Chocolate Labrador Retrievers have a significantly shorter lifespan than their black and yellow counterparts, according to the results of the largest study ever done of the breed in the UK. The median lifespan for chocolate Labradors is just 10.7 years, 1.4 years shorter than black or yellow Labradors.

This latest research, carried out by the Royal Veterinary College’s (RVC) VetCompassTM programme in collaboration with the University of Sydney, also reveals that ear infections are the most common disorder to affect Labradors, with 10.4% presenting with the condition. Chocolate Labradors suffer the most from ear infections, with 23.4% of them affected; by contrast only 17% of yellow Labradors suffer from ear infections and just 12.8% of black Labradors.

Obesity and joint disorders were also found to be major afflictions for Labradors, with 8.8% of the breed found to be overweight and 5.5% affected by osteoarthritis. Meanwhile, the most common cause of death was from musculoskeletal disorders, which lead to the death of 24.5% of the breed.

These findings were made by VetCompassTM and the University of Sydney through studying 33,320 Labrador Retrievers that attended primary care practices in the UK in 2013. The research will help breeders and vets to prioritise approaches for tackling health concerns within the breed and guide prospective owners to the top health issues they need to be aware of.

Other key findings from the study include:

  • The popularity of the Labrador has dropped by over a third in 10 years, from 9.6% of all UK puppies born in 2004 to 5.8% of those born in 2013.
  • 44.6% of Labradors are black, 27.8% are yellow and 23.8% are chocolate.
  • On average male Labradors weigh 32.5kg, making them almost 5kg heavier than females which typically weigh around 30.4kg. RVC’s VetCompass™ project analyses anonymised veterinary clinical records from over 1,000 UK vet clinics (one fifth of all UK vet clinics)  to enhance understanding and improve the health and welfare of companion animals.

RVC veterinary epidemiologist and VetCompass researcher Dr Dan O’Neill, who co-authored the paper, said: “This is the largest study of Labrador Retrievers to date and will substantially change how we view the health of this breed. Vets now know which diseases to prioritise for awareness by owners and can also advise on the best choice of colour and sex to meet owner’s needs when selecting a puppy.”

Relationship between Labrador coat colour and disease

Co-author Professor Paul McGreevy, from the University of Sydney, said the relationship between coat colour and disease came as a surprise to researchers.

“The relationships between coat colour and disease may reflect an inadvertent consequence of breeding for certain pigmentations. Because chocolate colour is recessive in dogs, the gene for this colour must be present in both parents for their puppies to be chocolate. Breeders targeting this colour may therefore be more likely to breed between only Labradors carrying the chocolate coat gene. It may be that the resulting reduced gene pool includes a higher proportion of genes conducive to ear and skin conditions.”

The full paper, ‘Labrador retrievers under primary veterinary care in the UK: demography, mortality and disorders’, is freely available in the open access journal Canine Genetics and Epidemiology 

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