A dog that resembles brown, thick and rich milk chocolate with eyes to match is a very popular breed. One look and many people are hooked for life. Yet, these chocolate colored pets may not be alive as long as some of their non-chocolate retriever counterparts. A new Canine Medicine and Genetics study associates the shortened life expectancy of chocolate lab dogs with their color. The breed’s chocolate variety is susceptible to many health problems that their counterparts who happen to don a different color don’t experience. These health issues can prove serious to the dog’s well being and life span.
The Royal Veterinary College in London in correlation with researchers at the University of Sydney, Australia looked at the data from more than 33,000 Labrador Retrievers who are registered with vets in the UK. The results of the study has been published in the Journal Canine Genetics and Epidemiology. They discovered that Labrador Retrievers who have the nice, popular chocolate look tend to live at least one year less than most retrievers do. The average life expectancy for a typical Labrador is 12.1 years. However, those with the chocolate brown coats averaged less of a lifespan, most not living to see 11 years.
While a year less of life may sound minimal, they also tend to suffer from a few ailments that make the years they do have to live more difficult. Chocolate Labrador Retrievers tend to fall prey to obesity, especially among neutered males. Additionally, labs of the deliciously brown coat variety also tend to suffer from joint conditions and ear infections.
The health issues and shorter lifespan are thought to be due to a specific gene that is responsible for creating the chocolate colored coat. This gene that produces the chocolate brown coat is a recessive gene, which in and of itself is not necessarily a life-threatening problem. However, when the dog is bred, two chocolate lab parents are needed to produce the popular tinted pups. This means that both dog parents must also contain the recessive gene that produces the chocolate color. The result is that the gene pool is reduced producing a higher amount of the genes that are susceptible to skin and ear issues. Their increased popularity has created a huge demand that narrows the gene pool even more. This, in turn, increases the risk of developing problems caused by genetic disease.
If there’s any good news to these findings, it may be that the dogs studied were those who had visited the veterinary office where the research was conducted. Since they were already at the vet, they may have been at the vet’s office because they were already sick or visiting the vet to address an ongoing health concern that could happen to any animal. So, we do not know if an adequate proportion of healthy dogs were also studied to draw a complete conclusion that chocolate labs have a shorter lifespan than other Retrievers. Regardless, it is good to understand the potential health concerns that could come with a specialty bred dog you are looking to own as a pet.