Due to the generally sound construction of the Labrador, health problems are less of a big deal than they are in some other dog breeds.
But as with most purebred dogs, there are still a number of Labrador health issues that have been identified.
Key Labrador health problems
The health problems pet parents are most likely to come across tend to fall into three main groups.
- Joint problems
- Obesity related conditions
There may well be some overlap between these conditions, and the causes may be
- A combination of the two
Labrador health problems – #1 joints
Labrador Retrievers are generally healthy and well constructed dogs, with strong, well proportioned bodies. But they are prone to two serious joint conditions
- Hip dysplasia
- Elbow dysplasia
Both these conditions are strongly genetic in origin, but the exact genes which cause the problems have not been identified.
In addition, we now know that the extent and development of the disease in the dog’s joints, and the disability it causes, can be greatly influenced by the dog’s environment.
In otherwords, how you feed and exercise your dog can make all the difference
Labrador health testing
Some Labrador Retriever health problems are inherited and passed down from parent to puppy.
Genetic problems are inevitable when we breed closely related dogs together, and while Labradors are more genetically diverse than many less popular purebred dogs, inbreeding past and present means that genetic health issues will continue to arise.
For some of the known inherited health problems we now have important Labrador health screening programmes.
This involves testing potential Labrador parent dogs before they are bred from.
In the case of the two main joint problems discussed above, the health test involves checking to see if the parents are showing signs of the disease. This involves taking an xray of the dog’s joints. An expert then examines the xray for signs of disease and gives it a score. You’ll hear these scores referred to as hip scores or elbow scores.
When the exact gene that causes a disease has been identified, then we may be able to carry out a simply blood test on the parent dogs before breeding
Other inherited Labrador diseases
There are a number of other inherited diseases that have been identified within the Labrador breed, and for which tests are now available.
Where we have identified the exact gene that causes the problem we can carry out a simple DNA test from a blood sample or cheek swap.
The best known genetic test for Labradors is the test for progressive retinal atrophy(PRA) – which causes blindness. For PRA we have both and eye examination (which detects the disease once it has started to develop) and a genetic test called the Optigen test.
Other less common diseases for which we have DNA tests include centronuclear myopathy (CNM) and exercise induced collapse (EIC)
These last two diseases are relatively uncommon. There is however, another disease that millions of Labradors suffer from, and which is entirely environmental in origin. In fact it is unwittingly caused by their owners. That disease is of course obesity
Labrador health problems – #2 obesity
Many Labrador health problems can be avoided completely, or the impact of the disease greatly reduced, by maintaining your Labrador’s weight within a healthy range.
We understand that this can be challenging, and that it is very easy to overfeed this often greedy breed of dog.
But it is something that you have within your power to do, and which will be of huge benefit to your best friend.
You’ll find lots of help in our Labrador weight loss guide
Diseases associated with obesity, like diabetes, are increasingly common in our labs and most cases of diabetes can be entirely avoided by keeping your Labrador at a healthy weight
Arthritis is quite common in elderly labs but is not inevitable. And where it does occur is can be greatly relieved by weight reduction
You can help avoid the progression and severity of this painful disease of old age, by keeping your Labrador slim.
The healthy weight for an adult labrador is often a good deal lighter than you might think. And quite a bit lighter than the average labrador ‘on the street’ or ‘in the show ring’.
We have collected a massive amount of data on Labrador weights in our forum, and you find weight charts based on that information, collected from real Labrador owners, in this guide: How much should my Labrador weigh?
Labrador health problems – #3 Cancer
Tumours are by no means the problem in the Labrador that they are in some other retriever breeds (golden and flatcoated retrievers for example) but they are sadly not uncommon.
A significant proportion of Labradors will succumb to cancer in their old age.
But, just like in human medicine, there are now many treatments for this dreaded disease and it is not necessarily the death sentence that it once was.
And just as in humans, early detection is important. You’ll find information on checking for cancer, and other conditions of old age, in our article about caring for senior dogs
The impact of neutering on cancer in Labradors
The causes of cancer in dogs are complex. Some are genetic, with some breeds far more prone to the disease than others, some are related to hormones.
Others may be environmental in origin. Or random accidents. There is much we don’t yet know
And the latest evidence we have on neutering is that while neutering protects against mammary cancer (if carried out very early in life) it actually increases the risk of several other kinds of cancer, and of joint problems too.
Blanket advice that ‘neutering is a health benefit’ is simply no longer appropriate. For some dogs is may be quite the reverse.
So do read up on the pros and cons of neutering if you have any choice about whether or not to spay or castrate your Lab
Minor health problems in Labradors
As floppy eared dogs, Labradors get more than their fair share of ear problems. Floppy ears (as opposed to pricked up ears) create a favorable environment for germs to grow
You’ll need to get your Lab checked out if he starts rubbing his ears against the floor or scratching at them with his back feet.
It is worth reading up on Labrador ear troubles because they are so common
Skin problems related to allergies are fairly common in Labs too, and of course Labradors may occasionally suffer from a range of health problems that are widespread among dogs in general.
Infectious diseases in Labradors
Further Labrador health issues may be caused by poor diet, or by accidents. However, what was once a major cause of disease, and what would have been at the top of this list just a few decades ago, is of course the risk of infectious disease.
Fortunately, modern vaccination programmes have been extremely successful in slashing the rates of infectious disease in our four-legged friends.
It is important not to be complacent though. None of the major and potentially fatal canine infections have been completely eradicated. They are simply kept at very low levels by widespread vaccination of our pets.
Only by continuing to vaccinate can we be certain that these diseases will be kept under control.
Vaccination is not without some risk. And scientists have been working to minimise the exposure to vaccination that dogs need in order to keep them healthy and free from disease.
As a result, in recent years, annual vaccinations for some diseases have been replaced in many areas by three yearly boosters.
You can read more about vaccinations here: Puppy vaccinations – schedule and FAQ
Health screening for Labradors
A considerable proportion of Labrador health problems can be avoided by proper screening of breeding stock.
Responsible Labrador breeders everywhere are diligently testing for an ever widening range of sometimes quite rare conditions which are passed down from one generation to the next.
If you are thinking about purchasing a Labrador puppy, it is essential that you acquaint yourself with the tests available and how they can help you.
More tests are being invented all the time, and it is by no means essential that your Labrador puppies parents be tested for every single condition known to man.
However, there are some basic tests which you must ensure your puppies parents have received. You can find out more in our health screening section.
Labrador health problems – summary
In generals terms, our Labrador population is thriving and healthy. His role as a reknowned working gun dog, military service dog and therapy dog for the disabled has helped to preserve our fine breed’s originality and purpose built form.
If he has not inherited a predisposition to joint problems your Labrador’s strong and well proportioned body should serve him well throughout his life.
Seeking out a puppy from health tested parents that are not too closely related will help protect your Labrador against other genetic problems, and keeping him slim will be the icing on the cake.
Most Labs will live for ten to twelve years in relative health and fitness.
And if you read the comments on our Labrador lifespan article, you’ll meet many Labs that live a good deal longer than this
For your part, remember that the two most important thing you can do to ensure that your dog remains free from health problems are
- Buy a puppy from fully health tested parent
- Keep him slim his whole life through
With luck, he’ll never need to see a vet unless it’s to get his shots when they are due.
More information on Labrador health
Check out our Labrador Health Center for links to all the different Labrador health resources on this website
You’ll also find a great resource for all aspects of Labrador care in The Labrador Handbook
Together with the history and origins of this fantastic breed, The Labrador Handbook sets out what you need to know at every stage of life with a Lab.
From picking your puppy, to caring for your dog in old age. The Labrador Handbook is available worldwide
The Labrador Site Founder
Pippa Mattinson is the best selling author of The Happy Puppy Handbook, the Labrador Handbook, Choosing The Perfect Puppy, and Total Recall.
She is also the founder of the Gundog Trust and the Dogsnet Online Training Program
Pippa's online training courses were launched in 2019 and you can find the latest course dates on the Dogsnet website