Health Screening for Labrador diseases

Within the Labrador gene pool lurks a range of unpleasant inherited diseases.  Understanding these diseases and learning to detect and prevent them,  is an important part of improving labrador health on a national basis.

A good deal of research has gone into these Labrador diseases, much of it funded by the Kennel Club and the British Veterinary Association.

As a result there are now a number of screening tests available to Labrador Breeders.

In most cases these screening tests are applied to the parents that are about to be bred from, rather than the puppies that are being sold.   The most commonly applied screening tests offered by the BVA are ‘hip scores’ and ‘eye tests’.  All responsible breeders now test their breeding stock for these two conditions.

There are also a range of further tests now available to breeders (see below) and many responsible breeders are testing for these additional Labrador diseases too.

Are all pedigree dogs tested for Labrador diseases?

Sadly there are still many Labrador puppies available for sale in the UK whose parents do not have even the most basic health clearances.

Puppies bred from unscreened parents, or from parents that have been screened and fall short of the appropriate standard,  can at the time of writing, still be legitimately registered with the Kennel Club. 

A genuine pedigree does not offer your any guarantees.

Have my puppy’s parents have been screened?

It is up to you, the buyer, to determine whether or not the parents of your puppy have been screened, and that the results of that screening meet your requirements.  You should only view a litter of Labrador puppies if both the parents have been hip scored and eye tested.

You should ask in advance for hip and eye test certificates of both dog and bitch to be available for your scrutiny when you visit the puppies.   Or better still, for copies to be emailed to you in advance of your journey.   If certificates are not forthcoming, you should walk away.

What do the eye certificates mean?

Labradors are susceptible to a serious eye disease that causes blindness,  sometimes at a young age.  A ‘clear’ BVA eye test certificate means that the dog has been examined by a vet specialising in this field and pronounced free from disease at the time of the examination. It does NOT mean that the dog does not have the inherited condition,  just that he or she displays no sign  of it at this time.   These basic eye tests should be carried out on an annual basis.  You should check that both parents have a ‘clear’ eye certificate and that the eye examination took place within the last twelve months.

What does the hip score certificate mean?

Hip dysplasia is a crippling disease of the hip joints.  The BVA hip certificate means that the dog’s hips have been x rayed and that the xrays have been examined and assessed by vets who specialise in this field.   After examination each hip is allocated a score.  The lower the score, the better the hips.  A perfect hip has a score of zero.   But this is fairly unusual.  The score is expressed by two numbers – one for each hip, and you will often  see these written like this    5/7   or this 5-7  or this 5:7     The final hip score is the total of the two figures added together.  In this case 12.

What we are looking for in good Labrador breeding stock is a hip score that is better than average.  This greatly reduces the chances of the puppies inheriting severe hip problems. However, it does not guarantee your puppy will have good hips because the disease is not caused by single gene, and because there are other factors influencing the development of your puppy’s hips.    It is also important that the score is fairly balanced.  So whilst  5/7 might be ‘OK’  2/10 (which also gives a score of twelve) is not good.

What is the average hip score?

This is expressed as the ‘breed mean’ and varies from breed to breed and from year to year.  You can find the latest data on the BVA website.   In Labradors,  the current (2011) five year mean is 12.

Most Labrador breeders should be aiming to breed from stock with a hip score that is lower than average and balanced. This should result in gradual improvement in the breed over time.

 What about tests for  other Labrador diseases?

There are some additional tests now available to Labrador breeders,  and these have been developed by independent organisations. These tests are for:

  • Prcd form of GPRA run by Optigen in America and under license at some other laboratories
  • CNM (Autosomal Recessive Centronuclear Myopathy) done by the Animal Health Trust
  • EIC Exercise Induced Collapse that is run by the University of Minnesota in America

Visit our section on eye disease for more information about PRA blindness in Labradors

 The Optigen test is becoming popular, and many breeders are now testing their stock. This test is a ‘once only’ test and tells us whether the dog carries the gene which causes this type of blindness. This means that if you purchase a puppy from two parents that are Optigen ‘Clear’, he can never develop or pass to his progeny, this type of inherited progressive blindness.

You can find out more about CNM on the Animal Health Trust website, and about EIC on the University of Minnesota website.   These tests are relatively recent developments and the more breeders that support them,  the better our chances of eradicating these unpleasant diseases.

What if the test result says ‘Carrier’

Sometimes, one parent of a litter of puppies, will be a ‘carrier’ for a particular disease, rather than ‘clear’.  This is not normally a problem provided that the other parent is ‘clear’ for the disease in question.

To read more about carriers and their role in a responsible breeding programme,  check out this article: What if your puppy is a carrier?

Why don’t all breeders test?

Genetic testing is not cheap.  As long as there is no obligation on breeders to test their stock, there will be breeders who do not bother.  It is therefore up to the public to put pressure on breeders to carry out these tests by refusing to purchase puppies from untested parents.

You can help encourage breeders to carry out these tests by enquiring about them whenever  you contact those offering puppies for sale, and by choosing puppies whose parents have been tested.

More information can be found here Hip dysplasia: improving the odds, and here  the fight against PRA blindness in Labradors

More help and information

If you enjoy Pippa’s articles, you will love her new book: The Happy Puppy Handbook – a definitive guide to early puppy care and training.


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Pippa Mattinson

The Labrador Site is brought to you by Pippa Mattinson. Pippa's latest book The Happy Puppy Handbook is a definitive guide to early puppy care and training

by Pippa on November 7, 2011

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Jules March 25, 2013 at 6:09 pm

I would go one step further and say you should only look at litters from stock which has at least been Eye, Hip AND Elbow tested, as Elbow Dysplasia is rife within the breed.

When I bought my first Lab, nearly 9 years ago, I was only told about the Hip and Eye tests, so bought a pup from stock which had had these done. However, I have now lived with a dog with ED and all the expenses and complications which go with that, for around 8 of those 9 years.

I know the Hip and Elbow Scoring schemes hold no guarantee, but I’d never buy another partly tested pup. At least if the pup has come from a breeder who fully tests, you know they have cared enough to at least TRY to stop their pups from developing problems.


Pippa March 25, 2013 at 7:45 pm

Fortunately, more and more breeders now seem to be elbow testing.


Sonia April 11, 2013 at 10:19 pm

Well said. Shame you, like many lab puppy buyers have had to learn the hard way. I feel so very passionate about this. Check out labrador informed breeding alliance on face book. Still in development but aim is to support puppy seekers to buy only best ethically bred pups. Leave a comment and let me know what you think


Claire April 24, 2014 at 6:09 am

Just wondered if you could update your article explaining in more detail the 3 categories after DNA testing in autosomal recessive diseases – affected, carrier or clear. There is often a lot of misinterpretation of these results, some do not realise that clear to carrier breeding is perfectly acceptable and over aggressive selection based on ‘clear to clear’ is detrimental to the breeds.


Pippa April 24, 2014 at 7:40 am

Hi Claire, that is explained in this article – I’ll put a link to it in the article above :)


amanda December 5, 2014 at 1:23 pm

My bitch has an elbow grade of 1. Should I breed from her? The BVA website is vague on this.


Wendy January 7, 2015 at 7:53 pm

Hi Pippa,

Quick question, like the eye test, should the hip test be done annually as well or is this a one time test? Also, thank you so much for this incredible website! I think I have found everything I need on this site. I am seriously considering a lab, but am doing as much leg work as I can before approaching a breeder and picking one out. I am learning so much from your site!


Pippa January 8, 2015 at 9:31 am

The hip score is a once only health test Wendy. You might also like this new series Puppy Search


Lou Cubbage March 14, 2015 at 12:25 pm

We had never heard of EIC until our yellow Lab was 7+ years old. She would have “episodes” after only a few minutes of ball throwing. They never lasted more than a few minutes and there were no aftereffects. FINALLY when we were in process of getting a chocolate Lab puppy the breeder mentioned EIC when we were talking to them. We had her tested and she is a carrier with symptoms, apparently an extremely rare combination. Needless to say we don’t throw the ball for her anymore. Never has an episode as long the no ball throwing.


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