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Findings from a recent large-scale study involving over 33,000 Labrador Retriever puppies suggests chocolate Labradors have a shorter lifespan than their yellow and black counter-parts.

Chocolate Labradors are, typically, bred for their coat colour and research conducted by the Royal Veterinary College indicates that selective breeding for coat colour may increase the risk of hereditary illness, such as skin problems or ‘hot spots’ and ear disease, due to the smaller gene pool.  These findings support previous research which has found links between black fur coat colour and reduced inflammation and infection in wolves, and domestic dog coat colours associated with aggression, as well as increased rates of blindness and or deafness.

Whilst the pigment genes that determine coat colour is not associated with a shorter life span, Dr Paul McGreevy who led the study states the chocolate colour is a recessive trait (meaning both parents must have the gene that produces the colour); breeding for this trait may have inadvertently introduced genetic consequences for the dog’s health.  Consequently, the study recorded the lifespan of chocolate Labradors to be around 10.9 years compared to 12.1 years for black and yellow Labradors.

The data also showed that Labradors, in general, are likely to suffer from ear infections and joint problems as they age, and one in 10 Labradors – particularly neutered males – are susceptible to being overweight.  Moreover, the most common causes of death described were musculoskeletal disorder and neoplasia.

This is the first study of its kind to investigate the veterinary health records of Labrador Retrievers on such a large scale, thus further investigation is needed.  Nevertheless, the results from this research help provide owners with information on issues they may encounter when choosing for their breed type based upon appearance.

McGreevy, P.D., Wilson, B.J., Mansfield, C.S., Brodbelt, D.C., Church, D.B., Dhand, N., Soares Magalhães, R.J., and O’Neill, D.G. (2018) Labrador retrievers under primary veterinary care in the UK: demography, mortality and disorders. Canine Genetics and Epidemiology (5) 8.

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