Labrador Retriever Health Problems
This page looks at common Labrador Retriever health problems, such as joint problems (elbow dysplasia, hip dysplasia),
eye problems, endocrine problems, and other congenital diseases.
The Labrador Retriever (aka Labrador, or Lab for short) is one of several kinds of retriever, a type of gun dog. The Labrador Retriever is loyal, devoted, playful, and
hardworking. He is patient with children and makes a wonderful companion and family dog. Although he barks protectively, due to his friendly nature, he is not
suitable to be a guard dog.
The Labrador Retriever excels as a guide dog or assistance dog for the disabled; a search-and-rescue dog and a sniffer dog.
If you are thinking of getting a Labrador Retriever, you need to know about the common health problems that may affect this dog breed.
Of course, not all Labrador Retrievers will be affected by the common health problems as described below, but keep in mind that they are more predisposed to these illnesses.
Labrador Retriever Health Problems - Joint Problems
Labrador Retrievers are predisposed to the following joint problems:
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- Hip Dysplasia: Hip dysplasia is a genetic disease that is
characterized by an abnormal development of the hip joint. It affects mostly large breed dogs such as the Labrador Retrievers. The typical sign of hip dysplasia is limping and
bunny hopping. The condition can range from "mild" to "severe". Treatment includes medical therapy and/or surgery.
- Elbow Dysplasia: Elbow dysplasia is a group of congenital elbow
diseases in dogs. Specifically, there is malformation of the elbow joints, and because of the malformation, the bone or cartilage can be damaged, thereby starting the
process of osteoarthritis. Large breed dogs such as the Labrador Retrievers are predisposed to this disease. Dogs with elbow dysplasia usually display a front-limb
lameness of varying degrees. Lameness may start as early as 4 months of age. Surgery is the treatment of choice.
Labrador Retriever Health Problems - Eye Problems
Labrador Retrievers are predisposed to certain eye problems. Below are some Labrador Retriever health problems related to the eyes:
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- Cataracts: Congenital cataracts, also called juvenile cataracts,
affect many dog breeds including Labrador Retrievers. They appear in puppies younger than 6 years old. In addition, Surgery may be possible but expensive.
- Retinal Dysplasia: Retinal dysplasia is an abnormal development of the retina. Specifically, folds are formed within the outer retinal layers.
Retinal dysplasia can be mild, with small folding in just one or more areas of the retina; or the dysplasia can be geographic, with large areas of folding and thinning of the
Mild forms of retinal folds usually do not cause any problem in dogs. Sometimes, the abnormal folds may disappear with age. However, geographic dysplasia may lead
to retinal detachments and can result in totally blindness.
There is no treatment for retinal dysplasia. Since dogs have acute senses of smell and hearing, they can compensate very well for visual difficulties. If your Lab has
retinal dysplasia, you can help him by developing regular routes for exercise, maintaining his surroundings as constant as possible, and introducing any necessary changes
- Progressive Retinal Atropy (PRA): PRA is a group of eye diseases in which there is destruction of retinal cells in both eyes, leading to
blindness. The initial sign of PRA is night blindness. The dog may not want to go out at night. As the disease progresses, the dog will develop other signs of impairment,
such as unwillingness to go down a flight of stairs. PRA can be early onset with slow progression, early onset rapid progression, late onset, or sudden retinal
Labrador Retrievers affected by PRA usually develop night blindness after 2 years of age and progress to total blindness by age 4.
There is no treatment for PRA. Fortunately, with their acute senses of smell and hearing, dogs who have lost their vision can compensate very well, particularly in familiar
Labrador Retriever Health Problems - Nervous System Problems
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- Hereditary Myopathy of Labrador Retrievers: This is an inherited disease in which there is a progressive degeneration of skeletal muscle (the
muscles that are attached to the skeleton).
An affected Lab begins to show signs of weakness at 6 weeks to 7 months of age. They will show signs of exercise intolerance, difficulty holding up their head, bunny hop
when running, and collapse after brief exertion. Exposure to cold aggravates the symptoms.
The disease often stabilizes or improves by 6 to 12 months of age and many Labs can live a normal life.
Medical treatment (Diazepam) and keeping the puppy warm can be beneficial.
- Epilesy: Epilesy is a disorder of recurring
seizures. Epilesy can be idiopathic, which is believed to be inherited, or acquired. Labrador
Retrievers have a high incidence of idiopathic epilesy. Seizures (usually of the grand mal type) begin between 6 months and 5 years of age.
Treatment usually involves the use of drugs (e.g. phenobarbital, potassium bromide) to control the frequency and severity of the seizures.
Labrador Retriever Health Problems - Circulatory System Problems
Labrador Retriever health problems that are related to the circulatory system include:
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- Pulmonic Stenosis: This congenital condition usually involves a defective pulmonic valve and includes any defect in the heart which makes it
difficult for blood to exit the right ventricle and enter the pulmonary artery and lungs. Because of the defect, blood pressure increases in the right side of the heart and
in the vessels that empty blood from the body back to the heart.
Labrador Retrievers with mild symptoms may live normally without problems. Severely affected dogs may develop signs of
heart failure, arrhythmias, and fainting spells,
especially when excited or exercising. Sudden death, without warning, may occur.
Treatment for severe cases involves the use of medication to alleviate congestive heart failure and/or arrhythmias. Surgical treatment may also be necessary.
- Tricuspid Valve Dysplasia: This is also a congenital heart disorder in which there is a malformation of the heart's tricuspid valve. Specifically,
the valve does not close tightly, causing abnormal blood flow and increases the workload of the right side of the heart. Puppies with this problem usually tire easily.
They are lethargic, unwilling to exercise, and have a right-sided heart murmur.
There is no cure for tricuspid valve dysplasia. A puppy with this condition can live for only one to three years, when they usually die of
congestive heart failure.
Labrador Retriever Health Problems - Endocrine Diseases
The following Labrador Retriever health problems are hormonal (endocrine) diseases:
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- Hypothyroidism: Hypothyroidism the result of an
underactive thyroid gland, which can be caused by an autoimmune disease or other factors. Symptoms are those associated with a slower than normal metabolism, such as
weight gain, intolerance of the cold weather, weakeness and lethargy, and skin problems such as hair loss and skin infections.
- Diabetes: Diabetes mellitus is a common hormonal disease to which
Labrador Retrievers are predisposed.
Typical initial signs of diabetes are frequent drinking and urination, having an increased appetite but losing weight. In more advanced stage, the dog will show signs of
appetite loss, recurrent infections, cataracts, and neurological problems.
Diabetes in dogs is managed long term by daily injections of insulin and through dietary control.
Other Labrador Retriever Health Problems
Other Labrador Retriever health problems include:
- Bloat: Bloat is a condition that refers to distention of the stomach
due to rapid gas fill-up. Sometimes the bloated stomach rotates and becomes twisted. As a result of the twisting, blood can be stopped from entering the organ.
Deep-chested, large breed dogs, such as the Labrador Retrievers, are prone to bloat.
Some of the classic symptoms of dog bloat include unsuccessful attempts to vomit, retching, and
enlargement of the stomach. The dog may drool excessively and may appear restless.
Sometimes, the dog may just have gas and simply look uncomfortable, and the stomach may
feel a bit tight (but not distended). If your dog does not show the classic symptoms of bloat but has a tight stomach and cannot vomit or belch, be very observant and be
prepared for an emergency trip to the veterinary clinic.
- Laryngeal Paralysis: This is an acquired disease that occurs in older large breed dogs, such as Labrador Retrievers. It is the result of damage
to the nerves that control the movement of the larynx.
Signs include a croupy or "roaring" noise as the dog inhales, a progressive weakening of the bark, labored breathing, exercise intolerance, and fainting spells.
In severe cases, the dog can develop cyanosis (a blue color to the gums) from lack of oxygen. He may collapse and even die.
Treatment includes the use of medicines (e.g. sedatives and corticosteroids), and surgery may be required if medical therapy fails.
- Cancer: Labrador Retrievers are predisposed to certain types of cancer
such as lymphosarcoma, which is cancer arising from the lymphocytes in the lymphatic system;
and mast cell tumors, which arise from tissue mast cells and which occur most
commonly on the skin and is the most common form of canine skin cancer.