Labrador diesases and symptoms

Labrador Diseases and symptoms - Black dog Sitting

Expressive eyes, floppy ears and a sunny disposition.

What’s not to love?

As an obvious fan, you probably know that Labradors are one of the most popular breeds in Australia (only recently demoted to second place, thanks to the Cavoodle)!

Gentle, loyal and hard-working Labrador retrievers can be easily trained, which is why they make such wonderful family pets, service or guide dogs.

This is generally a healthy breed, with an average life expectancy between 12 to 14 years.

However, as with any purebred dog, there are some widespread concerns – particularly related to obesity, joint health and cancer.

This article explores five of the most common Labrador diseases, and symptoms to look out for.

5 common labrador diseases and symptoms to look for

1. Hip dysplasia

Hip dysplasia occurs when the hip joint develops abnormally, creating a misaligned hip ball and socket. Not only does this hurt, it can also cause immobility and chronic arthritis in the long term.

As a larger dog, Labradors are prone to hip dysplasia, which is largely shaped by genetics and lifestyle. Older Labs are the most susceptible.

Risk factors are worsened by a rapid growth rate, poor diet and being overweight.

Obese dogs suffer from extra stress on their joints. Although gentle exercise is recommended to maintain a healthy weight – you don’t want to go too far in the other direction either. Excessive exercise can increase the risk of hip dysplasia occurring, by placing too much pressure on the ball-and-socket joints.

Take your Labrador to the vet if you notice any symptoms of hip dysplasia:

  • Limping
  • Less physically active with reduced motion
  • Difficulty getting up
  • Showing preference for one leg when moving
  • Swaying or walking with a “bunny hopping” gait
  • Thigh muscles look smaller
  • Shoulder muscles look noticeably bigger
  • Stiffness
  • Pain, lameness or weakness in the hind legs

Diagnosis and treatment:

It’s good news on this front, your Lab can live a healthy life if their hip dysplasia is managed effectively. The condition is usually diagnosed with a physical exam and X-rays, though sometimes further tests are required.

Anti-inflammatory drugs may be prescribed to lower pain, with minimal side effects. In addition to this, your vet will probably recommend targeted nutritional supplements such as omega-3 fatty acids.

Physical therapy with an appropriate diet and exercise plan is also helpful. Swimming is a suitable activity that increases mobility without placing pressure on the joints, as there’s no need to support body weight

For more serious cases, surgery is required to ease discomfort. There are a few options, depending on the health of your dog and the extent of their problem. Common procedures include a triple pelvic osteotomy, femoral head ostectomy and total hip replacement.

Labrador diseases and symptoms - smiling labrador

2. Elbow dysplasia

Elbow dysplasia occurs when the elbow joint develops abnormally – causing pain and eventually leading to lameness and arthritis.

There are several different causes, but what’s at the heart of it? Elbow bones don’t fit together properly, which creates too much contact pressure when moving. This inherited condition is fairly common, affecting between 17 to 21 percent of Labradors!

In most cases, the first signs are detected between six and 10 months, but sometimes these are missed until the dog is older and has arthritis.

Symptoms of elbow dysplasia in canines:

  • Lameness in one or both front legs
  • Stiffness
  • An aversion to exercise
  • Front feet look turned outwards
  • Pain in the elbows

Typical treatment options include painkillers and giving your pooch plenty of rest. This is a long-term condition, so the treatment plan needs to reflect that. In some cases, major surgery is required to remove sections of bone, and this is usually followed by physical therapy.

3. Obesity

Nearly 60 per cent of Labradors are overweight, and this comes down to their fierce appetites!

You’ve probably come to the realisation that your Lab will eat anything in sight. Blame the DNA, as many Labradors are missing a gene that regulates appetite.

Although your furry friend may look adorable with extra padding, this is bad for his health.

Obesity in Labradors lowers life expectancy and raises their risk for developing a host of health problems including:

  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Liver disease
  • Joint inflammation and dysplasia
  • Cancer
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Respiratory problems
  • Skeletal conditions and more

A healthy weight is anywhere between 24 to 34 kilos. Anything more can be problematic, especially if your Lab tips the scale at over 45 kilos.

If your Lab is overweight, don’t worry, this will stabilise with a little persistence. You’ll need to monitor his diet and get him moving with plenty of exercise. Your vet will tell you how much exercise is safe, and set suitable portions for nourishing meals.

labrador diseases and symptoms - doctor holding a puppy


4. Cancer in Labradors

Sadly cancer is a leading cause of death for dogs older than 10, and Labradors are no exception. Labrador Retrievers have a slightly elevated risk for cancer, and this largely comes down to their DNA and risk factors like environmental pollutants, a poor diet and sedentary lifestyle.

The most common forms of cancer in Labradors:

  • Mast cell tumours: develops from a type of blood cell
  • Melanoma: skin cancer
  • Osteosarcoma: bone cancer
  • Lymphoma: lymph glands
  • Hemangiosarcoma: affects the spleen and heart

General signs that may indicate cancer is present:

  • Fatigue
  • Behavioural changes impacting mood, appetite and bathroom habits
  • Discoloured skin
  • Swollen glands or lymph nodes
  • Tumours and lumps
  • Excessive bleeding
  • Unexpected weight loss
  • Slow wound healing
  • Laboured breathing
  • Eating difficulties
  • Sudden lameness

Any number of conditions can cause these symptoms, but please take your Lab to the vet as soon as possible, as time is of the essence.

Cancer is usually diagnosed with a physical exam and blood or urine tests. However X-rays, ultrasounds, MRIs, biopsies or CT scans may also be required.

Treatment will depend on the type of cancer and how fast moving it is. Surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy may be involved. Some cancers, like Lymphoma, have a high success rate when dogs are treated in time. Others are more dangerous, like Hemangiosarcoma.

5. Heart disease in Labradors

Heart disease is widespread among dogs of all shapes and sizes.

As with many other breeds, older Labs are particularly susceptible – but even younger dogs can develop the condition.

There are many underlying causes, such as heart valve degeneration and irregular heart rate. Take your Lab to the vet if you notice any of these symptoms:

  • Exhaustion
  • Coughing
  • Poor appetite
  • Laboured breathing
  • Weight loss
  • Swelling in the abdomen
  • Persistent cough
  • Fainting
  • Inability to exercise
  • Behavioural changes, such as isolation

Your vet will discuss the medical history and may use diagnostic tests such as X-rays and echocardiograms.

Labrador retrievers are predisposed to a congenital heart disease called Tricuspid Valve Dysplasia, which occurs when the tricuspid valve on the right side of the heart develops abnormally at birth. A heart murmur is one of the first signs.

Some dogs live comfortably with this condition, as their malformation is mild.

Unfortunately the abnormal valve may eventually lead to congestive heart failure for dogs with more serious cases. Although there’s currently no cure, medications can provide a good quality of life, delay the start of heart failure and reduce fluid retention.

Labrador diseases and symptoms - dog catching wood

What causes Labrador diseases?

  1. Genetics
  2. Lifestyle
  3. Combination of both

It’s impossible to pinpoint the exact causes for every condition, however we do know that genetics and lifestyle factors play a role.


Labradors are more genetically diverse than many other pure breeds. Having said this, genetic problems still occur from a history of inbreeding.

Thankfully a number of health screening tests can rule out some genetic conditions. If purchasing a Labrador pup, buy from a responsible breeder who tests the parents for common genetic conditions.


We know that overweight Labs are more likely to get sick, so a healthy diet and regular exercise are vital.

Labradors were once bred as duck retrievers and hunting dogs, which explains their high energy! If they don’t burn this off, they will chew on items in your home and engage in other destructive behaviours.

Adult Labradors generally need around one hour of exercise a day (sometimes less, sometimes more). Suitable activities include playing fetch, swimming, walking and running. This site has good information about exercising pups and grown Labs.

Please don’t over-exercise your dog. Pay attention to their signals. If they seem uncomfortable or in pain, pull back.

Be gentle with puppies and Labradors that are unwell, old, overweight or recovering from surgery. Always seek advice from your vet in these cases, as they have different exercise requirements.

Labrador diseases and symptoms - dog with a girl and boy

Potiki dog insurance for Labrador diseases and symptoms

Regular veterinary visits help to keep your Lab healthy, but medical fees can be high in Australia, and there’s no government subsidy.

If you have reliable pet insurance, you don’t have to worry about labrador diseases and symptoms. Your policy would cover most of the costs, as long as it’s not a pre-existing condition. 

Potiki’s affordable pet insurance is your safety net…but what if you never need to lodge a claim? Is that a waste of money?

No, you still get good value:

We send you free Potiki Perks to help you take care of your Labrador’s general well-being.

All customers get up to $400 worth of tailored essential pet supplies like tick medication, as well as 24/7 access to an online chat service with experienced vets.

This is on top of reliable Potiki pet cover (via that pays for 80 per cent of your eligible vet bills for unexpected illness and injury.

  1. Get a quick Potiki quote to find out what your premium will cost for one year.
  2. Submit payment if you’re satisfied with that amount (email us on [email protected] with any questions).
  3. Log into your personal portal to select items for your Potiki Perks package, which will be swiftly delivered to you.
  4. Lodge a claim if you need help paying vet bills for unexpected sickness or injury.