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When deciding on the right breed to add to your family, there are a ton of considerations to be made. I love large breed dogs, but they tend to have shorter lifespans when compared to smaller dogs. In addition, Labradors can have lots of health issues that can shorten their lives.
While you can’t predict everything, there are some things you can prepare for to give your Lab the greatest chance for long life. If you’re considering getting a Labrador or already have one, knowing their typical life spans and what they usually die from is vital to prepare yourself and your Lab. Additionally, learning how cancer and spaying/neutering can affect them and the signs of death will help keep your Lab alive as comfortable as possible.
What is a Lab’s Lifespan?
For a large dog breed, Labrador Retrievers generally have long lifespans. On average, the Labrador Retriever breed lives about 10 to 12 years. However, there are many things that can affect a Labrador’s lifespan, such as weight, breeding background, activeness, food quality, environmental factors, bone strength, genetics, and general health.
On average, Chocolate Labradors have shorter lifespans than their yellow, champagne, white, and black breed mates. Since Chocolate Labradors were the perfect color for hunting, breeders used to target the color over all others. Due to this targeted breeding, the genetic diversity in chocolate Labs is much lower than in other colors.
This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t get a chocolate Labrador because they will die sooner. Chocolate Labs are just as great as the other colors despite rumors about the color. When considering any color of Labrador, make sure you talk to different reputable breeders to ensure you are getting a Lab that isn’t coming from an unhealthy genetic history.
What Do Labradors Usually Die From?
Before modern genetics research, many breeders did not know how crossing specific genes in dogs could have adverse effects for future generations. Many breeders looked at the physical aspects of two dogs and bred them to strengthen those physical attributes in their offspring. This often did more harm than good as non-compatible or genetically similar dogs were bred together, which caused less genetic diversity in the breed and shorten the lifespan of the breed. I recommend using Embark DNA testing to see if your Lab has a predisposition for any issues.
Due to the lack of genetic diversity in Labrador Retrievers as a purebred breed, Labs have predispositions to almost 70 different diseases. This doesn’t mean that your Lab will die from one of them, but some are more common than others. For example, most Labrador Retrievers die from cancer, degenerative joint disease, obesity, and otitis externa.
A study that focused on causes of death in Labrador and Golden Retrievers showed that 70% of dogs carry cancer genes. One of the most common cancers in retrievers, the study focused on, is mast cell tumors. The study also found that retrievers with two copies of the gene are four times as likely to develop cancer. We will go into further detail about the signs of cancer in a bit.
Degenerative Joint Disease
Since Labradors are such a large breed of dog, there is much more weight and stress on their joints. As Labradors age, these stressors cause their joints to deteriorate. The two most common degenerative joint diseases in Labrador Retrievers are arthritis and hip dysplasia.
While degenerative joint disease can occur in any dog, it is very common in obese and unhealthy dogs. If your dog is obese, they are putting more weight on their joints than the joints are designed for. To help prevent degenerative joint disease, feed them a healthy diet and try to limit the amount of jumping on and off things.
Arthritis is the result of two bones in a joint rubbing together constantly for an extended period of time. Cartilage separates and connects the two bones at their meeting place in a healthy joint. However, when a dog is obese or has put a lot of stress on their joints, the cartilage can break down, allowing the two bones to meet. When two bones rub together over time, it can cause inflammation, stiffness in the joint, and intense pain.
Understanding hip dysplasia starts with understanding how the hip works. A dog’s hip is a ball and socket joint. If you can picture a baseball and a glove, the hip looks like that. The “ball” smoothly moves around in the “glove when a dog walks.”
When a dog develops hip dysplasia, it is because the ball and socket do not fit together or didn’t develop properly. As a result, instead of moving smoothly, the bones grind against each other. Over time the bones will painfully break down against each other and eventually stop moving.
Obesity can shorten a dog’s lifespan exponentially. No Labrador Retriever is bred to be overweight. While they may look cute with their chunky necks and rolls, they are actually at higher risk of health issues. Obesity isn’t the direct cause of most Labrador deaths, but it does increase the risk for musculoskeletal disorders and heart disease.
Labradors have a predisposed tendency to overeat, which has led to almost 10% of Labrador Retrievers suffering from obesity. To prevent obesity in your dog, talk with your vet to set up a healthy diet and stick to it! Try not to feed them excess treats and table scraps and give them a high-quality kibble.
Otitis externa is a condition in which the external ear canal is continuously inflamed. This inflammation is not only painful for your dog, but it makes ear infections common. When dirt or water gets into your dog’s ear, they can usually shake or rub it out. However, dirt or water stays inside the inflamed ear canal because the are closes off due to inflammation. This foreign debris can then irritate the ear and cause infections.
Otitis externa affects over 10% of Labrador Retrievers. This condition has a different frequency in the different colors of Labradors. Otitis Externa affects about 13% of black Labradors, 17% of yellow Labradors, and 23.4% chocolate Labradors.
How Long Do Labs Live With Cancer?
It is difficult to predict how long after diagnosis a Labrador will live. Once symptoms become unbearable, most owners decide to euthanize their dogs to end their suffering. On the other hand, some types of cancer can be easily removed with surgery, and the dogs can go on to have a full lifespan.
There are many different types of cancer that Labradors can get, so we will go over the signs of cancer and the most common.
Signs of Cancer
- Lumps and bumps underneath your dog’s skin are the most significant indicators of cancer. If you notice a lump , monitor it and take your dog to the vet if you think it is growing or stays there for a while.
- Abnormal odors coming from your Labrador’s mouths/throat, ears, or other body part indicate cancer.
- Wounds or sores that aren’t healing suggest that your dog’s immune season is fighting off another ailment or has been weakened. If a wound or sore sticks around longer than usual, take your dog to the vet.
- Loss of weight and appetite could mean that your Labrador is fighting cancer. If they have intestinal cancer, they may not be absorbing nutrients properly and may not receive the correct hunger cues. If your dog suddenly drops a lot of weight, take it to the vet because it could be another issue, even if it’s not cancer.
- Coughing or difficulty breathing could mean a tumor is compressing your Labrador’s throat or lungs. A cough every now and then is normal, but if consistent and continuous coughing is occurring, take your dog to the vet.
- Changes in drinking and urinating, either an increase or decrease, could mean your Labrador’s kidney or liver is malfunctions. These types of malfunctions can be due to a tumor or another underlying issue.
- Difficulty swallowing is a significant indicator of a throat obstruction. This could be due to a tumor in the back of the mouth or the esophagus.
- Changes in bathroom habits aside from urination can also indicate cancer. If your Labrador has changes in the frequency and consistency in their number two goings, it may be due to rectal cancer.
- Evidence of pain in areas on your Lab’s body. If your Lab shows pain when you press on the area, you should take them to the vet. This could indicate cancer or another issue such as appendicitis or ulcers.
- Low energy levels and lethargy mean that your Labrador isn’t feeling well. Whether it’s cancer or another illness, lethargy is a common sign of sickness in dogs.
Lifespan of Different Cancers
Spaying and Neutering: Impact on Lifespan
Spaying and neutering your Labrador is a decision that needs to be made carefully and timed correctly to have the best results in prolonging the lifespan. But, first, we will discuss how spaying and neutering affect each gender differently.
Veternarians reccmend spaying a female Labrador after its first heat cycle. This is around six months of age when they weigh about 45 pounds. Since every Labrador develops on its timelines, you should talk with your veterinarian before proceeding with the surgery.
In males, you should wait until they are about two years old and they have fully developed. Once you have neutered your dog, the level of testosterone in your dog will decrease. This will stop sending growth hormones into their bodies. Fixing a Labrador before it is fully developed can prevent them from reaching their full size.
Veternarians recommend a weight of 45 pounds to aid in the healing process. If your Lab is under this weight, it may be malnourished and have a difficult time recovering. This could lead to cancer, infections, and lethargy as their immune system focuses on the would. Don’t worry about waiting too long to do the surgery, as your dog is technically never too old; they will just have a longer recovery period. Spaying/neutering your Lab may improve their lifespan by decreasing the risk of ovarian, mammary, and testicular cancer.
How to Know If Your Lab is Dying
Saying goodbye to your best friend is one of the hardest things to do. While you want to keep your Labrador around as long as possible, you also don’t want to put them through more suffering. If your Lab displays these signs, it might be time to contact your vet to say goodbye.
- The dog is in pain/discomfort (hiding, trembling, panting, loss of mobility, irritability, restlessness, aggression)
- Loss of appetite
- Lack of interest in favorite activities
- Incontinence/decreased grooming
- Loss of mobility
- More bad days than good ones
When you decide it’s time, try to find a home veterinarian who will come to your house. You don’t want your Lab to spend their last moments in a place they are scared of. Even though it’s hard, stay with your Lab during their final moments. Let them know how loved they are until the very end.
- Labrador Retrievers have an average lifespan of about 10 to 12 years.
- Chocolate Labradors have a shorter lifespan by a year compared to other colors.
- The leading cause of death in Labradors are cancer, obesity, otitis externa, and degenerative joint disease.
- Labradors are not meant to be obese, and overfeeding them can decrease their lifespan
- It is difficult to determine how long a Labrador will live after being diagnosed with cancer, and that time will fluctuate depending on the treatment
- Spaying or neutering your Labrador can decrease their chances of getting certain cancers and may increase their lifespan.