Labrador Health Problems

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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
  • Cancer

There may well be some overlap between these conditions, and the causes may be

  • Inherited
  • Environmental
  • 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 nclude 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

The Labrador HandbookYou’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


 

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Pippa Mattinson is the best selling author of several books on dogs. She is the founder of the Labrador Site and a regular contributor. She is passionate about helping people enjoy their Labradors and lives in Hampshire with her husband and four dogs.

66 COMMENTS

  1. My son has a gorgeous chocolate lab. 1.7months . This evening suddenly he could not walk , could not lie down and looked in pain . The vet thinks he has immune mediated polyarthrits , but no tests have been done until tomorrow . We are shocked and sad , he was so healthy and suddenly ill .
    What is the prognosis and could he live a good life if managed .
    Is this a rare disease for young dogs ?

    Thank you Barbara

  2. My yellow lab is 16 and starting to have major issues with his back hips. I am at a complete loss on how much he means to me and how much we have been through together. I owe it to him to make sure he is not in pain. He takes rimadyl and even though he is hurting he still wags his tail and wants to be by us. I think its time but I am scared i am making a decision too early. The vets just want to medicate him and overcharge for senior bloodwork on every visit. Any suggestions or thoughts? My heart is breaking over this….

    • My heart goes out to you Steph. I recently had to deal with a similar situation with my beloved 13 pit. As I write this I am tearing up, still grieving, But I know he had a great life and great memories. When to help him along, only you will know, no other opinion matters, even a vets. You love and know him best and you will know. One thing I think is a great idea is I had a vet come to my house and Little Dipper passed in my arms comfortable on my bed where he slept. no going in the car and going to an office and cold metal table. Do it at home where you both are comfortable.

    • they make doggy wheel chairs but they have unconditional love. even if their whole body was to give up they would wag a tail because they love us so. only you know your dog to know when hes had enough. and unfortunately you have to make the decision for Him not you. i am struggling this this same thing right now. my girl has cancer and some days are good and some bad. its so hard and heart wrenching. sending thoughts and prayers

  3. Is it safe to put your labrador in the yard with a very long chain attached to a stake in the ground, and have the chain attached at one end to collar? When we walk him on a regular leash, he rolls on the ground and gets the leash twisted around him.

  4. Hi my four year old lab in the past couple weeks has started to struggle with her back legs when I take her for a walk we don’t get very far and she keeps sitting down and has started to lose weight any advice please

  5. My 5 year old lab as stopped eating all of her food and leaves 1/2 of it in her bowl. She is on beta retreiver and beta light. To watch her weight. She is happy in her self, energetic. Her weight is 24kg. Noticed shes drinking a tad more and panting on the odd occasion more than usal. Any help

  6. Hi Pippa,
    ive got a 1yr old and 7months lab and just died this morning. he skip dinner last night and he drinks a lot of water and vomit it afterwards.each time he drinks he vomit it. What do you think the cause of his death?

  7. Hi pips we recently inherited my nephews dog who died a yr ago when we got him he was so skinny you could count his ribs and spine we got him to eat and he put on weight and looked healthy we noticed that he started having seizures I think when we first got him he had 1 seizure now he is having them more frequently and he stopped eating his dog food and treats and also doesn’t want to play or go for walks I’m very worried about him we have been feeding him what we eat and that is all he ll eat no dog food which is fine as long as he eats but I’m worried about the seizures because he seems to behaving them more frequent and they are lasting longer each time please give a dice thank yoiu

  8. My Black Lab Ginger is 5 /1/2. She is healthy n adorable. But of late is is scratching n wonding herself. Our Vet has given medication, lotions n also given her injections but no use. We feel very sad seeing her like this. All vaccinations given. Please tell what to do

    • Hi Manisha, If your veterinarian is not having any success with your dog’s treatment, then you might like to consider getting a second opinion from another qualified vet. I hope that Ginger feels better soon. Lucy.

  9. My sweet female 7 year old lab/collie mix has hip dysplasia in one leg and arthritis in the other rear leg. About two months ago she suddenly started holding up the leg with dyspasia and wont put weight on it. We have had x-rays and blood tests with no definitive results. The vet thinks she may have a sheath tumor but we can’t be sure without an MRI. The problem is that the “good” leg has arthritis so surgery to remove the leg isn’t an option. We’ve been taking her to the vet weekly, getting her glucosamine shots twice a week and giving her a 500 mg. tramadol tablet twice a day and two 100mg carprofen tablets twice a day to manage pain. She has not improved and has lost some weight. She is a great dog who is very calm in the house, has never chewed on anything even when she was a puppy. She has been a dream pet for my two young sons. She has now started displaying very strange behavior when we are not home. She has begun clawing at all the doors in our house that lead to the outside. When we come home there is slobber all over the floor and glass door, deep claw marks in doors molding. She has chewed on the chrome door handle to the point where it now has sharp grooves in it. I don’t know what is happening or why. The vet doesn’t have any definitive answers either and has said we should be starting to consider euthanasia as there is nothing more they can do for her. The vet said we have to think about quality of life for both her and our family. Although she is able to get up and down the stairs, it is clearly difficult. She loves being outside but now wants to be outside full time. I don’t know what is causing this new behavior and I don’t know if it’s time to say goodbye. I don’t want to be selfish if it is her time. Please help!

  10. Hello everyone
    I want to known about if Labrador one year and five days he eat human being median do anything we happened to him median name is Acekinetics ( calcium ) its not harm full to him na

  11. I am in the process of buying a black pedigree labrador eight week old puppy, but I have noticed a white patch across the ridge of its nose, is this a birthmark or a defect, and is this likely to disappear as the puppy gets older.

  12. Over the last couple of days, my seven year old black has been having his legs slip out from under him. He gets right back up, but, I’m concerned. He is fit and active.

    • Hi Jupiter, Your vet is the best person to speak to about this as there are lots of possible reasons. Make an appointment and take your Lab in for a check-up asap. Best wishes, Lucy

  13. Hi
    I think I just need to know what the worst could be – our black Labrador who is 11 in May has hugely raised enzymes – he is having s scan – but what’s the worst scenario?
    Thanks

  14. Hi pippa
    My 6 year old black lab “Ellie” has been passing greenish poo recently !!. She’s has an on going problem with what appears to be underside kidneys ! And has had inflamed pancreatitis and on medication for this. ” Pronefra ” seems to have kept this at bay. She is on a renal diet and has to avoid protein where possible .. Any ideas on the green poo ?

  15. My 2 yrs & 10 months old Labs’ back side, just top of vertebra spine, when touched it having a strong stimulation & it does an itching action & sometimes its tail base is bent towards on side, that time immediately it tries to touch it through its mouth & falling down on its, pelvic base side, hind legs. I contacted the vet he advised to give Neurobin tab. Already it has taken for four days but not cured. Please advise what to do for my pet dog. Your medical advise is highly revered.

  16. Hello Pippa, I have a 13yr old lab and she is panting quite a lot and has the occasional bout of diarrhoea is this something i should be concerned with?

  17. My Labs of thirty years have generally been healthy until 13 or so. I will take them in order. Madonna died suddenly at 13 of a liver tumor . Sophie was a lumpy dog, but died at 13 on kidney failure. Misty, one of Sophie’s pups, also a bit lumpy, died at 13 of heart failure. Another pup from that litter also died of heart failure. James was a big, Lon legged chocolate Lab and died of torsion at age 12 while boarding at the vet’s. My little Penny weighs 48 lbs, and she is very healthy and playful at almost 9. Penny is enthusiastic about learning agility. Beau is almost 2, 70 lbs, completely healthy and in love with his many big balls. Beau has also begun agility. He loves seek and find. I feed Science Diet twice a day, with kibble or small treats for training rewards. My dogs see the vet once a year for a checkup, more often if there’s a problem. They have all the rawhide retriever rolls they want to chew, and their teeth are white and shiny.

  18. My 5 year old Yellow Lab “Gringo” sudenly lays down and can not move his back legs for about 3 minutes. He shakes like having some pain moving his mouth like tasting somthing bitter. Then he starst getting up like recuperating and suddenly acts like nothing happened. I have noticed 3 times in the last. 3 months but never before. Any suggestion what it might be.

  19. My black lab /wiemeriener 3 years old was fine one day and the next day she stopped eating. I thought she maybe got sick from chewing on bones. I got her to the vet and results are leukemia. I just can’t believe it. Now I have to put my friend down. I understand any breed can get cancer but she is so young. I am a avid hunter, trapper, and fisherman, I spend a lot of time outdoors year round and my friend is always with. Are labs more apt to get this or is my dog just incredibly unlucky. She is had the best food and vet care and in extremely good shape. Thank you for any advise.

    • I’m sorry.. I recently lost my 5 year old healthy husky to liver cancer. Fine one day and the next he’s having to be put down. Worst feeling in the world good luck to you and your fur baby

    • I have a small female Lab who weighs 48 lbs. She’s a convenient size for travel, doesn’t take up much room in the car. I think she’s just the right size.

  20. Sometimes when we pop out for 10-15min, we come back and our 7 year old black lab has what seems to have been foaming at the mouth and the floor is covered in a clear gloppy substance, quite disgusting to clean up

    Many thanks Lou

    • I have a 60 days old labrador puppy.his name is freddy.he eats nestum,marie biscuits mixed with milk.he is having stomach upset for last 1 wk.i m giving him metronidazole+norfloxacin ,and neopeptine according to our vet’s advice.but till now his stool sometimes is solid,sometimes semi solid..i m confused what can be d possible reason behind this..he is also having cold for last 3 days.and now he is not eating properly….is it normal for the pup to have such health issues at this age??what can i do to keep him healthy?

      It would be of great help if you can give some advice regarding this..

  21. I have a 14 year old black lab, 91 pounds and just recently she has started to bleed from vaginal area. She has several tumors throughout her body. Took her to the vet and was told they are just fatty tumors. Just within the last few days she has been discharging bloody mucus from vaginal area what could the problem be?

    • Tell me when the time is right for my 15year old lab to be put to sleep ? she is on metacam and tramadol for pain .. loves her food but finds it difficult to go for a walk… has started fouling her bed !!! I am an oOAPand cannot afford long time pain relief !! PLEASE HELP ME !!!

      • Get some dog diapers. You can fold a towel lengthwise and put it under her belly with the ends held above her back. You may be able to give enough support to walk outside and do her business.

  22. My black 8 year old Lab has started walking with her head down then she has to lie down but seems to limp when she gets up and starts to walk around like she is stiff. Once she is up she can walk better but the problem that concerns me is her head hanging down but no pain.
    Please let me know what the problem could be.
    Thank You, John Marino

  23. My perfect chocolate lab named Suede at 6 yes 8months just received devastating news. She had a small limp , I thought due to playing with her buddies, but osteosarcoma . Wow what a dagger to my heart. Suede has been with me 24/7 her entire life , we eat breakfast , she goes to my construction jobs and we go to the park on the way home, then have dinner. She is truly my best friend. The vet did not give me much hope. What do you think of tumexal? I will go as far as I have to to save her life, as long as she has quality of life. I wish you couldmeet her. You would understand! She is a community friend to everyone. Looking for answers and support ….. help help help my beautiful Suede please .

    • Go to the best veterinary school you can find. It is just like taking a human with cancer to a major medical center.

  24. We have a fox red lab Lola 2yrs4mths she also had the same episode as carriann’s dog. Curled in a ball trembling and could not use her legs at all. We immediately took her to our vet who checked everything and was at a loss as to the reason. Has anyone else had this happen, would love to hear from you. Many thanks

  25. Hello, I have a chocolate lab that is about 2 1/2 and there has been 2 times that she has been sleeping during the day and all of a sudden she gets up and she is shaking, breathing hard, and she is not able to stand on her back legs and usually last about 10 minutes or so. We just don’t know if there is any health problems that sounds like something she is having?
    Thank you

    • Hi we have also experienced this with our fox red lab who was 2 in sept. She was unable to stand and could not use her legs at all. Our vet suspects a fit or possible sudden spasm in her disc. She has been ok thank god since. She is very healthy since, perfect weight, boundless energy so I am at a loss. I hope your dog has been ok .
      Caroline

  26. My lab is 12 and going strong. Yes she has the usual joint issues older, medium-large sized dogs get, but she still loves her walks and still jumps around when its time for food.

    I’m expecting more problems over the next few years, but the way she’s going I expect her to make 14 or 15.

    The environment she lives in is probably the largest factor here. I used to live in Alaska, now she’s retiring in Nevada. Both states generally have low humidity, and yes there are extremes in temperatures but those can be managed very easily.

    She loved to bury herself in the snow (I still take her to the nearest ski resort a couple times a year) and now with her older bones she loves to warm herself in the sun. The key is not to expose the dog to temperatures that are too extreme. Air conditioned homes and walking after the sun goes down helps to keep her happy and healthy.

  27. to day morning our puppy eaten a small hand kerchief…pls advice me what happend… how it is come out is it possible…puppy s age is 75 days only

  28. I have 5 weeks old lab puppy at home now. I made him to have a bath this morning and for the rest of the day he is tired and sleepy. He din’t play at all. Is this a problem??

    • There have been some interesting studies done on Manuka honey, but I haven’t seen one on allergies. Still, I bet the dog appreciates it! 🙂

    • Pippa I commend you on your responses, “go to the vet”. So many others would try to diagnosis online with limited information. Just shows you’re more interested in the animal than promoting yourself and your knowledge. Thank you

  29. Hi Pippa,

    I have noticed that you’ve missed to mention that Labs are very likely to have problems with ear infections be it yeast infection (Malassezia Pachidermis) or ear mites (common to other dog breeds as well). Also, I would put hip and elbow dysplasia as one of the major issues with our beloved breed.

    Also, thank you very much for this great site and help that you provide us.

    Best regards,
    Nina

  30. Hi Pippa,
    With regard to cancer the Animal Health Trust (http://www.aht.org.uk) are carrying our research to identify genetic risk factors for several cancers in Labrador Retrievers (and other breeds too).
    This is lifted from their Spring newsletter. “A non-invasive cheek swab from your dog is the simplest way to help, or you could speak to your vet about supplying a surplus blood sample or a tiny piece of surplus tissue from a tumour biopsy if your dog has cancer.
    We need samples from labradors of any age with cancer, and samples from labradors that don’t have cancer and are at least seven years old.
    If you own a dog and would like to help please email mike.starkey@aht.org.uk
    If any of your readers could assist with the research I’m sure it would be most welcome. I’ve just requested a swab kit for my 12 year old who after a chest x-ray has been proclaimed cancer free (phew), she has mild bronchitis possibly related to the high pollen counts this year.

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