Over the last decade my veterinary practice has seen an explosion in the numbers of Goldendoodles being brought in by clients. With its beautiful coat and friendly attitude, it’s no surprise that pet owners are eager to get their hands on this hybrid. That being said, there are some health issues that this particular mix is prone to.
Are Goldendoodles healthy? Many are. I’d say most. However, they are still prone to issues like hip dysplasia, arthritis, and allergies like many other breeds. The specific health concerns that I’m seeing with Goldendoodles revolve around problems with the gastrointestinal (GI) system as well as severe allergies. Read further to find out what you should know about this popular cross.
First – How Is A Golden Doodle Made?
Golden Doodles gain their heritage from two different dog breeds. They’re a cross between the loyal Golden Retriever and the intelligent Poodle. Because Poodles have hypoallergenic coats, breeders found a unique possibility in breeding them in with smart and loyal guide dogs. This would offer those who were blind the ability to use a guide dog even if they suffered from pet allergies.
As more people became aware of this particular dog cross, they became more popular due to their intelligence and gregarious personality. Many also barely shed and that was considered a desirable quality among prospective pet owners.
There are different “types” of Doodles based on the parentage of the puppies. F1, F2, etc. I’m not going to get into the particulars of this genetic typing. The Goldendoodle breeders are going to try and establish a consistent look so that eventually the dog can be admitted into the AKC registry of “purebred” dogs. This requires mating Doodles of a look consistent with what the desired “breed standard.” Therefore, it’s likely that the majority of Doodles that you’ll be offered will be those that are at least a few generations of Goldendoodle mated with another Goldendoodle.
What Kind Of Temperament Do Golden Doodles Have?
Golden Doodles are happy and friendly dogs. The Golden Retriever is renowned for its friendly attitude and loyalty to its family. Poodles are often intelligent and love to play games with their family members.
As with all dogs, you may find that the temperament is different from what you might expect based on the parents. Your dog, for example, may act more like a Poodle rather than a Golden Retriever. However, because both dogs are friendly and get along with other dogs, you’ll likely find that you’ve welcomed a wonderful addition to your family.
On the negative side, you can sometime have a nervous or shy Goldendoodle. That typically can come when one of the parents is a bit more insecure or fearful. It can also just happens spontaneously the way that a human family with lots of gregarious kids can also contain one child who is more reserved and nervous.
Overall, I’ve been pleased with the temperaments of the mix. The few that I’ve seen that are nervous and scared are typically only that way at the vet (understandable).
What Types Of Health Problems Do Golden Doodles Have?
Goldendoodles are becoming just like any other “breed”. They are a product of the genes. Depending on chance and how good and conscientious the breeder is, you may or may not have a dog with health issues as it ages. Some of the most common problem health problems you may notice in your dog are:
- Hip dysplasia
- Ear infections
- Gastrointestinal (GI) Issues
Let’s examine these health issues in greater detail.
There are two major categories of allergies when it comes to dogs: environmental allergies and food allergies.
Environmental allergies occur when your dog reacts to things like pollen, dust, grasses, trees, etc. Typical symptoms can include (but not limited to) itchy skin, itchy ears, itchy feet (see the itchy trend?), skin and ear infections, and poor hair coat quality.
Food allergies are greatly over-exaggerated in the general population. Many of my clients believe their dog’s allergies are related to food initially. What’s the major way to spot a food allergy vs an environmental allergy? If your dog’s allergy symptoms are consistent throughout the year despite the weather and seasons, that’s more likely to be a food allergy.
Allergies can be mild as not requiring any treatment at all to requiring the assistance of a dermatologist. I’ve had many Goldendoodles with allergy issues so this particular problem something a Doodle owner is likely to see.
2. Hip Dysplasia
Some breeds may try to convince you that hip dysplasia won’t happen in your Goldendoodle because Poodles don’t get hip dysplasia very often and the mix will “dilute out” the possibility of hip dysplasia developing. Not true.
This isn’t always the fault of the breeder. Hip Dysplasia frequently jumps generations so the parents could pass the Orthopedic Foundation of Animals (OFA) hip screen with a good result but still produce dogs that develop hip dysplasia.
Many times it’s a genetic role of the dice. Make no mistake – no matter how healthy the parents, any dog can develop hip dysplasia. It’s not related to the diet, too much exercise, or anything else that your breeder may try and convince you.
If your breeder has OFA certification for both parents, then I believe they bear no responsibility if the puppies eventually develop the disease. Breeders who aren’t confirming good healthy hips in their breeding dogs can’t guarantee or even suggest that the puppies shouldn’t get hip dysplasia.
3. Ear Infections
The vast majority of ear infections occur secondary to allergies. Unlike the common myth that Golden Retrievers are prone to ear infections because they have somewhat “floppy” ears, its’ really their susceptibility to allergies that is the root cause.
The ear canal is an L-shaped tunnel. The vertical part of the ear canal is what you see when you look into the ear. The horizontal part is a dark, warmer, and more difficult area to see unless you use an otoscope like a veterinarian. Unfortunately, it’s the horizontal ear canal where ear infections begin.
When a dog has allergies, the glands inside the ear will secrete a little more fluid and wax. When this happens, the normal amount of bacteria and yeast that already live in the ear will find a far better environment than usual to multiply.
One side point – if your Doodle happens to carry the gene that causes hair to grow in the ear canals, do not worry about having that hair removed on a regular basis at first. Despite what you would think, the hair in the ears does not cause ear infections. In fact, the hair can act as a protective mechanism to catch fluid and debris before it can enter the ear canal.
If a Poodle, or Doodle, with hair in the ears develops an ear infection (again typically due to infections), that hair should be “plucked” at that point so that the ear infection can be properly treated. That’s the only time in which I recommend a ear hair plucking.
4. GI Issues
Poodles are great at managing their own weight. They just aren’t that food motivated and don’t have a big appetite. It’s unusual for me to see an overweight poodle as a result.
Now, mix the poodle with a Golden Retriever (notoriously known as huge eaters and frequently overweight as a result) and you’d think that you’d end up with a dog that could express either approach to food.
However, what’s more common is a puppy that doesn’t seem to care at all what food is. You can offer them canned, people food, and any brand of dry puppy food that’s out there and they just barely eat. They rarely finish a meal and usually run around playing while also being skinny as a rail.
This “aversion” to food can last for years. Some puppies will grow out of it for no apparent reason other than they are now an adult and not as easily distracted when it comes to mealtime. Others stay super thin for the rest of their lives.
Other Doodles will end up with “sensitive” stomachs and seem to have a problem digesting and processing food. They may require a special diet that is lower in fat or one that contains less potential reactors (such as high protein levels, certain proteins and carbohydrates).
Of all the Goldendoodle health issues, I’d say GI issues are the most common I see.
This is the worst fear of any dog owner. Unfortunately because of the propensity of the Golden Retriever breed in general to develop cancer somewhere at some point in their lives, this issue can be passed along to Doodle offspring. Diluting the Golden Retriever out of the Doodle doesn’t necessarily mean that cancer is less likely. It can make it more likely if it’s a recessive trait that is more likely to be expressed as generations evolve.
What types of cancer have I already seen in Doodles?
- Liver cancer
- Osteosarcoma (bone cancer)
- Hemangiosarcoma (blood vessel cancer)
How Can You Choose The Best Golden Doodle (Questions for Breeders)?
My advice, as a veterinarian of over 20 years experience would be this – when looking at getting a Goldendoodle, get a first generation Doodle with a reputable breeder. Someone who has good quality purebred Goldens or Poodles already for sale and is not pumping out litters all the time.
You want the best genes, usually the most dominant genes, to be expressed. The very characteristics that make the Golden Retriever so friendly and smart and the Poodle healthy and intelligent are what you want and were the reason why Doodles were created in the first place.
That comes with starting with the two best parents. However, when the offspring of that mating is then used to mate with another Doodle, you being to “dilute out” the great dominant genes and give less desirable “recessive” genes a chance to emerge. Below is a family tree showing how recessive genes can become more prevalent with each successive generation.
You may say that offspring mated together shouldn’t happen and you’re right. However, how were the first Goldendoodle-Goldendoodle crosses made? How different were the genetics in those doodles? While I’m sure that there are some absolutely fantastic science-based breeding programs out there, the majority of breeds are far likely to not know anything about genetics and not care that much about how they produce puppies.
What questions should you ask your Goldendoodle breeder?
- Are the parents in this litter OFA-certified? What is their health history?
- Have they been bred before and how healthy are the puppies of those litters? Do they keep track of those puppies?
- How many times a year is the mother bred (I recommend one litter a year per mother)?
- How old was the father/sire when he bred the mother? (there are pros/cons of the age of stud dogs; some feel that older stud dogs who are still healthy and active have the best genes that you want to pass on).
How Can I Keep My Golden Doodle Healthy?
So once you have your Goldendoodle, how can you maximize those genes so that your dog lives as long and as healthy as possible?
- See your vet on their recommended schedule and follow their preventative health plan. These differ based on geographic location and lifestyle so there’s not one simple all-encompassing plan for everyone that I would talk about here.
- Start doing annual blood tests at 5-6 years of age to monitor for any early markers of disease
- Feed a reasonably good quality food. Grain-free diets have no scientific backing and I don’t know of a single vet who think that they should be used without a specific reason (food sensitivities/allergies being the only ones). Limit people food and dog snacks in general. Dog food doesn’t have to cost $50 or more for a 20lb bag.
- Mental stimulation is a must – these dogs are intelligent and need to be challenged. Plenty of toys, playful interaction, training, and interaction with other dogs are recommended.
- Physical exercise is also great. Daily walks are ideal but a trip to the dog park on occasion based on your dog’s needs are great ways to get that exercise.
Do Goldendoodles Need To Be Shaved?
For medical reasons, usually no. They don’t need to have their coats trimmed unless it’s causing matting or problems keeping the dog clean. However, most Goldendoodle owner will have their dog trimmed to maintain the face appearance at the very least. My clients have told me that they usually take their Doodle to the groomer every 2-4 months, depending on the kind of look they want to maintain.
A Goldendoodle can be a great pet and wonderful addition to your family. However, don’t believe all the hype that these are “healthier” dogs than others. They have their own health issues just like any other dog. Do your research on breeders and make sure that you don’t jump in without thinking things through.