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News Article

Study identifies common health issues in Labradors

Chocolate Labrador Retrievers have a shorter lifespan than their black and yellow counterparts, according to a UK study

A study carried out by the Royal Veterinary College’s (RVC) VetCompass™ programme in collaboration with the University of Sydney, aimed to describe demography, mortality and commonly recorded diseases in Labrador Retrievers under UK veterinary care. The research reveals that the most common disorders to affect Labradors are otitis externa, overweight/obesity and degenerative joint disease. The findings are published in Canine Genetics and Epidemiology.

The VetCompass™ programme collects electronic patient record data on dogs attending UK primary-care veterinary practices. Demographic analysis covered all 33,320 Labrador retrievers in the VetCompass™ database under veterinary care during 2013 while disorder and mortality data were extracted from a random sample of 2074 (6.2%) of these dogs.

An interesting finding of the study is that Chocolate Labrador Retrievers have a significantly shorter lifespan than non-chocolate dogs. The median lifespan for chocolate Labradors is 10.7 years, 1.4 years shorter than black or yellow Labradors.

Ear infections were found to be the most common disorder. Chocolate Labradors were found to suffer the most from ear infections, with 23.4% of them affected; by contrast only 17% of yellow Labradors were found to suffer from ear infections and just 12.8% of black Labradors.

Obesity and joint disorders were also found to be major afflictions for Labradors, with 8.8% of the breed found to be overweight and 5.5% affected by osteoarthritis. The most common cause of death was from musculoskeletal disorders, which lead to the death of 24.5% of the breed.

Other findings from the study include:

  • The popularity of the Labrador has dropped by over a third in 10 years, from 9.6% of all UK puppies born in 2004 to 5.8% of those born in 2013.
  • 44.6% of Labradors are black, 27.8% are yellow and 23.8% are chocolate.
  • On average male Labradors weigh 32.5 kg, making them almost 5 kg heavier than females which typically weigh around 30.4 kg.


RVC veterinary epidemiologist and VetCompass researcher Dr Dan O’Neill, who co-authored the paper, said: “This is the largest study of Labrador Retrievers to date and will substantially change how we view the health of this breed. Vets now know which diseases to prioritise for awareness by owners and can also advise on the best choice of colour and sex to meet owner’s needs when selecting a puppy.”

Co-author Professor Paul McGreevy, from the University of Sydney, said the relationship between coat colour and disease came as a surprise to researchers. “The relationships between coat colour and disease may reflect an inadvertent consequence of breeding for certain pigmentations. Because chocolate colour is recessive in dogs, the gene for this colour must be present in both parents for their puppies to be chocolate. Breeders targeting this colour may therefore be more likely to breed between only Labradors carrying the chocolate coat gene. It may be that the resulting reduced gene pool includes a higher proportion of genes conducive to ear and skin conditions.”

Read article: Labrador retrievers under primary veterinary care in the UK: demography, mortality and disorders by Paul D. McGreevy, Bethany J. Wilson, Caroline S. Mansfield, Dave C. Brodbelt, David B. Church, Navneet Dhand, Ricardo J. Soares Magalhães and Dan G. O’Neill, published in Canine Genetics and Epidemiology (2018) 5:8, doi: 10.1186/s40575-018-0064-x

Article details

  • Date
  • 23 October 2018
  • Source
  • Royal Veterinary College
  • Subject(s)
  • Dogs, Cats, and other Companion Animals