Labrador retrievers are the classic American family dog. With their loveable natures and playful personalities, these dogs capture the hearts of their owners. These active, famously friendly dogs do well with other furry friends and full, busy households. It comes as no surprise then, that these sweet-faced dogs are the most popular dog breed in America. Whether you already own a Labrador retriever or are considering adopting one, you may be wondering about the Labrador retriever life span and what health issues the breed might be prone to developing.
Labrador Retriever Life Expectancy
According to the American Kennel Club (AKC), a Labrador Retriever’s life expectancy is between 10-12 years. However, black and yellow labs live a year or two longer than their chocolate-colored brothers and sisters. A recent study found that chocolate Labradors live on average 10.7 years, whereas black and yellow labs could live close to two years longer. Take heart, there are many ways to improve your dog’s health and lengthen its lifespan, which we’ll discuss later in the article.
Common Labrador Retriever Health Issues
Here are the top five most common health issues for Labrador retrievers.
This breed of a dog easily becomes overweight. Do not free-feed Labrador retrievers and make sure to exercise them regularly. Be careful with treats, and either use healthy, low-calorie treats like fresh vegetables, or reduce food at mealtime as needed. Carrots, squash, zucchini, sweet potato, and cucumber are all healthy, low-calorie treats for dogs. Obesity can contribute to a variety of health issues, especially as a dog ages.
This common joint disease starts when a dog is young and it’s hip joints do not properly form. The hip is a ball and socket joint, and if the socket doesn’t match the ball, this leads to a lifetime of abuse to the joint. The poor fit eventually wears away the supportive and protective cartilage and leads to bone grinding on bone. This is incredibly painful and will eventually lead to a loss of function.
Osteochondritis dissecans (OCD or OD)
This condition causes the cartilage of a joint to soften. OD is caused by the blood flow to the area of bone being interrupted when the diseased cartilage separates from the bone. It is an inflammatory condition. Limping or lameness is a sign of this disease. Affected joints could be warm to the touch and swollen. Lameness could be intermittent. You’ll need to take your dog to the vet if they are having trouble walking or have a swollen joint.
Allergies can be quite uncomfortable and are common for Labrador retrievers. Allergies happen when your dog’s body has an often misguided response to some foreign substance, like pollen or mold. There are three categories of allergies: skin, food, and environmental, and these can often overlap. Skin allergies are the most common form and can be caused by fleas, food, or environmental allergens. True food allergies are rare, but food intolerance is not. Environmental allergies include dust, insects, pollen, etc.
This is a brain disorder that causes seizures for an unknown reason. It is quite mysterious because the brain appears to be healthy, but there are sudden episodes of seizures. The cause of seizures is unknown, but it appears there may be a genetic component. Labrador retrievers are unfortunately on the list of dogs known to be affected by epilepsy.
How to Improve Your Labrador Retriever’s Health and Lifespan
If you want to adopt a Labrador, then there are a few things to know before picking out your puppy. Choosing a responsible breeder increases your chances of having a healthy dog. And, responsible breeding is ethical, and the best way to ensure the strength of the breed overall. Here is a list of ways to tell if your Labrador breeder is good or not.
- Good breeders take wonderful care of their animals. Part of this includes having only enough animals that they can take care of lovingly, which means enough time and attention for each dog to feel happy.
- They give their breeding animals medical tests to determine their health and only breed healthy animals. The minimum health tests are hip scoring, elbow scoring, an eye exam, Exercise Induced Collapse DNA test, and dilute coat gene DNA test.
- They only breed their animals an appropriate amount. No good breeder would allow their dog to carry more than one litter in twelve months. And, the standard rule is three litters a lifetime.
- They interview you to determine if you’ll give a good home to one of their dogs. They never let unfit owners adopt their puppies.
- Allow you to meet the mom and puppies in their main living area. The main living area for the dogs must be clean and sanitized regularly. Are the dogs in the main home? Puppies raised in a home will acclimate to your home more easily. If the dogs are kenneled outside, the puppies should be brought into the house often, and visited outside many times a day.
- Offer support for you and care for the dog over its lifetime.
The best way to ensure good health and a longer lifespan for your dog is to give them a high-quality, meat-based food. Cheap dog food features cheap ingredients and is likely vegetable or grain-based. They also likely feature low-quality and less absorbable forms of protein like hooves or hides, which aren’t as useful to your dog as full animal meats. Also, cheap dog food is formulated to meet the minimum requirements for the “average” dog. This, by default, means that some dogs won’t be getting the nutrition that they need. Yes, high-quality food is more expensive than regular dog food. But, health costs much less than sickness, which is what you’ll be avoiding with high-quality, protein-based dog food. Also, as a final note, your dog will need less high-quality food, so it will last longer than regular food.
A quick way to tell if a dog food is meat or grain-based is to look at the top three ingredients. If they’re all meat, then that is high-protein dog food. Beware of overly complicated ingredients, like chicken byproducts. Also, another trick manufacturers will do to hide a grain being the main ingredient is to “ingredient split”. Instead of listing corn as a top three-ingredient, they divide the corn into its different parts like “yellow corn gluten”, “corn gluten” and “corn gluten meal”. These “ingredients” will be listed further down on the list since, in their portions, they make up a lesser percentage of the ingredient totals. Your vet likely carries high-quality dog food or can recommend brands for you.
A Labrador retriever requires a lot of exercise, so you’re probably always taking your sweet Labrador on walks, runs, hikes, or swims. Dogs need exercise for their physical as well as their mental and emotional health. And Labrador retrievers have a high need for exercise. Dogs who get less exercise than they need can become stressed, anxious, and overweight. Obesity in dogs can lead to serious health problems, like diabetes and strain on the spine and hips. Exercise your dog for their current happiness and future health. Hiking, taking your dog on bike rides, skating, swimming, and draft work are all fun ways to exercise your dog. Regular exercise will promote your dog’s health and help to extend its lifespan.
Labrador retrievers have a double coat that is very thick and repels water. Grooming these dogs is very simple, and beyond thorough and frequent brushing, not much else is needed. Twice a year these dogs shed, and hair is known to come off by the handful. During these times of heavy shedding, daily brushing is recommended. You can also bathe your dog during this time since it will help remove dead hair. Otherwise, bathe every 4-6 weeks or as needed. As with any dog, trim their nails regularly and brush their teeth frequently.
It’s important that you take your Labrador retriever in for their regular check-ups and as needed for health concerns. This includes regular dental cleanings, which are very important for health, especially kidney health. Your vet can identify health issues before they become serious problems and any treatments needed can be started sooner rather than later.
There are many different nutritional supplements for dogs. A common choice for larger dogs like Labrador retrievers is glucosamine and chondroitin supplements. These supplements support the health of cartilage and joints and should be taken if your dog is having any hip or joint issues. They can also be taken by healthy dogs preventatively.
Other good choices for your dog are essential fatty acids, omega-3s and omega-6s. A good source of both of these fats is hemp seed oil. Hemp seed oil is highly nutritious and easy to give to dogs. Essential fatty acids are used in heart, skin, and nervous system health.
Antioxidants are a great supplement for any dog. Free radicals are scavenging molecules that damage healthy cells. They are the cause or contributor to many diseases. Antioxidants trap free radicals before they can cause any damage, keeping cells healthy.