How much do you know about the Labrador retriever, one of the most beloved family breeds? Warm-natured, highly intelligent, and extremely loyal, the Labrador retriever seems to be the ‘paw-fect’ companion to have. However, just like other breeds, this dog has his own vulnerabilities. Understanding the situation is the best way to address such problems. Early detection and prevention are some of the essential steps towards longer years of companionship with your sweet Lab. What health problems are labs prone to? How do I keep my Labrador healthy? Let’s find out by reading these 7 Labrador facts.
1. Some Labradors have the ‘obesity gene.’
One of the unknown Labrador facts is this breed can possibly inherit the ‘obesity gene.’ Certain breeds have shown resistance to weight gain, but other breeds like the Labrador are susceptible to it.
According to research, obese Labrador retrievers have a missing gene called POMC. The said gene is significant in putting off feelings of hunger after eating meals. The absence of the gene has an impact on the dog’s body weight and food motivation. In relation to that, affected Labradors are often seen as assistance dogs.
Researchers suggest that due to the dogs being highly motivated with food treats, they are easily trained. However, it is worth noting that not all Labradors carry this genetic gene; only an estimated one-fifth of the Labrador population do. The bottom line is that managing the weight of a Labrador is in the hands of the owner.
What can you do to address the breed’s susceptibility to obesity?
- Ensure that your Lab pup is getting a nutritionally balanced diet, preferably home-made.
- Avoid feeding grain-heavy kibbles or any of these: corn, rice, potato, soy, and the like. Ideally, the Lab should be given a grain-free diet.
- Select healthier options for food treats such as fruits and vegetables that are safe for dogs.
- Resist those adorable ‘puppy eyes’ when your Lab begs for food.
- Be sure to provide the exercise that he needs for at least 60 minutes per day.
2. Labs have a genetic predisposition to hip dysplasia.
It is undeniable that the Labrador retriever is intelligent and has a body built for adventures. This makes him not only a great family dog but also excellent assistance and search-and-rescue canine.
However, there are some Labs that are unable to perform physical tasks due to injury or chronic ailment like canine hip dysplasia (CHD). Along with the Lab, Saint Bernard and the Great Dane are also prone to CHD, which is a chronic, inheritable skeletal condition that can develop in dogs of any age.
Watch out for the following signs of CHD in dogs:
- Lameness particularly on the hind legs
- A strange gait akin to a bunny hopping
- Difficulty in walking up and down the stairs
How to alleviate the pain from hip dysplasia without surgical intervention:
- Weight control – Obesity can lead to several complicated health problems, including CHD. The additional pounds may also contribute to the pain inflicted by hip dysplasia.
- Physical therapy, massage therapy, and hydrotherapy – According to the Canine Hydrotherapy Association, muscle wastage starts within three days of immobilisation. To prevent further weakness or injury, it is necessary to rebuild those deteriorating muscles through safe exercise.
Further, it will be great to allow your Lab to participate in any form of recommended therapies for CHD. Labrador retrievers love water, and they are natural swimmers, so hydrotherapy would be great for them.
- Dog hip braces – Canine orthopaedic braces do not serve as a cure, but they help in slowing down the progress of the disease by lessening the pressure on the joints. The braces are helpful for dogs that have undergone the surgical process, as they stabilise the hip and lower back areas. Just make sure to choose the appropriate size for your pooch.
3. Labs are likely to inherit genes connected to eye diseases, which can lead to blindness.
Another one of Labrador facts is the breed can potentially acquire genes that can cause eye diseases. Eye problems in Labradors can be attributed to a recessive gene, whilst other eye problems are transmitted through a dominant gene. Other than genetic predisposition, eye disorders can be acquired through trauma, poor nutrition, and metabolism, amongst others.
Eye problems observed in Labrador retrievers affect the inner eye or eyelids, which may still end up affecting the eye. The following are eye disorders that you need to watch out for:
- Retinal dysplasia – This disease may affect Labs of all ages, including puppies that are 6 to 8 weeks old. Symptoms include weak vision, sudden loss of vision, or blindness from birth. Unfortunately, there are no available therapeutic treatments to address this issue.
- Progressive retinal atrophy (PRA) – PRA occurs when there is a reduction of retinal blood vessels and atrophy of the retina in the receptor cells. It is likely to happen when the Labs are 3 to 10 years old.
Symptoms include poor or weak vision, which leads to poor distance vision, slow reflexes, and accidentally hitting certain objects. Unfortunately, as with retinal dysplasia, there is no effective treatment for this disease.
Affected dogs in the early stages of this disorder should be supplemented with enough vitamin A to benefit the eyes.
- Cataracts – A cataract refers to an eye disorder that causes opacity in the lens, which then affects its transparency. Apart from being hereditary, a cataract can be acquired from metabolic or environmental factors.
It usually starts to develop from birth to old age. Symptoms are in the form of a milky appearance of the lens and blurred or impaired vision. Cataract surgical removal is said to be the only effective treatment for this disease. This can either be an extracapsular extraction or an intracapsular extraction. All treatments should be taken under veterinary care.
4. Labs are at risk of experiencing the deadly dog bloat.
Dog bloat is also known as gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV). It is a dangerous condition that makes their stomach accumulate gas quickly, causing it to twist. This condition prevents the gas from escaping, resulting in the gas build-up.
Large and giant dog breeds with deep or barrel-shaped chests, such as the Labrador retriever, are the most susceptible to GDV. Until now, experts cannot figure out the clear cause of this disease. However, it is believed that it is brought on by various factors including nervousness, exposure to highly stressful situations, gorging on food, and inheriting bloat from the parent breeds.
The best way to save your Labrador from GDV is by knowing the early signs of this life-threatening condition. Swollen stomach, vomiting, salivation, dry heaving, and unable to lie down comfortably are the symptoms that you should watch out for. If you observed these on your dog, bring him to the vet immediately. Studies have shown that 80% of dogs treated for GDV have survived.
There are many ways that you can do to prevent dog bloat such as avoiding intensive exercise before mealtimes, opting for low-fat dog food, and slowing down your dog from eating. It is believed that letting your dog eat from an elevated dog bowl also helps prevent GDV. In some cases, a prophylactic surgery called a gastropexy is recommended to keep bloat from developing.
5. Labs are prone to ear infections.
Labradors have floppy ears, which allow dirt to build up and germs to proliferate. Dogs with narrow and hairy ear canals are also highly susceptible to ear infections for the same reason. If you have observed redness, foul odour, and discharge in your Lab’s ears, it is a sign that he is suffering from some kind of ear disease.
Prevent ear infections in your Labrador retriever by cleaning his ears regularly. Dry his ears properly after baths or swimming sessions, as dampness is the main cause of bacteria proliferation.
If your dog has hairy ears, it is advised to trim the fur inside his ears. If you are planning to use medicated shampoos to help prevent ear infections, consult the vet first before buying one since you need to know what is suitable for your dog.
6. Labs are highly susceptible to tricuspid valve dysplasia (TVD).
TVD is congenital heart disease caused by a defect in the tricuspid valve. This condition prevents blood from properly flowing back into the right atrium. The severity of this disease varies from mild to life-threatening. Male labs and show dogs are observed to be more prone to developing TVD.
Labs with mild to moderate TVD can live a long life with little to no problems, with some experiencing subtle heart murmurs. Those that have severe TVD are at risk of congestive heart failure within the first years of life. Dogs suffering from TVD often have a bloated abdomen. This is due to the accumulation of fluid that occurs when the blood retreats on its way to the heart. Other common symptoms that you should watch out for are panting, fainting, and abnormal heart rhythm.
If your Labrador is exhibiting these signs, bring him to the vet right away for proper diagnosis. Experts are yet to find a cure for this heart disease. However, the vet may prescribe your Lab with a diuretic, which aids in relieving fluid retention. They may also advise you to switch to low-sodium diets and avoid over-exercising your dog to avoid putting pressure on his heart.
Obese dogs with TVD need to have diet changes to promote weight loss. In serious cases, surgery may be recommended to replace the valve. Only dogs that are fit for the procedure can undergo this operation, as replacing the tricuspid valve is a high-risk surgery.
The best way to prevent TVD is to exclude affected dogs from the breeding pool. Doing so will keep them from passing this disease to their offspring. Since the mild forms of TVD are very difficult to detect through conventional means, screening the Labrador with echocardiography is strongly advised.
7. Labs can develop cold water tail.
It is an undeniable Labrador fact that they are water dogs, and their otter tails play a significant role in making them adept swimmers. This ability will be undermined if they develop cold water tail. It is a health problem that is quite common in sporting breeds. The disease comes in many names, including the broken tail, dead tail, limber tail, and swimmers tail. Labradors with this condition have hanging, lifeless-looking tails. Some tails tend to stick out before drooping down.
The causes of cold water tail remain unclear. However, several studies have found various probable reasons as to why this health issue occurs. These include exposure to cold and wet conditions, excessive exercise, and prolonged confinement such as being kept in a crate for a long time whilst travelling. Coldwater tail is also believed to be a hereditary disease, but it needs further research to draw a definite conclusion.
Experts think that the said factors cause some muscle strain in a dog’s tails, which leads to this painful condition. Fortunately, in most cases, the tail goes back to normal on its own. However, you are still encouraged to get your dog checked by the vet if he shows cold water tail symptoms. It is crucial to rule other possible conditions, such as a fracture or spinal cord injury. Thus, proper vet diagnosis is necessary.
If the cause of his limp tail is proven to be cold-water tail, the vet will likely prescribe your Lab with anti-inflammatory medications and painkillers. Most dogs with this condition recover within a few days, whilst some may take a week or more for a full recovery.
There are some precautionary measures that you can take to protect your dog from cold water tail. Prevent him from doing sudden exhaustive exercises. After doing water activities, dry his tail as soon as possible. Avoiding prolonged confinement in the crate will also help.
A Final Word
To help your Lab achieve overall wellness, ask the vet for a preventive health plan specifically for Labradors. It is also vital to learn about these Labrador facts and their preventive measures, as they will come in handy in case your Lab will contract any of these illnesses.