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Ask the Vet: Health Problems in Chocolate Labradors

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Health Problems in Chocolate Labradors

Health problems in chocolate Labradors is a concerning issue that has more and more dog breeders and dog owners concerned. While the chocolate coat color can be particularly appealing, there have been a host of health issues associated with it. The fact that other coat colored Labradors already suffer from a long list of health issues already, doesn't make it easier. In this article, veterinarian Dr. Ivana Crnec discusses health problems in chocolate Labradors and why this coat color is particularly vulnerable.

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Health Problems in Labrador Retrievers 

It is no secret that Labrador Retrievers are prone to a plethora of health issues. You name it and Labrador Retrievers have it – the list is almost endless! Below are some health problems associated with Labrador retrievers.

Cardiovascular conditions: (tricuspid dysplasia, patent ductus arteriosus, pericardial effusion)

Dermatological conditions: (atopy, contact hypersensitivity, food hypersensitivity, pemphigus foliaceous, ichthyosis, congenital hypotrichosis, acral lick dermatitis, zinc-responsive dermatosis, waterline disease, skin tumors)

Endocrine conditions: (hyperadrenocorticism, hypoparathyroidism, insulinoma, diabetes mellitus)

Gastrointestinal conditions: (congenital idiopathic megaoesophagus, lymphocytic-plasmacytic colitis, perianal fistula, chronic hepatitis, congenital portosystemic shunt)

Hematological conditions: (haemophilia B)

Musculoskeletal conditions: (carpal ligament weakening, elbow dysplasia, hip dysplasia, myasthenia gravis, temporomandibular dysplasia, cranial cruciate ligament rupture)

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Neoplastic conditions: (mast cell tumours, canine cutaneous histiocytoma, lipoma, nasal cavity tumours, lymphosarcoma, limbal melanoma, oral fibrosarcoma, thymoma)

Neurological conditions: (cerebellar degeneration, true epilepsy, narcolepsy-cataplexy, acquired myasthenia gravis, spongiform degeneration, distal polyneuropathy)

Ocular conditions: (entropion, ectropion, medial canthal pocket syndrome, uveal cysts, cataract, primary glaucoma, total retinal dysplasia with retinal detachment, progressive retinal atrophy, micropapilla, pseudopapilloedema),

Renal and urinary conditions: (ectopic ureters, silica urolithiasis)

Reproductive conditions: (vaginal hyperplasia)

Respiratory conditions: (laryngeal paralysis).

The average overall lifespan for Labrador Retrievers is 12 years. However, recent studies show that the chocolate Labrador’s median lifespan is only 10.7 years. This suggests that the average chocolate Labrador has 10% shorter lifespan than the average black or yellow Labrador. This recent scientific breakthrough imposes an important question? Why chocolate Labradors live shorter?

Health Problems in Chocolate Labradors

chocolate lab

Generally speaking, Labrador Retrievers come in 3 different colors: yellow, black and chocolate. Contrary to popular belief, in the past, chocolate colored Labradors were not favored. As inhumane as it sounds, in the past century, chocolate Labradors were rarely seen, and if they appeared in litters, they were culled at birth.

Today the popularity of chocolate Labradors is on the rise. As the popularity and demand of chocolate Labradors continuously increases, their health and lifespan are decreasing. The issue is why? Well, unlike the genes responsible for yellow and black color, the genes responsible for chocolate-colored coat are recessive.

This means that for producing chocolate Labrador puppies, breeders need two chocolate Labrador parents. Mixing two individuals with the same genes leads to the gene pool narrowing, and when the gene pool is narrowed, the risks for genetic diseases significantly rises.

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In a nutshell, the loss of genetic diversity triggers onset of gene pool reduction. Once the gene pool is limited, the genes responsible for certain health conditions proliferate.

The most common health concerns in chocolate Labradors include:

Ear infections – based on which portion of the ear it affects, the infection can be classified as otitis externa (infection of the external ear), otitis media (infection of the middle ear) and otitis interna (infection of the inner ear). Untreated external ear infections may lead to middle or inner ear infections. The infections can be bacterial, parasitic, fungal or caused by yeast.

Joint conditions-hip dysplasia – the hipbone cradles the heads of the two femurs in deep, cartilage-lined, cuplike sockets. If the fit of a hip joint is not correct, the cartilage of the femoral head rubs against the socket and eventually wears through.

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Elbow dysplasia – is a constellation of several different elbow conditions. It occurs during the pup’s growth and causes lameness that gets worse with exercise. The joint usually has a considerable loss of its range of motion.

Obesity – Labradors in general have a specific gene mutation which predisposes them to overeating. Namely, they tend to eat beyond their nutritional requirements. Being overweight or obese increases the risk of other conditions such as cardiovascular issues, diabetes, orthopedic issues (hip and elbow dysplasia) and certain types of cancer.

Skin conditions-acute moist dermatitis (popularly known as hot spots) – develops as a result of self-inflicted trauma when the dog’s attempts to alleviate the pain and itchiness. Basically any skin condition that causes pain and itchiness (allergies, fleabite hypersensitivity, anal sac impaction or infection, ear infection, contact dermatitis, poor coat condition) can be the underlying cause of hot spots.

Periodontal disease – this is a general term used to describe any disease or inflammation around the teeth. Although the prime cause is poor dental hygiene, some breeds are genetically predisposed. Luckily, with good management form the owner, the onset of disease can be dramatically delayed until later in the dog’s life and the degree of veterinary intervention substantially diminished.

Cancer – while benign tumors have a variety of possible causes, from viral infection to injury or genetic predisposition, all cancers arise from the same basic mechanism: damage to genes. A cell becomes cancerous when certain genes that control vital processes such as cell division become damaged.

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Tackling the Issue 

As seen, health problems in chocolate Labradors are plentiful. There are two main solutions for fixing the problem: 1) diversifying the gene pool by mixing individuals from different parts of the world, 2) educating prospective owners and breeders about the consequences associated with the chocolate coat coloration.

When buying a chocolate Labrador, make sure you choose a reputable breeder that sells puppies from health tested parents. It is also important to pay attention to the coefficient of inbreeding. Puppies with low coefficient of inbreeding are less likely to manifest future health problems.

The concept of linking coat color with health is not new – it is well-established and exists among all animals. For example, a long time ago it was determined that the gene responsible for black fur in wolves is also responsible for higher immune responsiveness.

However, it was not until recently that such coat-health link was determined among dogs, particularly Labradors. Due to the reduced gene pool, chocolate Labradors are more prone to health issues and therefore have shorter lifespan.

In spite of the long list of issues, Labradors rank as one of the world’s most popular dog breed. For the benefit of the breed, prospective owners should be encouraged to look past the coat color and focus on the overall health.

About the Author

Dr. Ivana Crnec is a graduate of the University Sv. Kliment Ohridski’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Bitola, Republic of Macedonia.

ivana crnec

She currently practices as a veterinarian in Bitola and is completing her postgraduate studies in the Pathology of Domestic Carnivores at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Zagreb, Croatia.

Ivana’s research has been published in international journals, and she regularly attends international veterinary conferences.

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