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Chocolate Labradors found to have shorter lifespan than rest of breed

Chocolate Labrador Retrievers have a significantly shorter lifespan than their black and yellow counterparts, according to the results of a study.

The median lifespan for chocolate Labradors is 10.7 years, which is 1.4 years shorter than black or yellow Labradors.

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This latest research, carried out by the Royal Veterinary College’s (RVC) VetCompass programme in collaboration with the University of Sydney, also revealed that ear infections were the most common disorder to affect Labradors, with 10.4 percent presenting with the condition.

Chocolate Labradors suffer the most from ear infections, with 23.4 percent of them affected; by contrast only 17 percent of yellow Labradors suffer from ear infections and just 12.8 percent of black Labradors.

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

These findings were made by VetCompass and the University of Sydney through studying 33,320 Labrador Retrievers that attended primary care practices in the UK in 2013. The research aims to help breeders and vets to prioritise approaches for tackling health concerns within the breed and guide prospective owners to the 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 percent of all UK puppies born in 2004 to 5.8 percent of those born in 2013.
  • 44.6 percent of Labradors are black, 27.8 percent are yellow and 23.8 percent are chocolate.
  • On average male Labradors weigh 32.5kg, making them almost 5kg heavier than females which typically weigh around 30.4kg.

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.”

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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