14 Labrador Common Health Issues [+Signs and Prevention]

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labrador is dressed like a doctor

As one of the most popular canine companions the world over, Labradors make wonderful family dogs. They’re synonymous with helping, being used for many service roles, and as therapy dogs. Intelligent and kind, these members of the “gundog” family are sadly prone to some health conditions that you should be aware of before adding to your family. 

Every dog breed has its health concerns, and Labs are no exception to this. While they may have a genetic predisposition to some diseases, this doesn’t mean that every Labrador will suffer from any or all of the diseases that we list below. It just means they are at a higher risk of having these conditions when compared to other pooches in the general population. 

The most common Labrador health issues include orthopedic conditions such as elbow or hip dysplasia, arthritis, obesity, and heart disease. As water lovers, these puppers are also susceptible to ear infections. Read on to find out more about the most common health issues Labs suffer with and, where possible, how you can prevent or minimize them.

Common health problems

Like all breeds of dogs, Labradors are at risk of certain health issues, some of which are genetic. These include hip and elbow dysplasia, retinal dysplasia, and tricuspid valve dysplasia, which is a form of heart disease seen mostly in young male Labs. While not all health concerns that Labs face are genetic, it’s important to remember that not every Labrador will suffer from one or more of these illnesses, and with luck, your dog will be healthy and live a long and pain-free life.

Orthopedic Problems

Hip Dysplasia

Commonly seen in many breeds, including Jack Russell terriers, German Shepherds, and Labradors, hip dysplasia is caused by abnormal formation of the actual hip socket. This abnormal formation causes the hip joint to deteriorate, leading to pain and lameness or stiffness in affected dogs. Labradors are commonly affected by this painful, degenerative condition.

Affected dogs are born with this condition, but it may not become evident until early adulthood. Typical signs are difficulty using stairs, bunny hopping, and stiffness or limping on the hind limbs. Sadly, this condition leads to arthritis as the dog gets older. Treatment is both medical and surgical, with careful weight management and exercise modification being cornerstones. Surgical treatment involves a total hip replacement procedure alongside pain medication.

While there’s no way to prevent hip dysplasia in your puppy, there are schemes available across the world where dogs are “hip scored” prior to their use for breeding. This is to reduce the risk of hip dysplasia being passed on to the next generation.

Elbow Dysplasia

Abnormal growth and development of the elbow joint define elbow dysplasia. Labradors aren’t the only affected breeds, with Springer Spaniels also being prone to this painful disorder. Another degenerative condition, elbow dysplasia, can also lead to arthritis as dogs age.

Typically seen in younger dogs, the signs of elbow dysplasia include swelling of the joint, pain when the joint is palpated or moved, and forelimb lameness. Treatment is similar to that of hip dysplasia; weight management, exercise modification, and physiotherapy all help to maintain range of motion. Surgery may be indicated to remove bone fragments and “clean up” the cartilage within the elbow joint to reduce pain and inflammation.

As with hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia can’t be prevented in pups. Due to its genetic component, elbow-scoring potential breeding dogs can help prevent it from being passed onto the next generation of Labs.

Osteochondritis Dessicans (OCD)

This orthopedic condition is caused by abnormal development of cartilage within a joint. This inflammatory and often painful condition occurs when damaged cartilage separates from the bone beneath it. The shoulder is the most commonly affected joint, but OCD also affects the elbow, stifle, and hock joints.

Usually, OCD becomes evident in large breed dogs between 6-9 months old, including Labs, Rottweilers, and Great Danes. Male dogs are more commonly affected. Signs typical of OCD include limping or lameness on the affected limbs, holding the affected limb in an abnormal posture to reduce weight bearing, and pain when the joint is manipulated. Treatment will depend on the severity of the condition. Young dogs with very mild OCD may benefit from just strict activity restrictions, while more severe cases will need surgery. 

The exact cause of OCD is unknown. There have been associations with high energy, high protein, and high calcium diets in some studies. Ensuring that you’re feeding your dog a complete, balanced diet targeted toward their breed/size and life stage will help prevent nutritional contributions toward the development of OCD. There may be a genetic component, so you should avoid breeding from affected pooches.


One of the most common health conditions in Labradors is arthritis. Their large size plays a key role in this due to the strain it puts on all their joints. As a degenerative disorder, it can occur in any joint at any age but is most commonly seen in more senior pooches.

Though seen in any breed, arthritis is arguably most common in larger breed dogs such as Labrador, St. Bernard, and Bernese Mountain dogs from a younger age than their pint-sized counterparts. Signs include stiffness, pain on rising after lying down for a period of time, and limping on the affected limb(s). As with most other orthopedic conditions, treatment involves rest and physiotherapy. As this isn’t a curable disorder, your veterinarian will prescribe anti-inflammatory pain medications to help alleviate your dog’s symptoms.

Prevention is key, and where possible, you should keep your dog slim and fit with regular exercise and appropriate nutrition to reduce strain on your Lab’s joints. There are also many supplements available on the market to help reduce the severity of arthritis in affected pooches. Read our extensive review here

Cruciate Disease

The cruciate ligaments are two strong ligaments that hold the stability of the stifle (knee) joints. If one of these ligaments become damaged, then the joint becomes unstable and painful. While cruciate disease can affect any breed, Labradors and Newfoundlands are at an increased risk.

Damage to the cruciate ligament can occur due to acute trauma, such as sudden twists or a fall. Chronic weakening due to twisting, skidding, or jumping can also lead to breakage. Typical signs of cruciate damage include limping on the affected hindlimb, swelling in one or both stifles or an abnormal walking gait. Medical and surgical treatment options may be available depending on severity and dog size. Larger breed dogs, such as Labradors, tend to require surgery, particularly if there has been complete rupture of the cruciate ligament.

While there may be a breed predisposition, you may be able to prevent some cases of cruciate disease. Keeping your dog trim with an appropriate diet will reduce their risk of this disorder. Appropriate exercise is also important to keep your dog fit without overdoing it, you should avoid jumping and chasing games unless your dog is very fit. Even with prevention, your dog may still suffer a trauma that causes cruciate rupture.

Ophthalmic Disorders

Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA)/Retinal Dysplasia (RD)

The retina contains cells for vision at the back of the eye and these degenerative diseases (PRA and RD) can cause central vision loss in many breeds of dogs. Large breeds, including Labs are susceptible, but it’s also seen in Yorkies. 

Signs of PRA and RD in dogs include cloudiness over the eyes and behavioral changes that may relate to loss of vision. These include clumsiness and bumping into things or nervousness at night or in the dark in unfamiliar surroundings. There’s no treatment available for either PRA or RD nor can we slow its progression. 

As inherited diseases, PRA and RD can only be prevented in future generations, with regular eye examinations being recommended for breeding dogs. 



Hypothyroidism is an endocrine disorder characterized by the reduction in T4 and T3 hormones produced from the thyroid gland. This is relatively common in dogs, particularly Labrador, Boxer, and Doberman Pinscher breeds.

Typical clinical signs of hypothyroidism include hair loss, excessive shedding, lethargy, and apparent intolerance to cold conditions. Luckily, this is a treatable condition (though not curable). Hormone replacement is key, with affected dogs receiving thyroid hormone to replace what’s not being produced/released naturally by the body.

Unfortunately, there’s no proven method of preventing hypothyroidism in our canine companions.

Cardiorespiratory Diseases

Laryngeal paralysis

The larynx is also known as the “voice box” and serves to close the airway while eating and swallowing. It also opens up during breathing. Paralysis of the larynx occurs when the nerves to the muscles controlling the stability of the box become weakened or damaged. This causes the cartilage to collapse into the airway. While this disorder is seen in its congenital form in Bouvier des Flandres and Dalmations, Labradors tend to develop the acquired form in their older years.

Clinical signs of laryngeal paralysis include coughing, exercise intolerance, excessive panting, and noisy breathing. Some dog pawrents also report a change in their dog’s bark tone. Treatment will vary with severity. Mild cases may respond to anti-inflammatory medications, while more severe cases may require surgery to permanently “tie back” the paralyzed cartilage.

While we can’t definitively prevent laryngeal paralysis from occurring, there are some things you can do to minimize your dog’s risk. These include maintaining your dog at a healthy body weight and preventing obesity alongside avoiding strenuous exercise in high temperatures. Using a harness instead of a collar may help reduce pressure on the neck also.

Tricuspid Valve Dysplasia (TVD)

The tricuspid valve is situated on the right side of the heart and prevents the backflow of blood between the heart’s chambers. Dysplasia or abnormal development of this valve is common in Labradors and particularly affects male Labs from birth. Other affected breeds include Irish Setters and German Shepherds. 

Typical clinical signs of this disorder include coughing, heart murmurs, fatigue and exercise intolerance, weight loss, and a swollen abdomen. Unfortunately, this isn’t a curable condition, however, your veterinarian may prescribe restricted exercise and medications to help reduce the strain on your dog’s heart. 

If your pooch has just a mild case, then they may still continue to live a full, normal life before entering into congestive heart failure. There’s no prevention for this condition aside from avoiding breeding from affected dogs.

Kennel Cough/Tracheobronchitis

Kennel cough is an encompassing term to describe multiple infectious/contagious conditions in dogs where an upper respiratory cough is the main clinical sign. Kennel cough can be caused by viruses or bacteria, and a recent investigation indicated that Labradors are at increased risk of this disease. Other affected breeds include brachycephalic (“short-nosed”) breeds that are at increased risk of pneumonia without aggressive treatment.

Clinical signs your dog may have kennel cough include a “goose honk” cough, depressed behavior, inapdogence, and coughing when their throat is rubbed or when exercising. Kennel cough can last several weeks despite the fact that it’s generally mild and self-limiting. If the cause is viral, then supportive care such as cough suppressants and anti-inflammatory medications are needed. If the cause is bacterial, then your veterinarian might prescribe antibiotics. Even with treatment, your dog will likely show signs for a number of weeks. 

Luckily, you can try to prevent your dog from catching kennel cough through vaccination. This is particularly important if your dog goes to doggy daycare or grooming salons, where they have many interactions with other dogs. While vaccines can’t guarantee that your dog won’t pick up kennel cough, they can at least lessen the severity for them. 


Labradors are highly prone to obesity, in large part due to their love of all things food (and some things not food-related). Some other breeds, such as Rottweilers, are also prone to obesity, which brings with it an increased risk of a number of other diseases. 

Signs your dog may be obese include having a pot belly or lack of waistline and not being able to see or feel some of their ribs. dogs that are obese are more likely to suffer from arthritis, heart disease, and some liver and metabolic disorders. 

You can prevent obesity by monitoring your pooch’s weight and food intake while limiting snacks. If your dog is obese, then your veterinarian will advise they go on a diet. Dieting is hard for both humans and dogs so there are some weight loss foods available on the market to help keep your Lab full and satisfied without the added calories. 

Ear Infections

Labs are water lovers, and coupled with their adorable floppy ears, this makes them prone to ear infections. Ear infections can be a sign of allergies, but for most Labradors, this doesn’t seem to be the case. Other dogs prone to ear infections include Spaniel breeds and Shih tzus. 

Ear infections tend to be caused by water getting trapped in the ear after swimming or bathing. Clinical signs  your dog may have an ear infection include shaking their head, an unpleasant smell, or a greasy discharge from the ear. Some dogs will also scratch incessantly at the affected ear too. 

Preventing ear infections can be tricky for some dogs but you can do your best by making sure to dry your dog’s ears after swimming or bathing. Regular monitoring of their ears for signs of dirt buildup can also help prevent infection from setting in. 

Visceral Vascular Tumors

Visceral vascular tumors are those that develop from blood vessels. Found in the internal organs, the most common sites are the spleen, liver and heart. There are two types of these tumors, hemangioma (benign) and hemangiosarcoma (malignant). There is a likely genetic or hereditary component to it, with Labradors, Golden Retrievers, and German Shepherds all prone to hemangiosarcomas.

Signs vary depending on the tumor location, however, there are often no clinical signs unless the tumor ruptures, causing internal bleeding. Signs of internal bleeding include lethargy, weakness, sudden collapse, and distended abdomen, or even sudden death in severe cases.

There’s no known preventative for visceral vascular tumors, but if your dog has been diagnosed with one, then it’s best to institute treatment such as removal of the mass where possible. This isn’t always possible, depending on the location of the tumor. 

Adipose Tumors aka Lipomas

Lipomas are benign, fatty masses. These are commonly seen in middle-aged and older Labs. They can grow anywhere, but the most common place is on the skin in the underlying fat. The malignant form is called a liposarcoma, but these are, fortunately, uncommon. While lipomas are non-cancerous, they can grow quite large and cause your dog discomfort if not removed. 

Your veterinarian will advise determining the cause of your dog’s lump by performing either a fine needle aspirate (FNA) or a biopsy to take a sample of the cells for examination. The general advice is to remove these fatty masses while they are small. This means the surgery is less invasive for your Lab. Luckily, once removed, the incidence of recurrence is low.

There’s no specific prevention method for lipomas in our canine companions. However, they tend to be diagnosed more commonly in overweight pooches, so maintaining your dog at a healthy weight should benefit them. 

Gastric Dilatation and Volvulus (GDV) aka Bloat

GDV is the life-threatening dilation of the stomach with gas and subsequent twisting of the stomach, which prevents gas or fluid from escaping. Deep-chested breeds tend to be most at risk, including Weimaraners, Irish Setters, and Labradors.

Signs of GDV include a swollen abdomen, increased heart rate, unproductive vomiting, and drooling. Treatment of GDV is surgical to untwist the stomach and decompress the distension. Your veterinarian will also perform a procedure called a gastropexy. This will stitch your dog’s stomach in place so that it can’t twist again in the future.

You can prevent your dog from developing a GDV by feeding small meals throughout the day rather than one large meal and mixing both wet and dry food. If your dog eats very fast, then you could use a slow feeder bowl or try scatter feeding to reduce the amount of air being gulped down into the stomach. Some veterinarians will perform prophylactic gastropexy procedures in high-risk breeds.

Labrador Health issues across the lifecycle

There’s no guarantee that your dog will suffer any or all of the health issues listed in this article, if they’re lucky, they won’t suffer with any of them. As your dog travels through life, they will incur different health concerns depending on their life stage. Some conditions tend to be limited to certain life stages, such as OCD being noticed in younger Labs, while arthritis tends to be more evident in senior Labradors.

Labrador Puppy Health Issues

Unfortunately, puppies can have some problems, not just our older pooches. Some diseases we tend to see in Lab puppies are retinal dysplasia, OCD, and tricuspid valve dysplasia. The most common problem we see, though, is hip or elbow dysplasia. These are painful conditions that become debilitating as your puppy grows. Luckily, surgery can be an option in many cases. 

Adult Labrador Health Issues

Hip and elbow dysplasia causes problems for Labradors into adulthood, not just a puppy problem unfortunately. We all love a Lab, but they are prone to obesity and arthritis due to underlying hip or elbow dysplasia. Labs are also at risk of cruciate disease or injuries. While bloat, aka GDV tends to be most diagnosed in adults, we do occasionally see it in older puppies that have wolfed down their dinner too fast. If the stomach has just distended and not twisted, we may be able to treat it without surgery, but in my experience, surgery is most often required to treat this and save the dog’s life. 

Senior Labrador Health Issues

Just like humans, as your Lab ages, they will become more prone to health conditions. We tend to see conditions such as arthritis, progressive retinal atrophy, and even visceral vascular tumors more commonly in older pooches. As with many other breeds, arthritis is common and can be managed with pain medications, so you should discuss these options with your veterinarian as you notice your older pooch slow down or become stiffer when rising after a snooze. 

Labrador Health Issues and Average Lifespan

Labradors tend to live on average 10-12 years, with some living up to 14 years of age or so. Did you know that your Lab’s coat color is potentially linked to their life expectancy? Chocolate Labradors tend to have a shorter life expectancy of about 11 years compared to golden or black Labs. 

While the majority of Labradors live to “old age,” there are some health conditions, such as visceral vascular tumors, that can snatch them away from us too soon. Acute hemorrhage from one of these tumors is one of the main causes of sudden death in our larger breed, middle-old aged pooches, but could occur at any age. 

The big two problems we tend to see in the clinic though are obesity and arthritis in our older Labs. Arthritis, in particular, can become debilitating and is an extremely painful condition. Sadly, arthritis is exacerbated by obesity, and together, these conditions are often seen in Labradors towards the end of their lives.

Labrador Health Issues VS Other Dog Breeds

Labradors suffer from the same health issues that many large breed dogs also experience; these include visceral vascular tumors, GDV, and orthopedic diseases such as elbow and hip dysplasia. One of the breeds they share many of these conditions with is the German Shepherd, which is considered to suffer from hip dysplasia classically and is often thought of as high risk for visceral vascular tumors. Any breed with a deep chest is more prone to GDV, for example, pointers, sighthounds, and giant dog breeds such as Great Danes and Irish Wolfhounds. 

Other diseases that Labradors are prone to include arthritis, lipomas, and obesity, but we see these diseases in almost any breed. While arthritis may often be seen in younger Labs when compared to terriers and other small breeds, it is a disease that can affect any pooch (and human) as they age. Luckily, we can manage the pain associated with this horrible disease, though we can’t cure it. 

Labs tend to be prone to obesity due to their often insatiable apdogites, so it’s important not to allow them to overindulge in their favorite treats and foods. We often see an increase in obesity as they age and develop other conditions that limit their activity levels, such as arthritis. As both of these conditions can make the other worse, it’s best to prevent obesity from a young age with controlled exercise and portion sizes. 

Health Signs Labrador Parents Should Beware Of

While we all know to watch out for limping and stiffness as signs of arthritis, obesity can be harder to assess, particularly as you see your pooch every day. One way to monitor your dog for obesity is to score their body condition regularly. What you want to see is a nice slim waist and be able to feel their ribs with gentle pressure. 

Signs your dog may be obese include:

  • Loss of definition around their waist
  • Unable to feel their ribs without significant pressure
  • Rolls of increased skin around the neck
  • Sagging of the belly

Knowing the signs of more emergent conditions, such as GDV and a ruptured visceral vascular tumor, can help you save your dog’s life. 

Signs your dog may have a GDV:

  • Enlarged abdomen
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Attempting to vomit but not bringing anything up
  • Weakness

Signs your dog may have a ruptured visceral vascular tumor:

  • Lethargy and weakness
  • Pale gums
  • Labored breathing
  • Swelling belly
  • Bruising on the abdomen (not always seen)

Labrador Health Care Tips and Prevention

We’ve included some of our top healthcare tips to help your Lab live a long and healthy life.

Annual health checkups with vaccines and regular parasite prevention:

  • These annual veterinary trips may be dreaded by your pooch, but they’re important to prevent many diseases and keep your dog healthy and happy. 
  • Annual or more frequent veterinary appointments in older dogs can even diagnose conditions and treat them before they become painful, debilitating, or even life-threatening.

Portion control and regular exercise:

  • Preventing obesity is essential in our pooches as it carries a host of other health problems with it. Practicing proper portion control with your Lab is key to maintaining their weight in the healthy range.
  • Healthy weight for a female lab is around 55-70lbs (25-32kg) while males tend to weigh in a little heavier at about 65-80lbs (29-26kg). These weights are guidelines, and your pooch’s weight will depend on their overall stature, with your veterinarian being best placed to advise you on your dog’s goal weight.
  • If your pooch wolfs down their food too fast, you can try some special slow feeding options to prevent this and thus prevent bloat from occurring.
  • Regular exercise is also helpful in maintaining your Lab’s weight, and it’s good for their mental health to stimulate them and tire them out (very important in keeping pups from being overly destructive due to boredom).

Regular body condition scoring:

  • Arguably more important than a rigid weight for many Labradors, body condition scoring helps you assess your dog’s individual health. Ask your DVM about how best to condition score your pooch. I recommend doing this about once a month, especially in older dogs, as they slow down. 

Monitoring for lameness and stiffness:

  • This is important in all life stages as lameness in younger Labs can indicate that there may be an underlying condition such as elbow or hip dysplasia, while in older pooches, it can tell you if they’re developing arthritis. 
  • I recommend to my clients with older Labs that they should tick their calendar each day they notice their dog is a little stiff and then, at the end of each month, look back and see if there were many of these days that can help you objectively determine if your dog needs to be seen by your veterinarian and potentially be prescribed pain medications or alternative treatments to support their joints.

Ear cleaning (especially if your Lab is a water pooch):

  • Regular assessment of your Labs ears can help you to determine if they’re getting an ear infection before it becomes a major problem for you both. 
  • If your Lab is a water-baby, then a gentle wipe and regular ear cleaning can help prevent them from developing ear infections due to trapped water. Your veterinary office should be able to show you how to clean your dog’s ears safely. 

The Final Woof

Labradors suffer from many of the same health conditions that other dogs do, including OCD, arthritis, and obesity. We hope this article has helped allay any fears you may have about your Lab’s health and how to manage them best. Prevention is better than cure in all cases and regular check-ups will help your dog in the long run to have a healthy and hopefully long life. 

Labs are one of the most popular canine dog breeds all over the world, and it’s easy to see why if you know any of them. They’re loveable, goofy and have an effervescent personality that can make you smile on the worst days. Labs make amazing family dogs and are one of the most popular service dogs due to their friendly and loving natures coupled with great intelligence (even if they don’t always show it). While prone to some health conditions, this article isn’t meant to scare you. It’s meant to help you prevent some of these conditions, know the signs to watch out for to allow early treatments, and to keep you and your Lab’s special bond healthy for years to come. 

Photo of author
Since graduating from Dublin, Ireland in 2013 with an honors Veterinary Medicine degree, Edele has enjoyed working with as many species of animal as possible. Edele is currently working in clinical practice while studying towards Advanced Practitioner status with the RCVS in the UK. Passionate about education and writing, Edele’s goal is to maximize the pet-owner bond and welfare through education accessible to everyone. Never found without her middle-aged Weimaraner, Purdy (who still thinks she’s 18 months old), Edele spends her limited time outdoors with her horses, hiking and traveling home to Ireland to spend time with family.

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