Common Labrador Retriever Diseases

In 2019, for the 28th year in a row, the American Kennel Club (AKC) has named Labrador Retrievers as the top AKC registered dog breed in America. Labradors generally make excellent family friendly companions; although they may need more exercise than other dog breeds. As such, the AKC classifies them as sporting dogs. Labs are smart, loving dogs who generally reach a weight between 50 and 85 pounds and have a life expectancy of 10-12 years. While Labs make great family pets, they are genetically predisposed to certain diseases and conditions. In the following article, I will discuss some of the diseases Labradors are prone to acquiring as well as signs to alert you to in order to spot them more quickly.  

Hip Dysplasia

Hip Dysplasia is a genetically linked disease which results in a malformation of the hip socket and femoral head. It’s useful to think of the hip joint as a “ball and socket”. The head of the femur represents the ball which should fit like a glove into the “socket” of the hip bone. In Labradors and other predisposed breeds, a malformation of this joint results in laxity and a poorly fitting “ball and glove”. This causes excess wear and tear on the joint and ultimately arthritis. While this is considered a genetic disease, other factors including environment, nutrition, and weight likely play a role. Labradors are prone to obesity and exercise may help play an important role in helping to keep excess weight off and keep joints healthy.  

Signs of Hip Dysplasia include slow getting up, particularly after laying down for periods of time. Walking with a stiff, swaying, or a bunny hopping gait, and reluctance to jump or otherwise play as your dog once did when they were younger, often after exercise. Fortunately, there are many effective treatments for Hip Dysplasia including medications, supplements, and cold laser therapy. In severe cases of Hip Dysplasia, surgical correction should be considered.

Ear Infections

Perhaps it’s the floppy ears that trap humidity and moisture or a generally increased frequency of allergies, but Labradors are predisposed to ear infections. Signs of an ear infection include red, painful ears, shaking the head, or pawing at the ears frequently. Sometimes dogs will even rub their heads along the carpet. Fortunately, ear infections are usually simply treatable and if signs are noted at home a trip to your veterinarian is in order to help diagnose the nature of the infection as well as to prescribe medication to treat.

Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA)

PRA is a term describing a group of hereditary diseases which causes blindness in dogs. In the Labrador, generalized photoreceptor degeneration has been identified as the form of disease most often acquired and a specific mutation has been discovered.  PRA is caused by premature death of the photoreceptor cells in the back of the eye.  PRA affects both eyes with vision loss occurring slowly over time. In many cases, this allows dogs to adjust to their vision loss and owners may notice their pet has a decreased ability to see first in dim light, or after furniture has been rearranged in the house.  Dogs with PRA will progress to complete blindness. While no specific treatment is available at this time, gene therapy may provide a cure as science continues to work on learning more about this disease.

Other Health Problems

Like other breeds of dogs, as Labradors get older, generalized arthritis of the elbows or knees can occur as well as ligament tears. In addition, cancer and heart disease remain leading causes of death for dogs and Labradors have some genetic predisposition for these diseases. Medications for heart disease are available and can greatly improve clinical signs in patients that are affected.

Given the propensity of disease, if you have recently adopted a Labrador I recommend scheduling a wellness visit at one of our hospitals to establish a baseline for your new pet, make sure all vaccines are up-to-date and start your dog on proper Flea And Tick and Heartworm Prevention. If you have an older Labrador, a thorough physical examination is recommended to evaluate your dog’s hips and other joints, listen to your dog’s heart, and discuss common senior testing to identify disease states early in their course. To schedule an appointment, please call one of our Veterinary Hospitals to speak to a member of our team.  With a lot of love and sound veterinary care, we’ll help you keep your dog’s tail wagging and a loved member of your family for years to come.

Jeffrey Stupine, V.M.D

Medical Director

World of Animals Veterinary Hospitals