5 min read

7 Common Health Problems in Labs


By hannah hollinger

Published: 06/15/2020, edited: 09/07/2022

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Labrador Retrievers are the most popular dog breed in the United States — and it’s pretty easy to see why! Labs are friendly, affectionate, and outgoing dogs, and they make wonderful family pets.

Unfortunately, just like any other breed, Labs are prone to developing several specific health issues. These conditions range from mild annoyances through to life-threatening emergencies, so it’s important that you can recognize the telltale symptoms and know how to keep your dog safe.

In this guide, we take a look at 7 of the most common health issues that affect Labradors and what you can do to prevent them becoming a problem for your pooch.

1. Obesity

If you ask any Labrador pet parent what their dog loves most in the world, the answer will be simple: food. 

Labs are extremely food-oriented and will do just about anything for a tasty treat. While this helps make them very easy to train, it also puts them at a higher risk of becoming overweight or obese. In fact, studies have identified obesity as one of the most common health problems affecting Labradors.

And dog obesity is a serious problem. Carrying around excess weight increases the risk of suffering from a wide range of health issues, including:

  • Diabetes

  • Cancer

  • Hypertension

  • Heart disease

  • Arthritis and joint problems

  • Bladder stones

With all these potential problems, it’s no surprise that overweight and obese dogs have a lifespan up to 2.5 years shorter than dogs with a healthy weight.

While there’s a genetic component to Labrador weight gain, there’s also plenty pet parents can do to help their fur-babies stay in shape. Just as they are for humans, diet and exercise are the key factors to help your Lab stay in shape. Feeding a balanced diet, controlling portion sizes, and minimizing treat intake can all help, while daily exercise will provide benefits for a Lab’s body and mind.

If your Lab is a little on the portly side, speak to your vet about the safest way to help your pup get back to a healthy weight range. 

2. Hip dysplasia

Joint problems have also been shown to be prevalent in Labs, and every Labrador lover should be well aware of the danger posed by hip dysplasia.

A condition that typically affects large and giant breeds, hip dysplasia is a deformity that occurs when the ball and socket of the hip joint don’t develop properly. This causes them to grind together, resulting in the joint deteriorating over time and eventually leading to pain, discomfort, and even lameness for affected dogs.

Watching a Lab with hip dysplasia try to move around is a heartbreaking sight, but there are several things that can be done to reduce the risk of this condition:

  • Responsible breeding practices. Responsible breeders screen their dogs for hip dysplasia before using them in any breeding programs. Keep this in mind when searching for Labrador puppies.

  • Diet. Feed your Lab puppy a food specially formulated to meet the nutritional needs of large-breed puppies. This will help ensure healthy growth and development of muscles and joints.

  • Exercise. Over-exercising your Labrador before they’re fully grown can also be a contributing factor in the development of hip dysplasia.

  • Maintaining a healthy weight. Being overweight or obese places extra strain on your dog’s joints. This can cause hip dysplasia or, if the condition is already present, make it worse.

By sourcing your puppy from a responsible breeder and maintaining their weight through exercise and a balanced diet, you can protect them from hip dysplasia.

3. Elbow dysplasia

Next on our list of common health problems in Labs is elbow dysplasia. Just like hip dysplasia, it’s one of the conditions that the Labrador Retriever Club, Inc recommends breeders test their dogs for.

This condition is caused by growth abnormalities in the elbow joint. It causes the joint to degenerate over time, resulting in pain, a lack of motion, and lameness.

Elbow dysplasia is a common problem for Labs and several other large and giant breeds. It’s the result of genetic factors, but obesity can also put extra stress on the elbow joint and exacerbate the condition.

With this in mind, be sure to ask your Lab breeder for proof that a puppy’s parents have been screened for elbow dysplasia, and take care to help your dog stay in a healthy weight range throughout their life.

4. Ear infections

Just like humans, dogs can get ear infections. And unfortunately for your lovable Lab, they’re a common problem for this beautiful breed.

Your Lab’s gorgeous floppy ears have a tendency to trap moisture and dirt in the ear canal. This is the perfect environment for bacteria to thrive, and ear infections can be the unpleasant result.

There are three types of ear infections, the most common of which is known as otitis externa. This affects the outer ear canal and can produce the following symptoms:

  • Head shaking

  • Scratching and pawing at the ear

  • Discharge from the ear

  • An odor

  • Redness and inflammation

  • Signs of pain around the ear

If you notice any of these symptoms, get your dog to the vet for a full examination and treatment. You can also help prevent ear infections by:

  • Cleaning your dog’s ears regularly using a dog-friendly ear cleaner

  • Making sure your Lab’s ears are dry after bathing or swimming

  • Regularly checking the ears for any signs of infection 

5. Bloat

As a large, deep-chested breed, the Labrador is also prone to bloat. Also known as gastric dilatation volvulus, this is a serious and potentially life-threatening condition that requires immediate veterinary attention.

While the exact cause of bloat is a mystery, it occurs when the stomach fills with gas and sometimes twists, cutting off blood flow. Bloat usually occurs after a dog has consumed a large amount of food or water, or exercised straight after eating a meal.

Symptoms occur rapidly and can include:

  • A swollen belly

  • Retching

  • Salivation

  • Abdomen pain

  • Other signs of discomfort or distress

If you think your Labrador has bloat, take them to the vet straight away. If bloat is untreated, it can cause death within hours.

6. Eating things they shouldn’t

Pica is another common health problem that affects Labradors. This worrying condition causes dogs to eat inedible objects — this could mean socks, underwear, trash, rocks, and all manner of non-food items.

Common among puppies, pica is also closely associated with the Labrador and a handful of other breeds. And when your dog eats something they can’t properly digest, it can cause a blockage in the gastrointestinal tract. In some cases, surgery is required to remove the offending item.

Pica can sometimes be caused by an underlying health problem, so your vet will need to rule out any medical causes. 

Prevention is also key. Giving your pet plenty of exercise and mental stimulation can help reduce undesirable behaviors, while you should also restrict your Lab’s access to those inedible items they like to consume.

7. Eye conditions 

Finally, Labradors can also be susceptible to a handful of eye disorders. There are two common issues to be aware of:

  • Progressive retinal atrophy (PRA). PRA refers to a group of hereditary disorders that cause the retinal tissue to degenerate. There’s no effective treatment available for PRA and it eventually leads to blindness.

  • Cataracts. Labradors can also develop cataracts. These are most commonly inherited, but can also be the result of eye trauma and conditions like diabetes. The only treatment for cataracts is surgery.

Responsible breeders ensure that their breeding stock undergo an ophthalmologist evaluation to help reduce the risk of eye problems being passed down to future generations.

While Labs are prone to a few health problems, they’re generally considered to be a hardy breed. And if you can provide all the care your pup needs to stay happy and healthy, you can look forward to many more years with your Lab by your side.

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