Caring for a Labrador Retriever

Labrador Retriever

Caring for a Labrador Retriever is the most popular dog breed in the United States, based on registration statistics obtained by the American Kennel Club. This breed was first recognized by the AKC in 1917 and originated in Newfoundland.

Labradors are medium– to large-breed sporting dogs and weigh 55-80 pounds on average, with females on the lower end of this range. Typically, their height is between 21-25 inches. They have a wide skull and nose, deep chest, strong tail, and a very muscular build.

It is for good reason that the Labrador Retriever is so popular. Labradors tend to be highly affectionate toward people, even strangers, and do exceptionally well with children and other dogs. However, supervision is still important when first introducing a Lab to these family members.

Labrador Retrievers have a double coat that repels water. An undercoat of short hair is covered by a layer of longer hair. Due to this double coat, Labradors shed a lot, and frequent brushing to manage the shedding is required.

Labrador Retrievers love water and are great companions for families who like to spend a lot of time outdoors.

Labrador Retriever Health Issues
Labrador Retrievers are generally a healthy breed, but there are some potential health issues owners should be aware of.

Ear Infections
Labrador Retrievers are prone to ear infections for a couple of reasons:

They have ears that hang down loosely, which can trap moisture and wax, leading to inflammation and infection within the ear canal.

Most Labrador Retrievers love water and swimming, but water that gets in their ears during swimming or a bath can lead to an ear infection.

Symptoms of an ear infection can include:

Redness of the ear canal

Brown or yellow debris in the ear canal

Head shaking

Head tilt

Rubbing ears on carpet/furniture

Odor in ears

Pawing at ears

To minimize the risk of ear infections in Labrador Retrievers, clean their ears with an ear cleaner that contains a drying agent (like EPIOTIC® Advanced). Do this every 2 to 3 weeks for maintenance, and also after swimming or a bath.

Tricuspid Valve Dysplasia
The tricuspid valve pumps blood on the right side of the heart from the atrium into the ventricle caring for a Labrador Retriever. Labrador Retrievers with tricuspid valve dysplasia (TVD) have a valve that does not function properly and allows blood to leak backward into the right atrium. Over time, the right atrium and right ventricle become enlarged.

Labrador Retrievers with TVD may or may not have a heart murmur that can be heard during a routine physical exam. They can be asymptomatic or show signs of right-sided heart failure, which include:


Fluid in the abdomen

Distended abdomen

Difficulty breathing

Rapid heart rate

TVD is usually diagnosed with patient history, physical exam, chest x-rays, ECG, and echocardiogram. Surgery can sometimes be performed to replace the tricuspid valve with a prosthetic one from a cow or a pig. Heart medications are often needed for management of this condition.

The prognosis of TVD in Labrador Retrievers can vary based on the severity of the disease. Some Labradors with TVD can live a normal life span. Those that have TVD or a familial history of TVD should not be bred.

Elbow Dysplasia
Elbow dysplasia encompasses several inherited orthopedic conditions that ultimately lead to degenerative joint disease (DJD) within the elbow. Labrador Retrievers may have:

Ununited anconeal process (UAP)

Osteochondritis dissecans (OCD)

Medial compartment disease (MCD)

Elbow joint incongruity

Any of these conditions can cause lameness in the affected forelimb, especially after exercise. Pain is often detected when a veterinarian checks the range of motion in the elbow.

Sometimes elbow dysplasia can occur in both elbows. X-rays or advanced imaging (CT scans) are the most common tests used to diagnose this condition.

Orthopedic surgery is needed to treat elbow dysplasia. There is generally a good prognosis if surgery is done when the dog is young and the disease process is in its early stages. Labrador Retrievers with a history of elbow dysplasia should not be bred.

Hip Dysplasia
Hip dysplasia is an inherited orthopedic condition where the head of the femur does not sit snugly in the hip joint. As a result caring for a Labrador Retriever, the femoral head tends to rub against the hip socket, and over time, there is bony remodeling of the hip joint, which leads to arthritis.

Hip dysplasia can develop in one or both hip joints. Some Labrador Retrievers are born with congenital hip dysplasia (although this is rare); others develop it during their geriatric years. Symptoms include:


Slowness to rise from a lying-down position

Bunny-hopping gait when running

Reluctance to run, jump, or go up or down stairs

Holding the affected leg out to the side when sitting up

Labrador is a screening method that can be performed on puppies as young as 16 weeks of age. It requires sedation or anesthesia. Specialized x-rays of the pelvis are taken to detect which dogs will likely develop hip dysplasia during their lifetime. Identifying these dogs through a  evaluation allows for early treatment.

Treatment of hip dysplasia can vary depending on the severity. In some cases, hip dysplasia can be managed through supplements, medications, and reduced activity levels. In other cases Caring for a Labrador Retriever, a dog may need to undergo surgery to correct the issue.

Centronuclear Myopathy
Centronuclear myopathy (CNM) is a rare congenital disease that affects the skeletal muscle. With this condition, reflexes in the hind limbs become impaired.

Clinical signs include an abnormal gait and the inability to perform physical exercise, like go on a walk or run. The muscles become weak, especially in colder climates. Usually, symptoms first arise in Labradors at 2-5 months of age. By age 1, the dog’s head, neck, and leg muscles generally become atrophied, which causes weakness and continued gait issues. The condition tends to become stable after 1 year of age.

A muscle biopsy is needed to diagnose this condition. Genetic therapy is the treatment of choice. DNA testing is available to determine if a Labrador Retriever carries the genetic mutation for CNM. Reputable breeders will have their dogs tested and will not breed those that have the genetic mutation.

Exercise-Induced Collapse
Exercise-induced collapse (EIC) is an inherited neuromuscular disease that first affects the hind limbs Caring for a Labrador Retriever. A Labrador Retriever with EIC will have episodes of decreased muscle tone in the hind limbs after vigorous exercise or excitement. The hind limbs will suddenly become weak, which can lead to incoordination when walking and even collapse.

Dogs usually recover, but can have more episodes of EIC later on. During an episode, a dog’s rectal temperature can reach 107 ℉, which is life-threatening. Labrador Retrievers with EIC usually start having episodes around 12 months of age. Your veterinarian can help you determine the best action plan if your dog suffers from EIC.

A DNA test can be done to detect whether a Labrador Retriever carries the genetic mutation and is at risk for EIC. Dogs that have the genetic mutation should not be bred.

Hemangiosarcoma (HAS) is an aggressive form of cancer that most often originates in the spleen, liver, or heart of a Labrador Retriever and forms a blood-filled tumor that can rupture at any time, causing a dog to bleed internally, which is life-threatening.

Some clinical signs include:


Pale gums (white)

Fluid in the abdomen (ascites)

Lack of appetite

Difficulty breathing

Hemangiosarcoma can spread very quickly to other areas of the body and at first may not be detectable with imaging (x-rays, ultrasound, or CT/MRI). This cancer has a very grave prognosis