Golden Retriever Rescue of Mid-Florida, Inc
PO Box 1449, Goldenrod, FL 32733-1449
Voice Message Info Line: (407) 332-2840
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     Orthopedic Problems in Golden Retrievers     

This article will discuss musculoskeletal or orthopedic
conditions common in golden retrievers. We'll talk about
various conditions that can occur and how they can be treated,
both medically and surgically. Lastly, we'll talk about
things that can be done at home to help alleviate problems
if they should occur.


It's important to realize that dysplasia is a condition a dog is born with. A dog either has it or he doesn't. Dysplasia, by definition, means a malformation present from birth. Dysplasia cannot be acquired, so the tales about dogs eating too much protein or exercising too much and getting dysplasia are false.

Hip dysplasia is the type most people are familiar with, but a dog can have other types of dysplasia affecting the elbows, shoulders and even the kidneys. Just like high cholesterol in a person, a dog with bad orthopedic genes will probably have problems sometime in its lifetime.

Hip dysplasia means that the coxofemoral or hip joint is not as deep as it should be. Because of this, the femur is unstable and the head of the femur rides up on the pelvis. This is sometimes detectable as early as four months of age. There are grades of hip dysplasia, depending on how uncomfortable the dog is and what the hips look like on radiographs. The higher the number, the worse the dysplasia. As the dog gets older, the joint becomes more painful, or arthritic, and the dog has a harder time getting around. Surgical options are usually done at a relatively young age, i.e. not greater than 5 years, but there are exceptions.

There are three different types of corrective surgery for hip dysplasia:

  1. A total hip replacement;
  2. A triple pelvic osteotomy;
  3. A femoral head ostectomy.
The procedures vary in price and success rate.

Medical options would be using anti-inflammatory drugs when needed. There are two types: non-steroidal or NSAIDS (e.g., Rimadyl) and steroidal (e.g., Prednisone or dexamethasone). Neither NSAIDS nor steroids should be given for long periods of time, and both should be discontinued if the dog vomits or experiences diarrhea.

Another drug effective in treating joint problems is the combination of glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate. These drugs strengthen the joints by repairing cartilage and forming joint fluid. These can be given long term. Examples would be Cosequin or Adequan.

Elbow Disorders

Another form of dysplasia or abnormality present since birth would be certain elbow problems. The types of diseases we see in dogs are an ununited arconeal process or a fragmented coronoid process. These diseases are caused by little pieces of bone in the joint. They cause both pain and weakness. Dogs will limp on the affected leg especially after laying around for a while. The best treatment is surgical removal of the bone fragment. Surgery has a very high success rate, providing there hasn't been too much degeneration of the joint.

Shoulder Disorders

   When a dog limps on his front leg, the shoulder joint must also be considered as a source of discomfort. Dogs can have a condition called osteochondritis dissecans or OCD. In this disease, a little flap of cartilage breaks off the head of the humerus and causes pain. Treatment for this disease is also surgical. It is important to remember that for any of the congenital diseases, surgery has a higher success rate if done at a young age.

   Dogs with any of these diseases should be exercised carefully and not be allowed to become overweight. Dogs with these diseases or with a family history should not be bred.

Knee Problems

   A common orthopedic condition is rupture of the anterior cruciate ligament of the knee. The dog will become lame and will be very uncomfortable on manipulation of the affected knee. A symptom called cranial drawer will occur. This is where the femur and the tibia can be moved forward and backward. Sometimes a dog must be sedated to exhibit cranial drawer due to the tenseness of the muscles while he's awake. Surgery is the best option for treating this. If done early success rates are very high.


Another common problem are fractures of any of the bones. Most fractures are caused by trauma such as an being hit by a car or falling. Occasionally a fracture will occur in an older dog for no apparent reason. When this occurs, bone cancer is suspected.

Treatments for fractures vary on location, severity and age of the dog. Hairline fractures of young dogs can sometimes be treated with external stabilization like a splint or a cast. Bones that are completely broken usually need some form of internal stabilization like a bone plate or pin. Some severe fractures may actually require bone grafts from other bones in the body. The success of fracture repair depends greatly on how restricted the dog can be kept after surgery.

How to Prevent Orthopedic Problems

If you decide to purchase a puppy from a breeder, make sure you have the family history at least back to the grandparents. Many dogs are OFA Certified (Orthopedic Foundation of America) for their hips. The extra money paid for these OFA puppies is worth it in the long run.

Keeping your dog on leash can eliminate accidents with cars. It's a tragedy when a beautiful, healthy dog is damaged by an automobile. Don't let your dog run free near roads. Lastly, keep you dog in shape. Extra poundage causes stress on joints and causes them to wear out more quickly. Better to have a dog a little too thin than a little too heavy. If you have any question about your dog's orthopedic health, check with your veterinarian. He or she will have the answers for you.

Note: GRRMF and Hip Dysplasia

Rarely do orthopedic problems show up in very young puppies which is why GRRMF always recommends reputable breeders to people who are looking for a puppy. Although OFA ratings on the parents are not a guarantee that the puppies will have normal hips, it greatly increases the odds that they will.

One of the benefits of adopting an adult dog through GRRMF is that you generally have a better idea of health in terms of allergies, orthopedic problems, etc. GRRMF does not routinely x-ray our dogs for hip dysplasia. If, however, there is a physical symptom that suggests a risk of hip dysplasia, we do go to the expense of x-raying the dog to determine the cause. In the unusual circumstance that a dog awaiting adoption shows evidence of orthopedic problems and x-rays determine dysplasia exists, the most common practice is to have femoral head surgery and rehabilitate the dog before it is adopted out to a family. The prospective adoptive family is advised of the dog's medical history prior to adoption.