The average Labrador Retriever lifespan is 12 to 12.5 years. Although a recent study suggests that chocolate Labs live shorter lives averaging 10.7 years, so significantly less than black and yellow Labradors. There are many factors that influence lifespan in Labs. These include diet, healthcare and management, and inherited diseases. Today I’m going to look into these factors with you, and share how you can influence them to help your dog live longer.
- Factors influencing Labrador lifespan
- Genetics, diseases and body shape
- Do pedigree Labs live longer?
- The coat color conundrum
There are over five hundred comments posted on this article, some of them sad, some of them happy, all of them about Labradors that have been, and still are, very much loved. Check them out at the bottom of this article, but make sure you have a tissue handy!
What Controls Labrador Retriever Lifespan?
Obviously ten isn’t a guaranteed Labrador lifespan for every dog. Some Labradors live a good deal longer than twelve. But some unfortunately don’t even make it to ten. So what controls how long your Labrador will live? And how can you influence your dog’s life span so you can spend the best and happiest years together?
There are two key categories of factors that influence your Labrador’s life expectancy. And the life span of any dog.
- One is the genetic information you dog has inherited from his parents.
- The other is the events that happen to your dog during the course of his life. Through puppy hood to old age. Things like accidents, injury, and disease.
How Long Can A Labrador Live?
Life span statistics for dogs are often wildly inaccurate and based on outdated information. But luckily we no longer need to guess. We can give you accurate Labrador life span information, as we now have data from scientific studies.
Labrador Lifespan Surveys
Two surveys were carried out in 2004 and 2013. The earlier study showed the median age of death in over 500 Labradors was 12.25. The later study gave a median age at death in a group of over 400 dogs as 12.5 years.
A bigger and more recent study published in 2018 looked at over 30,000 Labradors. This one found a median longevity of 12 years in Labradors overall. So the average Labrador lifespan seems to work out at around 12 years.
Is Labrador Lifespan Getting Longer?
But there is some good news. There is evidence that the Labrador lifespan might be increasing. One recent study, although it only looked at 39 dogs, suggested that the average could be getting closer to 14 years. So maybe our original answer to the question “how long do Labradors live?” is changing!
The longest lived Labrador we can find official confirmation for was over 19 years old. And you’ll find plenty of reports in the comments section below of readers’ Labradors living over 15 years. So, can you help your dog to reach these high numbers? Let’s look first at the genes that control how your dog looks and behaves. And which set broad limits to the life span of your Labrador.
Genes & Labrador Retriever Lifespan
Every purebred Labrador inherits a number of Labrador characteristics that he will share with all other pedigree Labradors.
These genes don’t just control his coat color, the shape of his ears, and the length of his tail. They also control aspects of his temperament and susceptibility to disease.
Labrador Body Shape
To some extent Labradors are lucky. They inherit a basically sound conformation or body shape. They don’t have very long spines or short legs that can cause back problems. Their bodies are nicely proportioned and designed for athletic ability – running and jumping.
Labradors have not been bred with shortened faces that can cause breathing problems or small skulls that can damage their brains. Nor do they have excessive skin or a massive amount of fur. This is great because a good body structure makes a dog naturally healthier than a dog with poor conformation.
Temperament and Labrador lifespan
Genes also control some aspects of a dog’s behavior. And his ability to carry out certain tasks, like running and hunting, or fetching things.
Temperament, including tendency to fearfulness, is influenced by genes. But it is also strongly influenced by environment. One study showed that fear and anxiety has a negative effect on life span in pet dogs. And some dogs are euthanased for aggression or behavior problems. So temperament is also a factor to consider when looking at life span.
Some dogs inherit a number of favorable genes that improve their chances of good health – reduced risk of cancer for example. They then pass these favorable genes on to their puppies.
How Inherited Diseases Affect Labrador Retriever Life Span
While Labradors are relatively healthy, there are diseases in the breed that can influence how long a Labrador will live. It will also affect how healthy each dog will be during that lifetime. For some of these diseases, hip dysplasia for example, and CNM, we have tests that can (and should) be carried out on adult dogs before they are used for breeding.
For other diseases, some cancers for example, we don’t have tests. We just know that in some cases, Labradors may be more susceptible than some other breeds of dog. A 2004 study showed that 31% of Labradors die of cancer. Which is slightly higher than the rate of cancer in dogs overall.
How Size Affects Longevity
Little dogs live longer than big dogs. This is one of the quirks of nature that we don’t entirely understand. Of course, there are many exceptions to the rule. But in general the longevity of dogs is quite strongly linked to body size.
This is the reverse of what we often find when we compare large species of mammal. The elephant for example, with smaller species – such as the mouse. When we look at individuals within a single species, in this case the domestic dog, being larger seems to be a disadvantage.
As a medium to large dog, size is therefore a limiting factor in the lifespan of your Labrador. In short, the average Labrador is probably never going to live as long as the average toy poodle.
Labrador Lifespan and Inbreeding
Like all pedigree dog breeds, there are certain genetic diseases that have become established within the Labrador breed. This is due to breeding between dogs that are closely related. The average coefficient of inbreeding for Labradors is 6.5%. This is higher than the level (5%) at which we start to see the adverse effects of inbreeding in dogs. Another factor influencing longevity in dogs is size. This is another area where Labrador are slightly disadvantaged.
Do Purebred Labs Live Longer?
How long do Labradors live if they’re purebred? The outer limits of your dog’s potential life are also limited to a certain extent simply by the fact he is a pedigree dog. A study published in The Veterinary Journal in 2013 showed that mongrels live on average 1.2 years longer than purebred dogs. This doesn’t mean that your Boxador will definitely outlive your neighbor’s pedigree Lab. It’s all about averages.
Comparing Pedigree Dogs
When we consider pedigree dogs as a whole, there are differences in longevity between the breeds. Not just in terms of size, though this is important.
There are also differences between different breeds of a similar size. Sometime shorter life spans are linked to poor conformation. Many very tiny dogs have hormone problems, brain problems through skull compression, and a range of other health issues. In comparison, Labrador conformation is pretty healthy.
Let’s take a look now at that topic we mentioned at the beginning of the article. The recent discovery that Chocolate Labs live shorter lives than their black or yellow cousins.
Color vs Lifespan
For a long time it was believed that coat color had no influence on Labrador life expectancy. With the exception of color dilution alopecia in silver Labradors, it was thought that inherited diseases were not linked to any particular color or type of Labrador.
A recent study of over thirty three thousand dogs has thrown that assumption into doubt. It shows us that black Lab life expectancy and yellow Lab life expectancy is around 12.1 years. While chocolate Lab life expectancy is quite a bit shorter at 10.7 years.
We don’t know exactly why this is yet. But the Chocolates in that study were more prone to ear and skin problems. This included self-inflicted “hot-spots” as a reaction to irritants like fleas. And we don’t know if the two main Labrador ‘types’ differ. So we can’t tell you if English Lab life expectancy differs from American Labs.
How Long Will My Lab Live?
Apart from your ability to be selective over the parents of your puppy, genetic factors are largely outside your control. But as your Labrador grows and matures, there will be life events that happen to him which may influence his life expectancy. Some of these are events that you can control. Let’s take a look at those now.
Accidents & Roaming Impact Labrador Lifespan
Many dogs die each year in accidents. And many of those could have been avoided. Accidents are far more common in dogs that are allowed to spend time outdoors unsupervised.
Fencing your property (or a small part of it) securely will help to prevent your dog from roaming. Plus, training him to come quickly when you call will help you to bring him to you in an emergency.
At one time is was believed that neutering increased life expectancy. One of the reasons that some older studies show a higher death rate for dogs that have been neutered is because if dogs are not properly controlled. Those that have the urge to mate will roam further from home and have more accidents.
Recent studies have however linked neutering to some serious health issues including joint disease and cancer. Both leading causes of illness and death in Labs. The neutering issue is not clear cut any longer.
These two principles – training and control – will help to ensure your dog lives out his allotted years to the full. Recall is fundamental for most Labradors safety. So make sure that you take the time to teach him to come when he is called. Whatever distractions may be surrounding him.
In some parts of the world there are still many serious diseases that kill unvaccinated dogs and puppies on a regular basis. Serious infections and diseases have the potential to kill your dog. But they also have the potential to make him generally less healthy should he survive them. So, where you live, and whether or not you vaccinate your dog may also affect his longevity. Probably the biggest single influence though, that you can control with regard to both your dog’s longevity, and his enjoyment of life, is his bodyweight.
Overfeeding Decreases Labrador Lifespan
Obesity is increasingly common in dogs generally and in Labradors in particular. It is a direct result of overfeeding. Labradors are greedy and friendly dogs that are very good at persuading people to hand over the treats, and to refill that food bowl.
Added to which, many Labrador parents find it hard to judge how much their dog should have to eat. And whether or not he is overweight. We can help you with that. Check out our guide to Labrador weight to make sure your dog is at the right weight for best health.
It’s important that you don’t slavishly follow feeding guidelines on packets. But feed your dog according to how he looks and feels. That article will help you.
What Do Studies Say?
Studies have shown that reducing calorie intake in dogs, can increase life expectancy by a significant amount. This isn’t really surprising when we consider the health impact of obesity. But it is a message that is being ignored by a great many dog owners.
A study published in 2003 showed that Labradors are capable of maintaining a consistent lean body mass throughout their lives.
Hungry Labrador Eyes!
There is no “tendency to getting fat” in the breed as many people mistakenly believe. There is only a “tendency to eat a lot and be very good at persuading people to provide food”. You have the keys to the food cupboard and you need to resist your dog’s charms.
Keeping your dog slim can help him live a long and comfortable life. It can defer the onset of, and reduce the impact of, conditions like arthritis in older dogs. Elderly dogs that retain their youthful waistline have a more active and happy retirement.
Being firm about the quantity of food that your dog eats each day will also help to ensure you have the benefits of his company for the longest time.
Is Longevity In Dogs Inherited?
Yes, to a certain extent, it is clear that longevity is inherited. In that some dogs will have an inherently higher potential for long life than others. But it isn’t the whole story.
Being a Labrador, being purebred, being a largish dog, all go against your dog when it comes to life expectancy. On the other hand, being athletic, good tempered, and well structured go in his favor. So, for these reasons, the Labrador falls into the medium range of life expectancy when compared with other dogs.
You Can Help Your Labrador Live Longer
There are some dog breeds that are longer lived than our beloved Labs. And quite a few that are much shorter lived.
You can help to influence your dog’s longevity to a certain extent. If you are choosing a puppy, choose his parents wisely. Make sure that they are health tested and bred by a responsible breeder. Look for a co-efficient of inbreeding that is below 5%. Consider choosing a black or yellow Lab. And make sure the parents have great temperaments, and have been well cared for.
Socialize your puppy thoroughly when you get him home. So that he is confident and views the world as a happy, friendly place. Above all, keep your dog slim. Really slim. When you look into those pleading eyes, make sure you don’t give in to your dog’s request for second helpings.
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