to degeneration of the photoreceptor cells in the retina. This degenerative disease eventually leads to complete blindness. PRA affects more than 100 dog breeds but is rare in the golden retriever breed compared to other breeds. There is no cure of treatment for these diseases.


Neuronal Ceroid Lipofuscinosis (NCL)-NCL Golden Retriever Type is a hereditary lysosomal storage disorder, which is a form of a bigger group of neurodegenerative disorders, known as the neuronal ceroid lipofuscinoses (NCLs). The NCLs cause accumulation of lipopigments in the body’s tissue. Lipofuscin is a yellow to brown lipopigment composed of residues of lysosomal digestion. It is considered to be one of the aging pigments localized in the liver, kidney, heart muscle, retina, nerve cells and ganglion cells. Lipofuscin in high levels causes membrane damage, damage to mitochondria and lysosomes. Its balance within the cell is realized via formation and disposal mechanisms. When this balance is disrupted, accumulation of lipofuscin occurs. In humans, this condition is related to several diseases, such as degenerative disease of the eye, the macular degeneration and inherited juvenile form of macular degeneration, the Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Abnormal accumulation of lipofuscin is the cause of the neuronal ceroid lipofuscinosis, causing progressive and permanent loss of motor and psychological ability. Owners of affected Golden Retrievers recognize first symptoms when dogs are around 15 months of age or older. Symptoms include anxiety, constant circling, tremors, aggression, ataxia, localized and generalized seizures, and visual impairment. There is no treatment or cure for this disease.

Where to test for Genetic Diseases?

Genetic testing is something that you can do at any age in your pup's life, right from the comfort of your home, there is no need to go to your veterinarian for this. It is simply a cheek swab that you complete and mail in. We personally use Animal Genetics due to their quick turnaround time, reasonable pricing, and quality customer service. For their Golden Retriever panel that includes; MD, DM, ICH, NCL, PRA 1&2, PR-prcd, it is a mere $140. This is not a large cost compared to the future vet bills you/your puppy parents may have if you decide not to test and encounter affected puppies. 


Here is a list (not in any specific order) of places to look into for getting testing done; 

1. Animal Genetics

2. Embark

3. Wisdom Health Optimal Selection

4. Orivet 

5. PawPrints

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