Although the Labrador Retriever has been at the top of the American Kennel Club's popular breed list for years, the dogs face many health risks. The breed often suffers from hip dysplasia, gastric torsion, retinal dysplasia, muscular dystrophy and elbow dysplasia. Heart problems are also particularly worrisome.
The Dog Heart
Like all mammals, dogs have four-chambered hearts consisting of a left and right upper-chambered atrium and a left and right lower-chambered ventricle. The atria receive blood from the lungs and body, while the ventricles pump blood to the lungs for oxygen.
Signs of Heart Problems
The first indicator of a heart problem is coughing, a result of enlarged, failing hearts allowing fluid into the lungs and pressing on the wind pipe. Additional warning signs are fatigue, rapid breathing, poor or no appetite, distended belly, pale or bluish gums and a rapid but weak pulse.
If a veterinarian is concerned that a dog has a heart problem, the first test is typically an X-ray to examine the size of the heart. Depending on the results, other tests may follow.
Congestive Heart Failure
No matter the heart problem, an enlarged heart as a result of congestive heart failure is usually the end result. This occurs when the heart can no longer meet the circulatory requirements of the body.
Subaortic Stenosis is common in big dog breeds, including labs. At birth, a puppy has an abnormally narrow passage from the heart to the aorta. Puppies with this condition usually have a heart murmur. In severe cases, the heart muscles thicken and the heart cannot hold the amount of blood needed to provide oxygen to the body.