What do Labradors usually die from? This is such an important question to ask, although I agree it isn’t a pleasant one to think about. When you know the leading causes of death in the Labrador Retriever breed, you may have a chance to spot symptoms earlier and do more to extend your precious pup’s life expectancy. There are two leading causes of death in Labs: cancer and musculoskeletal disorders. But of course there are others as well, and the most likely cause of death changes over their lifetime. In this article, we will walk you through the most common causes of death in Labradors and give you important health and longevity insights you can talk with your dog’s veterinarian about.
- What do Labradors usually die from?
- What is the average age for Labrador to die?
- Is it possible to make your Labrador live longer?
- Common health problems in Labradors
What Do Labradors Usually Die From?
It’s a fact of life that we all have to die of something eventually. And the same is obviously true of our pets. Veterinary records from across the world have documented dozens of causes of Labrador death, but two categories stand out as being more frequent than the rest: cancer and musculoskeletal disorders.
Cancer in Labradors
It’s estimated that 3 in 10 Labradors die from cancer. Of the major known canine cancers, Labs are particularly prone to aggressive mast cell tumors and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. In addition, Labs are more likely than average to be diagnosed with skin cancers, especially fibrosarcoma and squamous cell carcinoma.
Musculoskeletal disorders in Labs
Labradors are particularly prone to certain musculoskeletal disorders, some of which are thought or known to be genetic (heritable). Common examples include:
- Hip and elbow dysplasia
- Degenerative joint disease
- Immune-mediated polyarthritis
- Cranial cruciate ligament rupture
While musculoskeletal disorders do not typically cause death in Labradors directly, they can cause pain and immobility to the point that euthanasia becomes the most humane option.
Other frequent causes of death
Cancer and musculoskeletal disorders are the Big Two causes of death in Labradors, but of course there are many other possible causes, of which these are the most recurring:
- Kidney disease (including kidney failure induced by Lyme disease contracted from tick bites)
- Heart disease
- Central nervous system disease
- Trauma (for example being hit by a vehicle)
Something clearly observable but not well quantified at the moment is that what Labradors are most likely to die from changes over the course of their lifetime. For example, puppies are most vulnerable to parvovirus, traumatic injuries are more common in adolescent and young adult dogs, and cancer is most often diagnosed in senior dogs.
What Is The Average Age For A Labrador To Die?
On average, black and yellow Labs on a healthy diet, with an active lifestyle and access to regular preventative veterinary care live to about 12 years of age. However, chocolate Labradors have a shorter expected lifespan of around 10 years. It’s thought that this because a genetic predisposition to a shorter lifespan has become ‘trapped’ in the chocolate Lab population. And since brown coats are a recessive trait, it’s not easy to introduce healthier DNA from black and yellow Labs without losing the chocolate color.
Is It Possible To Make Your Labrador Live Longer?
Labrador Retrievers are classified as a medium to large dog breed. In general, the larger the breed, the shorter their average life expectancy. The majority of large dog breeds live for 12 to 13 years at most. And the average life span across all dog breeds of all sizes is 11-12 years. So taken in context, the Labrador’s 10-to-12-year life expectancy is not unusual. It’s pretty good in fact.
Yet while the vast majority of Labradors only live up to 12 years, there are some positive exceptions. Some Labs have lived as long as 15 or 16 years and one extraordinary Labrador even lived 18 years! Research studies have identified that longer-lived Labs tend to have more lean body mass (muscle mass) and a lower body fat percentage than Labs that die earlier. So if you can keep your dog at a healthy weight, you can potentially add precious extra time to their life.
What Are Common Health Problems In Labradors?
The Labrador Retriever is the most popular dog breed in the world. This is both a good and a less good thing. Some good things about that, from a health and longevity perspective are:
- It means there is a big gene pool to breed from. A large gene pool usually means more genetic diversity, and a lower likelihood of experiencing some inherited health problems.
- There are lots of Lab breeders. This makes it as easy as possible to find a litter of puppies from health tested parents, without having to travel far.
- They’re well-represented in veterinary research. Any study of pet dog health is likely to contain a lot of Labs. Many papers have been written solely on Labrador health. Which means we know a lot about them, and how to keep them well.
The not so good thing is that Lab puppies’ popularity has made them a target for puppy farmers too. Puppy farmers’ litters are more likely to grow up with long term health and behavioral problems, and die younger.
Luckily, the Canine Health Information Center (CHIC) database keeps a running record of all known genetic (heritable) Labrador Retriever health problems for which pre-breeding tests exist.
Armed with this information, you have a much better chance of choosing a puppy from a reputable Labrador breeder who participates in the CHIC program. CHIC identifies these genetic health conditions that are more common in Labradors:
- Hip dysplasia
- Elbow dysplasia
- Heart issues
- Exercise-induced collapse
- Centronuclear myopathy
- Progressive retinal atrophy
In addition, some acquired (not necessarily genetic) problems Labradors frequently attend their vet office for are:
- Ear infections
What Do Labradors Usually Die From – Summary
Now you have a much better understanding of the various potentially fatal health issues that can affect Labrador Retrievers. Some of these health issues may directly cause death while others cause such reduced quality of life that assisted passing is the most humane choice. It can be so unspeakably difficult to lose your beloved canine companion – no amount of time is ever long enough when you love someone so much. Have you lost your Labrador dog? Please share your story so we can honor them here.
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- Crag, L.E. “Cause of death in dogs according to breed: a necropsy survey of five breeds,” Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association, 2001.
- McGreevy, P.D., et al, “Labrador retrievers under primary veterinary care in the UK: demography, mortality and disorders,” Canine Medicine and Genetics, 2018.
- Dobson, J., “Breed-Predispositions to Cancer in Pedigree Dogs,” ISRN Veterinary Science Journal, 2013.
- Pegram. L., et al, “Disorder predispositions and protections of Labrador Retrievers in the UK,” Nature. 2021.
- Smith, F.O., DVM, “Health Issues,” The Labrador Club, 2022.
- Raffan, E., “A Deletion in the Canine POMC Gene Is Associated with Weight and Appetite in Obesity-Prone Labrador Retriever Dogs,” Cell Metabolism, 2016.
- Adams, V.J., et al, “Exceptional longevity and potential determinants of successful ageing in a cohort of 39 Labrador retrievers” Acta Veterinaria Scandinavica, 2016.
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