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13 Common Labrador Health Issues to Look Out For: Vet Approved Guide

Written by: Nicole Cosgrove

Last Updated on June 23, 2024 by Dogster Team

Common Labrador Health Issues to Look Out For

13 Common Labrador Health Issues to Look Out For: Vet Approved Guide


Dr. Lorna Whittemore  Photo


Dr. Lorna Whittemore

BVMS, MRCVS (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Labradors are among the most popular dogs and make excellent family pets and great companions. They are always there to put a smile on your face and never fail to entertain you. What happens when your furry friend is feeling under the weather?

There are several medical conditions that Labradors may experience. In this article, you’ll learn more about the issues your pup may face and what can be done about them.

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The 13 Common Labrador Health Issues

1. Luxating Patella

When a dog is suffering from a luxating patella, their kneecap does not stay in the correct position. It is a common condition, but it’s especially prevalent in Labrador Retrievers. When the kneecap shifts away from its proper place, it usually moves inward toward the inner side of the knee. Occasionally, the kneecap will shift outward, but that is less common.

The signs of a luxating patella include limping, skipping gait, standing in a bow-legged stance, hunching the lower back, or clunking sounds when the leg is bent. Sometimes, your dog may make a pained noise when the injury has occurred, but other times, they may not show any discomfort.


If medical management is a viable option, your vet may temporarily restrict activity, prescribe anti-inflammatory medications, or establish a weight-loss goal if needed. They may then advise physiotherapy to strengthen the thigh muscles.

In more severe instances, surgery may be the only option. As with any surgical procedure, it has risks and benefits. One risk is that the luxating patella will return since resurgence rates can be up to 36%. Other less common problems include fractures, infections, and progressive arthritis.

Based on your dog’s breed and the severity of their case, your vet can explain the specific risks in more depth.

black labrador sitting on grass
Image Credit: bo7618, Pixabay

2. Distichiasis

Distichiasis occurs when an eyelash grows from an abnormal place on the eyelid. When this happens, the eyelash may contact and damage the eye, specifically the cornea or conjunctiva. If your Lab struggles with this condition, they can experience constant eye rubbing, a twitching eyelid, an overflow of tears, increased blood vessels inside the cornea, and possibly even corneal ulcers.


Generally speaking, treatment is needed to remove the abnormally positioned eyelashes. Sometimes, lubricant eye medications will be sufficient to protect the eye. Surgical intervention may be necessary, especially if the eyelashes are causing damage or pain. Consult your vet and discuss the best possible options for your pet’s health and comfort.

3. Canine Hip Dysplasia

Canine hip dysplasia occurs during your dog’s growth stages and results in an improperly formed hip joint on one or both sides. This can lead to pain and poor operation of the joint. Eventually, it can result in other conditions, such as arthritis and muscle atrophy. Hip dysplasia is thought to be caused by a combination of genetics, nutrition, and exercise in a young dog.

Signs of hip dysplasia include limping, cracking sounds from the joints, skipping when running, struggling to stand, awkward sitting positions, and difficulty climbing stairs.


If caught early enough, the condition can be managed with medications. However, surgery may be needed for severe hip dysplasia. The surgery can be significantly more accessible and less invasive for younger dogs. For adult dogs, it is more likely that a total hip replacement or a femoral head osteotomy will be required.

labrador retriever pooping on the grass
Image By: Wasitt Hemwarapornchai, Shutterstock

4. Osteochondritis Dissecans

When cartilage at the end of a bone is malformed during joint development, it may become diseased and tear from the bone. This is an inflammatory condition that occurs known as osteochondritis dissecans (OCD or OD). It may impact the elbow, hip, or knee, but the shoulder is the most common location.

If you think your dog may have this condition, look for signs of lameness, limping, or swelling and heat at the site of the joint.


In less severe instances, your lab can heal if it rests and is restricted from activity for several weeks. Your vet can decide which level of activity your dog should have at the time. Medications may be prescribed to help with inflammation and the health of the joint, and physical therapy exercises may be recommended.

If this approach does not solve the issue, surgery may be required.

5. Exercise-Induced Collapse

It won’t be hard to guess if your Lab has suffered from exercise-induced collapse. If your pet has suddenly collapsed after a significant amount of activity or excitement, it could be the cause. Depending on the dog, exercise-induced collapse can be a chronic or random issue, but it’s not difficult to interpret the warning signs before the collapse.

Key indications that your pup isn’t well are an unsteady or forced gait, weak rear limbs, and a lack of coordination. If these signs are ignored, your dog can collapse and experience mobility issues.

When this happens, most dogs are alert. However, some may be dazed. After the collapse, the signs may worsen for a few minutes before recovery.


Most dogs will recover on their own in a short time, up to 25 minutes. They should not be in pain during or after the recovery. If the condition persists or your dog is in pain, contact your vet.

labrador retriever dog playing in the beach
Image Credit: DragoNika, Shutterstock

6. Diabetes

Diabetes can affect dogs just as it affects humans. It cannot be cured, but it can be managed. Insulin-deficiency diabetes occurs when your pup cannot create enough insulin, and insulin-resistant diabetes happens when your dog’s body cannot use the insulin as it should.

Signs may include extreme thirst, increased urination, weight loss, and a higher appetite. If the diabetes is advanced, other effects can include a loss of appetite, less energy, depression, and vomiting.


There are three main ways to treat your dog’s diabetes: diet, exercise, and medical injections. To work with your dog’s diet, talk to your vet. They can provide the best meal plan for your pup to help you manage their diabetes.

Keep your dog active. Regular, consistent exercise can prevent fluctuating glucose levels. Though it may sound daunting, most diabetic dogs need daily insulin shots from their owners. Thankfully, it is not a complex process, and your vet can teach you everything you need to know.

7. Muscular dystrophy

If your dog has muscular dystrophy, they inherited it from one of their ancestors. The genetic disease causes irregularities in the structure and function of the muscles. Signs that your dog may have muscular dystrophy are an awkward gait, a lower tolerance to activity, and a loss of muscle mass.

Their bones may protrude more than a normal dog’s, making the spine, ribs, and skull more prominent. The dog’s appetite can also be affected if the esophagus does not process food properly.


Unfortunately, muscular dystrophy has no known treatment. Although many experimental treatments are being investigated, none of them are approved. Thankfully, this is not a common condition.

A sad labrador lies on the floor
Image Credit: Pernataya, Shutterstock

8. Tricuspid Valve Dysplasia

Tricuspid valve dysplasia is a congenital heart defect caused by the irregular development of the tricuspid valve. When the valves do not close properly, blood can leak through them in the wrong direction. A vet may recognize the condition if they can detect a heart murmur. The valve dysplasia could go unnoticed until the heartbeats become irregular or the dog displays signs of heart failure.


For treatment, medical therapy can improve the animal’s quality of life. It can delay congestive heart failure and help manage fluid accumulation. You may be referred to a veterinary cardiologist.

9. Entropion

Entropion occurs when the eyelid turns inward, which causes the eyelashes to scratch against the eye’s cornea. Among dogs, it is the most prevalent eyelid condition. Signs of entropion include teary eyes, mucus or pus discharge from the eyes, discomfort, and redness. Your dog also may try to keep the afflicted eye closed.


Surgery is often required to treat the condition if there is no other primary cause, such as dry eye or conjunctivitis. Of course, there are risks to the surgical procedure, though they are rare. The main issues that may arise after surgery are over and under-correction complications.

Image Credit: Christoph Sengstschmid, Pixabay

10. Progressive Retinal Atrophy

Progressive retinal atrophy (PRA) is a serious condition. It occurs when several degenerative conditions impact photoreceptor cells in the eye. The cells break down over time and will eventually cause blindness.

The signs are difficult to discern, but you may notice your pet growing anxious at night, becoming apprehensive about dark places, or crashing into objects or people when there is little light. Their eyes may be much more reflective in light, and the pupils may be more dilated.


Unfortunately, there is no treatment for this condition.

11. Hot Spots

Hot spots are sores on the skin that have become inflamed when your dog scratches. They ooze and contain pus, and they often occur on the head, legs, and hips. Hot spots are painful, irritating, and smelly. If you notice your dog licking or scratching a particular spot frequently, they may have a hot spot. Check the area (it may be hidden by fur) for a sore red area of moist dermatitis.


First, your dog must be prevented from inflicting further damage on the spot. A cone keeps them from licking the area. You can contact your vet about receiving medications to reduce itching. Soon, the injury should heal, and the pain and discomfort will disappear.

If hot spots keep appearing on your dog, there may be an underlying reason that causes them to scratch more often, such as allergies.

labrador by the pool
Image By: mferman24, Pixabay

12. Hypothyroidism

Hypothyroidism is when the thyroid is not as active as it should be, leading to reduced metabolism. The condition has two leading causes: lymphocytic thyroiditis and idiopathic thyroid gland atrophy. Lymphocytic thyroiditis is believed to be an auto-immune disease in which the immune system mistakenly recognizes the thyroid as a foreign object and attacks it.

For idiopathic thyroid gland atrophy, tissues in the thyroid are replaced with fat tissues. Signs of hypothyroidism include weight gain, lethargy, intolerance to the cold, increased shedding, abnormal dark spots in the skin, excessive skin and ear infections, inability to grow fur, higher blood cholesterol, and a slower heart rate.


The condition can be treated, but it cannot be cured. To treat it, your dog needs thyroid replacement hormone supplements, and they must take them for the rest of their life.

13. Cataracts

Like humans, your dog can develop cataracts. They develop when proteins in the eye form into a cloudy substance in the lens, making vision difficult or impossible. If you notice a cloudiness in your dog’s eyes, or they are bumping into things more often, take the dog to see the vet for an eye inspection. Your vet can determine if they have cataracts.


Surgery is the only way to remove cataracts. If any underlying conditions may have caused the cataracts, your vet will investigate and help you develop a plan to prevent them from returning.



Although you cannot protect your Labrador Retriever from every condition we discussed, you can reduce their chances of suffering from one by providing a healthy diet, daily exercise, regular veterinary checkups, and plenty of love. You can also speak to your veterinarian for diet tips, grooming instructions, and everyday care advice. With your vet’s help, you can ensure your incredible Lab lives a long, happy life.

Featured Image Credit: My July, Shutterstock

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