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Most Common Health Problems

There are many health issues that Labradors can suffer from. Responsible breeders try to eliminate as many of these as possible. We make every attempt here at Dawson Labradors to breed healthy, sound dogs. However, we understand that many diseases, defects, and disorders are polygenic (multiple gene involvement) and it is impossible to breed perfect dogs. We are grateful to have the testing available to help us identify many congenital defects and diseases and have spent countless hours and resources attempting to eliminate these problems from our breeding program. Generally speaking, the two most common problems seen in Labradors are in their eyes and joints.

We are going to cover these but in no way are we trying to say that these are the only potential problems a Lab can have. Like most breeds, Labs can have epilepsy, allergies, heart murmurs, OCD, and the list goes on. The good news is that these other potential problems are rare and breeders have done such a great job over the past few decades that we have almost eliminated these problems. Of course, we are referring to the Labs that are bred by reputable breeders and not the ones being bred by backyard breeders or puppy mills, without clearances or concern for health or genetics.

CERF Exam All breeding dogs at Dawson Labs are examined by a veterinary ophthalmologist board certified by the American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists (ACVO). The findings are forwarded to the Canine Eye Registry Foundation (CERF) for their research.
An eye certification exam consists of a thorough examination of the eye from all directions. First, the pupil and iris are examined for any abnormalities, such as small holes called iris colobomas. Then the pupils are dilated with eye drops called tropicamide. Once the pupil is well dilated the examiner will usually illuminate the eye with a penlight or transilluminator as he looks for large, obvious abnormalities. The eye is then examined in detail with a slit-lamp biomicroscope that will reveal any smaller abnormalities located in the cornea, lens, anterior chamber, and front region of the vitreous.

The types of defects that may be noticed during this part of the exam include cataracts (opacity of the lens), imperforate puncta (unopened tear ducts), distichia (extra eyelashes) corneal dystrophy (cholesterol development in the cornea), persistent pupillary membranes, persistent hyaloid remnants, and vitreal degeneration.

The last step uses an ophthalmoscope and a focusing lens to examine the retina or fundus. This part of the examination may reveal such problems as Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA), Retinal Dysplasia, colobomas, choroidal hypoplasia, optic nerve hypoplasia (Collie Eye Anomaly), and retinal detachment.

All dogs used for breeding should have annual CERF exams, especially if any recognized heritable eye disorder is known to be present in the breed. Reputable breeders will have puppies examined before being sold if the breed is known to have any early onset, heritable eye disorders.

Progressive retinal atrophy or degeneration (PRA or PRD) is the name for several diseases that are progressive and lead to blindness. First recognized at the beginning of the 20th century in Gordon Setters, this inherited condition has been documented in over 100 breeds, and mixed breed animals as well.

Normally, the photoreceptors in the retinas develop after birth to about 8 weeks of age. The retinas of dogs with PRA either have arrested development (retinal dysplasia) or early degeneration of the photoreceptors. Retinal dysplastic dogs are usually affected within two months of birth and maybe completely blind by one year. Dogs with retinal degeneration are affected from one year to eight years of age and the symptoms progress slowly.
PRA worsens over time. The affected animal experiences night blindness initially because the rods are affected first. The condition progresses to failed daytime vision. There is no cure for PRA. Fortunately, testing is available. In the last several years, DNA is being used to identify which genes are responsible for PRA. In one form of PRA called ‘rod cone dysplasia 1′ (rcd1), which affects Irish Setters, the gene mutation has been identified.

Hip Dysplastic
Like most large, heavy breeds, the Labrador is prone to have a genetic predisposition to Canine Hip Dysplasia (CHD). Canine hip dysplasia has puzzled researchers for the past 50 years. Although certain aspects of this degenerative, sometimes painful condition are now understood, much must still be learned about helping afflicted dogs and preventing the increasing incidence of the disease. Originally, the only means at the breeder’s disposal was to look at the dog’s movement in order to judge whether the hips seemed sound. But many dogs with wretched movement never develop hip problems, and dogs with excellent movement can develop the degenerative joint disease (DJD) of the hip joint.

Hip dysplasia literally means an abnormality in the development of the hip joint. It is characterized by a shallow acetabulum (the “cup” of the hip joint) and changes in the shape of the femoral head (the “ball” of the hip joint). These changes may occur due to excessive laxity in the hip joint. Hip dysplasia can exist with or without clinical signs. It may or may not be bilateral (affecting both the right and left hip joints) . When dogs exhibit clinical signs of this problem they usually are lame on one or both rear limbs. Severe arthritis can develop as a result of the malformation of the hip joint and this results in pain as the disease progresses. Many young dogs exhibit pain during or shortly after the growth period, often before arthritic changes appear to be present. It is not unusual for this pain to appear to disappear for several years and then to return when arthritic changes become obvious.
Hip dysplasia is a developmental condition and is not considered a congenital anomaly.
Dogs with hip dysplasia appear to be born with normal hips and then develop the disease later. This has led to a lot of speculation as to the contributing factors which may be involved with this disease. This is an inherited condition, but not all dogs with the genetic tendency will develop clinical signs and the degree of hip dysplasia that develops does not always seem to correlate well with expectations based on the parent’s condition. Unlike many other genetic disorders, however, the occurrence of hip dysplasia cannot be traced to a single gene; it is polygenic (caused by many genes). As with other polygenic disorders, environmental factors play a 50% role in the expression and degree of hip dysplasia. Dogs with no genetic predisposition do not develop hip dysplasia.

In recent studies, it has been observed that 2 out of 10 puppies born of so-called HD-free parents will develop hip dysplasia. The risk increases to 5 out of 10 if one of the parents does in fact have hip dysplasia; 8 out of 10 will risk developing hip dysplasia if both parents are afflicted.

At present, the strongest link to contributing factors other than genetic predisposition appears to be to rapid growth and weight gain. In a recent study done on Labrador retrievers, a significant reduction in the development of clinical hip dysplasia occurred in a group of puppies fed 25% less than a control group that was allowed to eat free choice. It is likely that the laxity in the hip joints is aggravated by the rapid weight gain.

Elbow Dysplasia¨
Elbow dysplasia is a general term used to identify an inherited polygenic disease in the elbow of dogs. Elbow dysplasia has multiple inherited etiologies which may occur singularly or in combination. These etiologies include fragmented medial coronoid (FCP) of the ulna, osteochondritis of the medial humeral condyle, and ununited anconeal process (UAP). The most sensitive view used to diagnose secondary degenerative changes in the elbow joint is an extreme flexed mediolateral view of the elbow which is required by the OFA and recommended by the International Elbow Working Group. Veterinary radiologists are most interested in the appearance of the anconeal process of the ulna.

When there is the instability of the elbow joint due to elbow dysplasia, one of the most sensitive radiographic findings is new bone proliferation (osteophytes) on the anconeal process of the ulna associated with secondary developmental degenerative joint disease.