Health Concerns for the Labrador Retriever

Some of the health issues which may be of concern for the Labrador Retriever include:


Hip & Elbow Dysplasia, and Other Joint Problems

Canine Hip Dysplasia afflicts millions of dogs each year and can result in debilitating orthopaedic disease of the hip. It is caused when the femoral head does not fit properly in the hip socket, causing instability of the joint. Over time, this malformation can cause degenerative joint disease which causes increased pain and immobility.

Through selective breeding strategies, veterinarians and breeders are attempting to eliminate Canine Hip Dysplasia. All breeding dogs should be x-rayed and certified clear by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) and/or by the University of Pennsylvania Hip Improvement Program (PennHIP).

Osteochondritis Dissecans — OCD is a degeneration of bone underlying the cartilage layer of joints. It can affect the shoulder, ankle or elbow joint and almost always shows up during the growth phase — between six to nine months of age — of larger breeds. It may start as an intermittent limp in one leg. Many young dogs with OCD run and play as though nothing is wrong but when they slow down they realize the limb hurts and the limp returns. Contributing factors to OCD include physical impacts, such as jumping off high places, and being overweight.

Arthritis — Dogs can be affected by osteoarthritis which is caused by the degradation of the cartilage within a joint. The breakdown of cartilage can reduce the function of the joint and create pain or stiffness. Mild arthritis is uncomfortable but severe arthritis is very painful. Symptoms of osteoarthritis include: stiffness of the joints, favouring one leg over another, difficulty in sitting or standing, hesitancy to jump, and decreased activity level.

A Note of Caution on Rimadyl — There have been some major side effects (including liver toxicity and death) to the drug Rimadyl, and in fact many of the major ones have been observed in Labrador Retrievers. It is unknown if this is due to the number of Labradors on this medication or if Labradors as a breed are more susceptible to these side effect. It is strongly recommended that this issue be thoroughly discussed with your Veterinarian.

Additional information on the Rimadyl warnings is available in the Health & Nutrition Section of the Canada's Guide to Dogs website.

Labrador Retrievers are susceptible to these and other joint problems. If you are adopting a puppy, always ensure that the breeder provides you with copies of certifications for both the sire and the dam.


Hereditary Myopathy of Labrador Retrievers (HMLR)

A hereditary muscle disorder in which there is a deficiency of type II muscle fibers leading to a notable decrease in skeletal muscle mass. Although several breeds of dogs have been observed to demonstrate similar disorders, this condition is only seen in Labrador Retrievers and was first reported and described in 1976. Other names for HMLR include Autosomal Recessive Muscular Dystrophy (ARMD), Myotonia, Generalized Muscle Weakness, Polyneuropathy, and Hereditary Myopathy. The disease is inherited as an autosomal recessive trait, meaning that both parents of an affected dog must carry at least one copy of the a disease gene, and that affected dogs have two copies of the disease gene.

Symptoms include muscle weakness, abnormal gait and posture, and a decrease in tolerance to exercise. Onset of symptoms usually occur at three to four months of age; however, some dogs demonstrate symptoms as early as six to eight weeks or as late as six to seven months. The symptoms of abnormal gait and posture become more obvious as exercise continues and the dog tires or if the dog is exposed to cold weather. Rest improves symptoms but a relapse will occur when the activity level is increased again. Other signs of HMLR include abnormalities of the joints and, as the disease progresses, atrophy of the muscles in the limbs and head becomes apparent.

For further information, see:


Bloat or Gastric Torsion (Gastric Dilatation Volvulus (GDV))

This condition is caused by a twisting of the stomach and thus trapping the stomach contents and gases resulting in a rapid swelling of the abdomen accompanied by pain and eventual death if untreated. It is a true emergency, requiring immediate veterinary action. This condition is most often found in large deep chested breeds. Anyone owning a deep chested breed, susceptible to Bloat should be prepared to handle the emergency procedures necessary, including having readily available the name and phone number of emergency clinics and/or who to call after hours.

Symptoms can be subtle. You should learn to recognize them:

  • Continuous pacing and/or lying down in odd places
  • Salivating, panting, whining
  • Unable to get comfortable
  • Acting agitated
  • Unproductive vomiting or retching (may produce frothy foamy vomit in small quantities)
  • Excessive drooling, usually accompanied by retching noises
  • Swelling in abdominal area (may or may not be noticeable)

If ANY combination of these symptoms are noticed, CALL YOUR VET and get the dog there as fast as possible. Bloat is LIFE-THREATENING.

For more information on what you can do in the case of a Bloat emergency, see First Aid for Bloat.


Exercise Induced Collapse in Labrador Retrievers (EIC)

A syndrome of exercise intolerance and collapse (EIC) has been found in young adult Labrador Retrievers. A comprehensive study is underway to evaluate affected dogs and to try to establish an efficient means of diagnosis as well as to gain some insight into the cause of the collapse and determine the genetic basis.

Most, but not all, affected dogs have been from field-trial breedings. Affected dogs can tolerate mild to moderate exercise, however 5 to 20 minutes of strenuous exercise can induce weakness followed by collapse. The first sign is usually a rocking or forced gait followed by weakness in the rear limbs and the inability to support weight. In some cases, this progresses to forelimb weakness and occasionally to a total inability to move. Some dogs appear to be uncoordinated and lose their balance. While most dogs remain totally conscious and alert, others may appear stunned or disoriented during the episode.

Additional Information

  • EXERCISE INDUCED COLLAPSE IN LABRADOR RETRIEVERS — Susan M. Taylor, DVM, Diplomate ACVIM (Internal Medicine),Western College of Veterinary Medicine, Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada


Eye Problems

Labradors are at risk of several eye problems, including: Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA), Cataracts, and Retinal Dysplasia.

Progressive Retinal Atrophy — PRA is a family of diseases involving the gradual deterioration of the retina. In the early stages of the disease, an affected dog becomes nightblind and cannot see well in dim lighting. As the disease progresses, daytime vision also fails. Provided that the affected dog's environment remains constant, an affected dog can adapt quite well to this handicap. As the affected dog's vision fails, the pupils become increasingly dilated, causing a "shine" to his eyes. The lens of the eyes may also become cloudy, or opaque, resulting in a cataract. It should be noted that while some breeds are affected early in life, others can develop PRA much later. The Labrador Retriever is one of the breeds that is affected as an adult and, therefore, the dog's eyes will appear normal as a puppy.

Because PRA in Labrador Retrievers often does not appear until the dog is an adult (sometimes as late as eight years or more), the disease has been difficult to eradicate. If your dog does appear to be losing his sight, you should see your Veterinarian for an eye exam and if he is diagnosed with PRA, inform his breeder.

Cataracts — Like humans, dogs can get cataracts, but the presence of cataracts in young dogs, called juvenile cataracts, have a hereditary foundation. If the dog is in good health, cataracts can be surgically removed usually with good results.

Retinal Dysplasia — This is an abnormality in the development of the retina. There may be no visual defect in affected dogs, therefore, will only be found when the eye is examined. It is a condition that is thought to be inherited in a number of dog breeds, including the Labrador Retriever. The condition may also be acquired as an injury or due to viral infections, toxins and nutritional disorders.

All breeding dogs should be examined annually by a certified veterinary ophthalmologist. Most responsible breeders will register with the Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF) and receive a CERF number for their dog. If you are adopting a puppy, ensure that the breeder provides you with copies of certifications for both the sire and dam. In addition, you should ask to see a copy of the paperwork that was forwarded to CERF because the form may report on other issues that may not deny the dog a CERF number but could be of interest to you.


Tricuspid Valve Dysplasia (TVD)

TVD is a congenital, heritable heart defect that seems to be increasing in frequency in Labrador Retrievers. The tricuspid valve is one of four heart valves and allows blood to flow in one direction from the right atrium into the right ventricle. If a puppy inherits the gene (or genes) responsible for the defect, his tricuspid valve will be malformed in utero. The puppy will have a dysplastic valve at birth that does not shut tightly, allowing blood to leak back through it. The size of the leak will dictate the severity of the disease. A puppy with mild leakage will likely have a normal life span. If the leakage is severe, the puppy may not live to see his first birthday.

At present, it is not known what the mode of inheritance of this disease is.

For further information on TVD, see:


Epilepsy

Canine Epilepsy is a chronic condition characterized by recurrent seizures. Seizures are the result of muscle responses to an abnormal nerve-signal burst from the brain. The cause can be anything that disrupts normal brain circuitry:

  • Idiopathic Epilepsy, meaning "no known cause", also referred to as Primary Epilepsy, is possibly inherited.

Secondary Epilepsy can be caused by:

  • Low blood sugar,
  • low thyroid function,
  • infections causing brain damage,
  • ingestion of toxins,
  • brain tumors, and
  • vaccinations.

Most dogs with Idiopathic Epilepsy suffer their first seizure between the ages of one and five years. A genetic basis for Idiopathic Epilepsy is strongly suspected in several breeds including the Labrador Retriever.

For complete details on Canine Epilepsy, visit The Epi Guardian Angels — An extensive resource for information, support, treatments and solutions for veterinarians and owners of dogs with Canine Epilepsy.


Diabetes Mellitus

This is a group of conditions in which there is a deficiency of the hormone insulin or an insensitivity to it. A diabetic animal has insufficient insulin to stop glucose production by the liver or to efficiently store excess glucose derived from energy giving foods. Therefore, the blood concentration of glucose rises and eventually exceeds a level beyond which the kidneys can dispose of it into the urine. This causes larger than normal volumes of urine to be produced. The excessive loss of water in urine causes increased water consumption.

The main clinical signs of a dog affected by Diabetes Mellitus are:

  • Excessive urination;
  • Excessive water consumption; and
  • Weight loss.

Other clinical signs may include: cataracts, increased appetite, exercise intolerance and recurrent infections. If the production of ketones by the liver is excessive a condition called ketoacidosis occurs which makes the affected dog very sick.

The normal treatment is insulin by injection. Unfortunately, oral hypoglycemics are not useful in the treatment of dogs with Diabetes Mellitus.

References:

  • Canine Diabetes — Information for owners of Canine's with Diabetes Mellitus.


Chronic Hepatitis

Chronic hepatitis is the diagnosis for several diseases associated with liver disease. Causes may include viruses, bacterial infection, and some medications. A predisposition to the development of chronic hepatitis exists in the Labrador Retriever breed. For additional information, see Chronic Hepatitis under the Health and Nutrition section of the Canada's Guide to Dogs website.


Hypothyroidism (Low Thyroid Function)

Canine Hypothyroidism is the most commonly diagnosed hormonal disease found in dogs. The term hypothyroidism simply means the underproduction of thyroxin, the hormone produced by the thyroid gland.

The thyroid gland is located on the trachea (wind pipe) of the dog, just below the voice box. It exerts its influence on the dog's body by producing and releasing thyroxin into the blood stream. This hormone, and thus, the thyroid gland itself, is very important in controlling growth and development and maintaining normal protein, carbohydrate and lipid metabolism of the dog.

Hypothyroidism usually occurs between the ages of two to six years. The most common sign is an increase in body weight. Lethargy and some form of skin disease (i.e., thin coat, loss of hair, dandruff, oily skin, increased scratching) are also common signs of Hypothyroidism.

The treatment is through thyroid hormone supplementation given orally once or twice a day. Usually thyroid supplementation improves the clinical signs associated with the disease within four to six weeks. All the clinical signs of hypothyroidism are reversible, once treatment is started.


Laryngeal Paralysis (LP)

Laryngeal paralysis occurs when one or both sides of the larynx do not open and close properly. This condition can impede the dog's ability to get oxygen. It can also lead to overheating since dogs pant to cool themselves down, however, a dog with LP cannot pant effectively. In severe cases, the dog can develop cyanosis (a blue color to the gums) from lack of oxygen. He may collapse and even die from this condition.

LP can happen to any breed, but is most commonly seen in older large breeds, including the Labrador Retriever.

The first sign of LP is a change to the sound of the dog's bark and a rough sound in the breathing.

For further information on LP, see:


Ear Infections

Because of their floppy ears and their love of swimming, Labradors can be prone to ear infections. Not all Labs get them, but many that do can be chronic about it.

It is important to check your Lab's ears regularly. The ear should be light pink or flesh-toned and clean, and there should be no odor coming from the ear or the ear canal.


Common Injuries

Ruptured Cruciate Ligaments — Labrador Retrievers appear to be especially prone to this injury which is usually sustained during an activity involving twisting of the legs. A dog who has ruptured his cruciate ligament will appear suddenly lame, and usually hold the foot of the affected leg off the ground. The knee may become swollen. If the ligament is completely torn, the dog is generally treated with surgery.

For further information, see Ruptured Anterior Cruciate Ligament, also see Swimming Improves Recovery from Knee Surgery in Dogs

Limber Tail Syndrome — Also known as "cold water tail" is most often seen in sporting breeds, including Labrador Retrievers. Ages of affected dogs range between six months to nine years. Typically, the dog's tail goes limp and hangs down from the tail base or is held horizontally three to four inches and then drops down. The dog may seem uncomfortable and in some pain.

This is not a serious condition and complete recovery is usually seen within two weeks and often occurs within a few days.

The cause of Limber Tail is not known although it is thought to be associated with hard workouts, heavy hunting, and swimming in water that is either too cold or too warm.


Note: This section is intended as a source of information only. It is not intended as a substitute for professional care. Always consult with your Veterinarian about health related matters. The information provided here is a brief outline of some of the health issues which may be of concern for the Labrador Retriever and should in no way to be considered as a complete listing.