Golden Retrievers are prone to certain eye defects that are thought to be genetically based and passed on. One common eye problem in the Golden Retriever is entropion — a turning in of the eyelashes that causes rubbing and damage to the cornea. This condition can usually be corrected with surgery. It does not have to be a debilitating problem. Cataracts are another common defect in Goldens that can affect one or both eyes. Some cataracts are hereditary, while others are not. Though most do not cause vision loss, some types can progress to severe loss of sight or total blindness. Progressive retinal atrophy is a degeneration of the retina that does leave a dog blind. This can be detected by yearly genetic screening. Retinal dysplasia is an inherited defect of the lining of the retina. It can cause a reduction of vision but usually does not progress or result in blindness. Overall, it is important to be sure that the breeder you choose is familiar with these possible eye problems and has done his or her best to screen the dogs so as to avoid passing along these undesirable defects to future puppies.
Certain environmental factors may make the appearance of the defect more likely in animals with a predisposition to it — for instance, sudden rapid growth, or excessive intake of calories. The environmental factors can trigger the disease but only in an animal that was predisposed to developing it anyway.
This is the most common eye problem in the Golden Retriever. The lower lid rolls in, bringing the skin hairs and/or lashes in contact with the cornea of the eye. This rubbing of the lashes or hair across the surface of the cornea causes discomfort, irritation, squinting, and, over time, damage to the cornea. There are a number of variables that manifest entropion in a dog that is predisposed to the condition. Most animals are not born with the defect. Instead, they acquire it between one and four months of age. Some of the variables that can cause the defect to develop into a problem are the growth rate of the skull; conjunctivitis, an inflammation of the membrane that lines the inside of the lids; distichiasis, which is extra lashes growing on the lid that rub against the cornea; loose skin around the eye, possibly caused by a loose ligament at a corner of the eye; and ectopic cilia, misplaced eyelashes on an upper lid.
Overall, entropion is a fixable problem if it is caught early enough. There must be surgical intervention before the cornea becomes too damaged. Affected animals and their parents should not be bred.
Depending upon their severity, cataracts can cause blindness in Goldens. A cataract is defined as partial or total opacity of the lens of the eye. It appears as a triangular white spot, usually on both eyes, but occasionally on just one. Most cataracts do not interfere with the dog's vision. Examination by a board-certified veterinary ophthalmologist is necessary to determine whether the cataract has genetic origins. Dogs with hereditary cataracts should not be bred, nor should their parents.
Most cataracts are not present at birth. Usually, they begin to develop within the first year. Most cataracts can be removed surgically with great success — they need not cause a permanently debilitating condition in the dog.
Progressive Retinal Atrophy and Retinal Dysplasia
Progressive retinal atrophy is a disease that leads to the degeneration of the retina, leading to complete blindness. This is screened for annually in breeding animals, and any animal who has not been completely cleared should not be bred. Golden Retrievers considered for breeding should be examined every year by a board-certified veterinary ophthalmologist until the age of eight. A written evaluation of the exam, as well as registration with the Canine Eye Registry Foundation (or CERF), will make the dog eligible for a clearance number. Do not buy a puppy from anyone whose dogs have not been examined and cleared.
Retinal dysplasia is an inherited defect of the lining of the retina and is more common in Goldens than progressive retinal atrophy. This disease reduces vision seriously, but the disease does not progress and does not result in total blindness. The same guidelines still apply, and all Goldens should be cleared of all eye defects on a regular basis in order to participate in a breeding program.