Labrador retriever hereditary health and health testing

Labrador retriever hereditary health and health testing

Health & Safety

The Labrador retriever, generally just referred to as the Labrador or “Lab,” is one of the most popular dog breeds within the UK, and one that even the most inexperienced of dog lovers can usually instantly recognise!

While the breed was first developed as a working retrieving dog, their intelligence, friendly, open natures and amenability to training soon saw them making the transition to domestic pets, which their versatility enabled them to do with ease. While the Lab is today most widely owned as a pet, they can also be seen doing a wide variety of other things too, such as canine sports, working as sniffer dogs with the police and military, working as assistance dogs, and still working within their traditional role as a retrieving gun dog too.

The Labrador retriever is a medium to large breed of dog, which can be seen in chocolate, yellow or black coat colours. Also possible is a fox red colour and a cream colour, although these are much less common.

Due to the prevalence and popularity of the Labrador retriever within the UK, the breed is one that many dog lovers consider owning, and is also one for which a great deal of information is available on the main traits and requirements of the breed’s lifestyle. Finding out about the general health and any health tests recommended for the breed is an important part of researching ownership, and we will look into these things in more detail within this article.

Labrador retriever average longevity

The average lifespan of the Labrador retriever is 12-13 years of age, which places the Lab roundly in the middle of the normal range across the board for all dog breeds of a similar size and build.

Genetic diversity

The coefficient of inbreeding statistic for the Labrador retriever is 6.5%, which is just a touch higher than the 6.25% or lower that is considered to be the ideal. However, some breed lines of Labradors have been calculated to have a coefficient of inbreeding statistic of above 10%, which is rather high. Labrador breeders are advised to reduce the coefficient of inbreeding statistic within their own breed lines where possible.

Health testing for the Labrador retriever

As a popular and common breed of dog, a lot of information is available on the general health and propensity to any hereditary health conditions across the breed as a whole, and as a result of this, The Kennel Club and the British Veterinary Association recommend testing of potential parent dogs for certain known hereditary health conditions. These are:

  • Hip score testing, with the breed’s mean score being 11.3. Potential parent dogs should receive a score below this figure.
  • Elbow score testing, as an estimated 15-21% of all dogs of the breed are affected with elbow dysplasia.
  • Eye testing for a range of conditions, including multifocal retinal dysplasia, total retinal dysplasia, hereditary cataracts, progressive retinal atrophy, and inherited ocular disease.

A range of DNA tests are also available for the breed, and are recommended for breed lines that have produced dogs affected with any of these conditions. DNA testing is available for:

  • Centronuclear myelopathy.
  • Progressive retinal atrophy.
  • Exercise induced collapse.
  • Cystinuria.
  • Macular corneal dystrophy.
  • Haemophilia B.
  • Narcolepsy.
  • Retinal dysplasia.

Other health issues

There is also a relatively long list of other hereditary conditions that can potentially affect the Labrador, but for which no standard testing schemes are currently available. While the sheer range of potential conditions can be rather daunting, it is important to remember that the sheer number of dogs of the breed means that health issues of all types are likely to be more widely recognised than they might be in other breeds, and it is unlikely that any given dog will suffer from a wide range of such problems, providing that their parents were in generally good health.

Known conditions across the Labrador retriever breed pool include:

  • Hereditary epilepsy.
  • Atopy, a hypersensitivity to certain protein particles, including pollen.
  • Cruciate conditions, which affect the cruciate ligaments of the legs. This condition is more common in chocolate coloured Labradors than black or yellow Labs.
  • Various types of cancers, including mast cell tumours, melanoma, soft tissue sarcoma, and osteosarcoma.
  • Patellar luxation, a condition of the kneecap that causes slipping and dislocation.
  • Osteochondrosis, a condition of the cartilage of the legs stifle joints, leading to lameness and pain. This condition can also lead to osteoarthritis.
  • Addison’s disease, or Hypoadrenocorticism. This condition is caused by a lack of production of the necessary corticosteroids that the body naturally produces.
  • Cushing’s disease, the exact opposite of Addison’s disease. This is caused by an overproduction of corticosteroids, and is also referred to as Hyperadrenocorticism.
  • Chronic hepatitis.
  • Primary seborrhoea, a skin condition caused by an overproduction of oils by the sebaceous glands.
  • Hypothyroidism, an underproduction of the necessary thyroid hormones, which can lead to weight gain and lethargy.


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