If you're looking for a fun and friendly family dog, a Labrador retriever is probably one of your best options. Labs are good-natured dogs that are great with children. And, since they have tons of energy, they will spend hours playing fetch or going on walks with you and your children. However, there are a number of health concerns to keep in mind when considering purchasing or adopting a Labrador retriever, as this breed has a somewhat higher likelihood of contracting serious diseases.
Two common and related diseases that affect Labrador retrievers are hip dysplasia and elbow dysplasia. With both disorders, the bones of the joint in question develop abnormally, often causing dysfunction. Dogs with hip dysplasia sometimes do not exhibit any signs of the disease, but those that do experience symptoms exhibit pain in and/or crippling of the affected hind leg. Dogs with even mild cases of elbow dysplasia will usually experience pain in the affected elbow joint, and those with severe cases will often experience serious secondary injuries of that joint. If untreated, both hip and elbow dysplasia can sometimes lead to severe arthritis. Treatment usually consists of anti-inflammatory medications, surgery or both.
Labrador retrievers are also prone to certain diseases of the eye, specifically cataracts, retinal dysplasia and progressive retinal atrophy. A cataract, as in humans, is a clouding of the eye's lens, which, left untreated, can lead to lens-induced uveitis, luxation or glaucoma. Cataract-removal surgery is one option; however, it is not often necessary, and anti-inflammatory eye drops will prevent the cataract from causing other eye problems. Retinal dysplasia is essentially a retinal malformation that can cause anything from mild visual impairment to total blindness. It is untreatable and often accompanied by cataracts. Progressive retinal atrophy is a deterioration of the retina over time. Dogs with this disease will initially experience night-blindness, which progresses to total blindness, typically within a year. There is no cure for this disease, but antioxidant supplements may slow down the blinding process.
One of the most common diseases contracted by Labrador retrievers is muscular dystrophy. There are several forms of the disease affecting dogs, all of them characterised by a deficiency of the protein dystrophin, which stabilises muscle membranes. Canine muscular dystrophy primarily affects male dogs. Symptoms are usually apparent by the time an affected dog is 8 weeks old, and include weakness, stiff walking posture, excessive drooling, intolerance to exercise, tongue enlargement, difficulty swallowing, muscle spasms and difficulty breathing. Depending on the type of muscular dystrophy and the presence or absence of associated complications, some affected dogs die within days of, or even before diagnosis, while others may live for several years. There is no cure and no proven treatment, aside from the use of steroids, which can sometimes slow the progression of the disease. However, recent studies have indicated a strong possibility of success in treating canine muscular dystrophy with stem cells.