Study: A Labrador retriever's color may indicate life span, health issues

Published: Oct. 23, 2018 at 5:30 PM CDT
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Surprising new research shows the color of a dog’s coat could indicate how long they will live.

A study involving more than 33,000 Labrador retrievers in the United Kingdom

chocolate labs’ life expectancy is significantly lower than yellow or black labs. It also found the brown pups have a higher incidence of ear infections and skin disease.

The findings, published this week in the journal Canine Genetics and Epidemiology, were part of the VetCompass project led by University of Sydney researchers. Lead author Professor Paul McGreevy said the correlation between coat color and life expectancy caught them off-guard.

McGreevy posited it could be a result of breeding. He explained the chocolate’s color comes from a recessive gene, therefore both parents must have the gene for their puppies to be chocolate.

“Breeders targeting this color may therefore be more likely to breed only Labradors carrying the chocolate coat gene,” he said. “It may be that the resulting reduced gene pool includes a higher proportion of genes conducive to ear and skin conditions."

According to the study, a black or yellow lab’s median life expectancy is 12.1 years, that’s 10 percent longer than their chocolate counterparts. Additionally, chocolate labs were four times more likely to have pyo-traumatic dermatitis, also known as hot-spot, and twice as likely to suffer ear inflammations.

Ear infections were listed among the most common health conditions for all types of Labradors, along with joint conditions and obesity.

"We found that 8.8 percent of UK Labradors are overweight or obese, one of the highest percentages among dog breeds in the VetCompass™ database," Professor McGreevy said.

Neutered male labs had a higher prevalence for obesity, the study showed.

The University of Sydney’s VetCompass program collects and analyzes dogs’ patient records, researchers said, adding they intend to replicate the results in Australia, where (like the U.S.) Labradors are the most popular breed. They say the UK findings may not extend Down Under, but the findings warrant more investigation.