Did you just welcome a new Labrador Retriever into your home? Are you thinking about it? Either way, you’ve come to the right place. Whether your new furry friend is a puppy or an older dog, we have the information you need to properly train and care for him or her. This guide to Labrador Retrievers was compiled with new dog owners in mind, but we also have tips and tricks for those who are seasoned fur parents, breeders, or those who are simply new to this specific breed.

Your guide to Labrador Retrievers

The Labrador Retriever is “America’s most popular dog breed,” according to the American Kennel Club (AKC). Commonly referred to as Labs, this breed is from Newfoundland, Animal Planet reported. These loyal and friendly pups are classified by the AKC as one of the best dog breeds for children. They are also are commonly trained to work as service or therapy dogs and aid law enforcement, PetMD reported.

You can adopt a Labrador Retriever at an animal shelter or find a breeder. It’s important to look for breeders that can provide detailed health records of their puppies or parents including the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) and Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF) certification.  

Fun facts

Here are some fun facts about Labrador Retrievers, according to the AKC:

  • Labs came to be known as hunting dogs in America after World War II
  • They love to swim and were built for it
  • Labs are the most popular breed in America
  • They come in three colors: yellow, black, and chocolate
  • Labs are top dog when it comes to canine sports like rally and agility

Physical characteristics

Labrador Retriever

In terms of physical characteristics, Labrador Retrievers have a strong body, square proportions, strong jaw, and broad head. The Labrador Retriever can grow to between 55-80 pounds, according to Animal Planet.

“At full adult size, they stand at about 21 to 24 inches in height at the withers (the highest part of the back), with a weight of 50 to 80 pounds,” PetMD reported. “The coat is straight, dense, and short, with the outer coat being a bit coarse, and the undercoat thick and soft. This makes the Labrador all but completely waterproof, with the thick undercoat protecting the skin, and the outer guard coat whisking water away.”

Bringing your new Labrador Retriever home

Whether you’re adding a puppy or a dog to your family, it’s important to remember that everything is new to your furry friend. When you bring the pup home for the first time, ensure your house is fairly quiet so your pooch can get used to his or her surroundings without any anxiety; you were both probably a bit nervous about the change anyway. You want your pup to explore and learn about your family, according to puppyintraining.com.

Take lots of pictures! This day will never come again so be sure to document your Labrador Retriever’s first day at home! Click here for some tips to help you get the best pics of your pup. 

Did you name your dog yet? Teaching your pup his or her name should be one of the first things you do. It’s easy, just continuously refer to the pup as Roxy or Fido or whatever the name may be. What’s not so easy is training the pup. You may want to get help with this by enrolling your new Labrador Retriever in a training group or get your own personal trainer. This will help get your puppy going to the bathroom in the right places, keep him or her from eating your favorite shoes, stop excessive barking or whining, and much more. Dogs make some funky sounds don’t they? Click here to learn more about dog sounds. 

Nutrition

Labrador Retriever

A balanced diet is vital to your dog’s growth and health, according to the ASPCA, and portion control is key.

It’s okay to give your dog commercial pet foods, just be sure to read the label and ensure that what you’re buying is based on your dog’s caloric needs.

“Barring any special needs, illness-related deficiencies, or instructions from your vet, your pet should be able to get all the nutrients he or she needs from high-quality commercial pet foods, which are specially formulated with these standards in mind,” the ASPCA reported.

When it comes to Labradors, you’ll want to watch out for overeating! Labradors are very likely to have a mutation in the POMC gene that increases their propensity for overeating. So keep that in mind as you get to know your new best friend: They may not be a good candidate for free feeding, and might require some serious portion control!

You should also keep in mind that a dog’s diet should change as they grow. A puppy should have a different diet than an adult dog or senior dog, and senior dogs should have a different diet than adult dogs. Senior dogs should also have blood taken more regularly to monitor their systemic health.    

The best thing you can do for your pup when it comes to diet is talk to your veterinarian about a meal plan.

Grooming

The Labrador Retriever is an easy dog to groom. They have a thick, water-repellant double coat, which sheds, according to the AKC.

“Give occasional baths to keep them clean. As with all breeds, the Lab’s nails should be trimmed regularly and his teeth brushed frequently,” the AKC reported.

You can groom your dog at home if you’d like or simply take that pup to the groomers for regular sessions.

“Routine grooming sessions also allow you to examine your dog’s coat, teeth, eyes, ears, and nails for signs of problems,” according to the AKC.

Either way, you just want to ensure that your pup is trimmed and clean.

Playtime

Labrador Retriever

Labrador Retrievers need at least one hour of exercise each day, according to Labrador Training HQ. If you’re pup is very energetic, you may want to have your furry friend play a bit longer in order to get a better night’s sleep! 

There are so many ways to play! You can take your dog for a run or hike and play fetch, tug-of-war, or frisbee. You can even play hide and seek with a treat or create a DIY agility course in your yard. 

Health & aging

Do you know your pup’s birthday? Never miss a celebration with your four-legged friend! And keep in mind that you’ll need to care for him or her differently as your pup ages. https://embarkvet.com/dogs-birthday-gift-guide/

The Labrador Retriever has a lifespan of about 10-12 years, according to Animal Planet. Your dog is considered a senior pup after turning 8. Make sure you’ve had your pup tested with Embark so you’re armed with as much information as possible to ensure your dog is healthy and to sidestep any preventable disease that may come your way.

Embark tests for the following 19 conditions that could affect your Labrador Retriever:

Achromatopsia – This is a congenital eye disorder that leads to vision loss.

Canine Elliptocytosis – This is a rare blood disorder and benign.

Centronuclear Myopathy – This is a condition characterized by muscle weakness and wasting in the skeletal muscles. There is currently no cure.

Congenital Macrothrombocytopenia — This is a benign disorder of platelet production that leads to abnormally large, sparse platelets.  

Congenital Myasthenic Syndrome — This is a group of conditions characterized by muscle weakness; it gets worse with physical exertion. There is currently no cure.

Cystinuria Type I-A – The kidneys of dogs with Cystinuria Type I-A are not able to reabsorb cysteine, leading to increased risk for cystein crystal and stone formation. However, this condition is manageable and treatable. See below.

Degenerative Myelopathy A disease of mature dogs, this is a progressive degenerative disorder of the spinal cord that can cause muscle wasting and gait abnormalities. There is no treatment, but it’s rather common and manageable. It does have the power to take your dog’s life and is typically seen in senior dogs.

Exercise-Induced Collapse – Dogs affected by this can handle moderate exercise but have the potential to collapse after five to 15 minutes of strenuous exercise. There is no treatment for this but it’s common and manageable. See below. (link to https://embarkvet.com/exercise-induced-collapse-a-story-of-jake-frisoni/)

Golden Retriever Progressive Retinal Atrophy 2 – This one type of progressive retinal atrophy (PRA) and leads to vision loss. There is currently no treatment.

Hereditary Nasal Parakeratosis – This is an inherited disease affecting the nose of Labrador Retrievers, causing it to dry out and flake easily, but it is manageable. See below.

Hyperuricosuria and Hyperuricemia or Urolithiasis – Hyperuricosuria leads to extreme excretion of uric acid in the urine; it’s a condition that predisposes dogs to urolithiasis, which is manageable. See below.

Macular Corneal Dystrophy (MCD) – This is a rare but severe form of stromal corneal dystrophy, which can occlude vision. While the treatment for the same condition in humans involves corneal implants, these are not routinely performed in dogs yet.

Malignant Hyperthermia – This condition is manageable and only manifests if affected dogs are treated with certain inhalant anesthetics. It can cause uncontrollable muscle contractions and a dangerous increase in body temperature (hyperthermia). See below.

Myotubular Myopathy 1, X-linked Myotubular Myopathy – This is a degenerative muscle disease first characterized in the Labrador Retriever. Affected dogs present as puppies with failure to thrive and weakness; this rapidly progresses to difficulty eating and breathing. Unfortunately, there is currently no treatment for XLMTM.

Narcolepsy – This leads to attacks of sleep and weakness, but it’s manageable. See below.

Oculoskeletal Dysplasia 1, Dwarfism-Retinal Dysplasia 1 – drd1 – This is a disease that affects both skeletal and eye development, leading to some vision impairment and a disproportionate body shape.

Progressive Retinal Atrophy – crd4/cord1 – This retinal disease causes progressive, vision loss that is not painful for your pup. While there is no treatment, it is manageable. See below.

Progressive Retinal Atrophy – prcdThis retinal disease causes progressive vision loss. While there is no treatment, it is manageable. See below.

Pyruvate Kinase Deficiency – This disorder affects red blood cells, which carry oxygen to the body’s tissues. It can be managed, see below.

Skeletal Dysplasia 2 – This is classified as a mild form of disproportionate dwarfism. While it isn’t lethal, your dog will just have noticeably shorter legs relative to their body length. This is usually noticed by the time a dog reaches 5 to 6 months of age.

Recommendations from our veterinary team for treatable diseases above:

Cystinuria Type I-A – Cystinuria is a condition that causes excessive cysteine wasting in the urine, leading to cysteine stone formation and potential urinary issues. However, if caught early, an emergency trip to the vet can be avoided using a stone-friendly diet and medications that help to solubilize cysteine crystals.

Exercise-Induced Collapse – EIC is often only seen when a dog is in a certain mental/emotional state, like a high-stress or high focus field trial (which was where this condition was first described). It is therefore very manageable lifestyle changes: while your EIC dog may not be the best candidate for flyball, there’s no reason that they won’t make a wonderful jogging or hiking partner.

Hereditary Nasal Parakeratosis – This is harmless, but a bit unsightly and potentially irritating for the pet! However, symptoms can be managed with regular treatment of the flaky nose skin

Hyperuricosuria and Hyperuricemia or Urolithiasis – This is manageable with diet and lifestyle changes. HUU dogs often respond very well to maintenance on a diet that reduces the likelihood of urate stone formation, increased water intake, and close monitoring for urinary issues by their parents!

Malignant Hyperthermia – A condition that causes sensitivity to certain inhalant anesthetics, this is manageable simply by informing your vet of this condition.

Narcolepsy – A rare condition! While there’s no currently used cure for canine narcolepsy, it is not detrimental to your dog’s health.  

Progressive Retinal Atrophy — All of the progressive retinal atrophies are thought to lead to vision loss, though the penetrance, age of onset, and progression may vary. Specific forms of PRA found in the Labrador include PRA-crd4/cord1 and PRA-prcd.

Pyruvate Kinase Deficiency – There is no treatment for PK Deficiency, but symptoms can be managed for some time.

What we have our eye on for future tests:

We don’t test for every single disease that affects Labrador Retrievers, but we hope to soon! Here’s what we have our eye on and will test for as soon as our database allows:

Atopy – Atopy is a complex inflammatory and allergic condition thought to be caused by three interwoven factors: first, a genetic predisposition; second, a hypersensitive immune system; and third, an inherently impaired skin barrier that allows skin allergens to activate the immune system. 

Immune-mediated Polyarthropathy – Inflammation in multiple joints and relapsing fevers without an underlying microbial infection characterize immune-mediated polyarthropathy. 

Tricuspid Valve DysplasiaTricuspid valve dysplasia (TVD) is a congenital malformation of the heart, and describes several developmental abnormalities of the tricuspid valve or the heart muscle. 

Liver Shunts – Liver shunts are exactly what they sound like: They are abnormal veins that “shunt” blood returning from the digestive tract and the spleen away from normal processing pathways in the liver.
While this blood is full of nutrients, having picked up the good stuff in the small intestine and the stomach, it also carries the waste products of metabolism and other toxins. 

Hypothyroidism – Clinical signs of hypothyroidism occur when inadequate levels of thyroid hormones are produced or the hormones do not function properly. Thyroid hormones influence all aspects of metabolism including body temperature, heart rate, blood pressure, skin and hair quality, and energy level. 

Masticatory Muscle Myositis – Masticatory Muscle Myositis (MMM) is inflammation of the powerful muscles of the temples and top of the head that are used in chewing to close the jaw. MMM is an immune-mediated disease in which the unique muscle protein found in the masticatory muscles, and nowhere else in the body, is attacked. 

Mast Cell Tumors – Mast cell tumors (MCTs) are usually first identified as a skin mass or nodule, often with a characteristic “pin-feather” effect on the overlying hair. However, MCTs can also occur in organs and the intestinal tract. Mast cells normally migrate in and out of the skin and tissues and contain histamine granules, which participate in the normal allergic response.

Panosteitis – Panosteitis is a sudden, painful condition caused by changes to the fatty part of the bone marrow of the long bones of the legs. Long bones include the humerus, radius, femur, and tibia, and the front legs are usually affected first and more often. 

Hemangiosarcoma – Hemangiosarcoma is a cancer of the blood vessels, and as such often occurs in organs with high blood flow such as the spleen. Other common locations for hemangiosarcoma include the skin, the heart, and the liver. 

Hip Dysplasia – This is a common skeletal condition that starts when dogs are growing and often leads to instability of the hip joint, according to the ACVS. This condition has many causes but hereditary genetics is reportedly the most common risk factor. Hip dysplasia is seen mostly in large breed dogs.

Elbow Dysplasia – This is a disease of the elbows reportedly caused by growth disturbances in the elbow joint. This disease leads to defects in cartilage growth, genetics, diet, and much more, according to the ACVS.

We hope that this guide helps you with your Labrador Retriever and that you remain happy together for years to come! However, we also know that the only bad part of having a pup means you have to lose them someday. If you are grieving and in need of a resource, click here for a relevant blog post. 

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A Guide to Labrador Retrievers
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