Labrador Retrievers – the UK’s most popular dogs – are at higher risk of 12 health problems, with arthritis a particular concern, vets warn

  • Arthritis is the most significant health risk facing the Labrador Retriever, vets say
  • But the breeds faces other conditions include stiffness, obesity and ear infection
  • Compared with other breeds, it’s less at risk of heart murmur and flea infestation

The Labrador Retriever, the UK’s most popular dog breed, is at a ‘significant risk’ of developing at least 12 health conditions, a new study warns.

Scientists at the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) studied health data on the Labrador Retriever compared to several other dog breeds, including Staffordshire Bull Terriers, Shih-tzus and Cocker Spaniels. 

They found that the popular Labrador Retriever, which is renowned for its love of human company, is at a higher risk of 12 out of 35 problems compared with the other breeds. 

Arthritis is the most significant risk to the Labrador Retriever, but it also threatened by Kennel cough, stiffness, obesity and ear infection, the experts found.    

Labrador Retrievers have significantly increased risk of arthritis, obesity and ear infection, but reduced risk of heart murmur, flea infestation and dental disease, among other conditions 


The Labrador Retriever is famously friendly and makes a great family companion. 

They’re good at socialising with neighbour dogs and humans alike. 

The breed is also an enthusiastic athlete that requires lots of exercise, like swimming and fetch, to keep physically and mentally fit.

Read more: American Kennel Club 

The Labrador Retriever has been the most popular dog breed in the UK for many years, but until now, there has been limited reliable evidence on their general health compared with other dogs, according to the RVC. 

To learn more, researchers compared the health of a random sample of 1,462 Labrador Retrievers with 20,786 non-Labrador Retrievers.

The most common breeds amongst the non-Labrador Retrievers group were 1,304 Staffordshire Bull Terriers, 1,168 Jack Russell Terriers, 793 Shih-tzus and 771 Cocker Spaniels, along with 5,981 crossbreeds.

They compiled a list of the 35 most common disorders across both groups of dogs, including arthritis, ear infection and obesity. 

‘Labrador Retrievers are the most popular dog breed in the UK and are therefore commonly seen by veterinarians in practice,’ said Camilla Pegram, epidemiologist at the RVC and author of the study.

‘As a result, disorders are often perceived to be more common in Labrador Retrievers than other dog breeds, when this might actually be due to their relative popularity.

‘To account for this, we compared the risk in Labrador Retrievers to the risk in all other dogs for a range of common disorders, to reliably identify disorders to which they are predisposed or protected.’ 

The findings show that overall, Labrador Retrievers have a higher risk of 12 out of 35 (or 34.3 per cent) and lower risk of seven out of 35 (20 per cent) disorders compared with other breeds. 

In the remaining 16 (45.7 per cent) disorders, the researchers detected no difference in risk.

The top five most significant health threats to Labrador Retrievers were found to be arthritis, lipoma, kennel cough, laceration and stiffness.

In terms of least threat to the breed, at the bottom of the pile was patellar luxation (a dislocated kneecap), followed by heart murmur and flea infestation.


 Labrador Retrievers have significantly increased risk of: 

– Arthritis (2.8x risk compared with other breeds)

– Lipoma (fatty mass) (2.5x)

– Kennel cough (2.3x)

– Laceration (2.2x)

– Stiffness (2.1x)

– Papilloma (or oral warts) (1.7x)

– Moist dermatitis (1.7x)

– Obesity (1.6x)

– Lameness (1.6x)

– Post-operative wound (1.6x)

– Ear infection (1.5x)  

– Diarrhoea (1.4x) 


Labrador Retrievers have reduced risk of:

– Patellar luxation (dislocated kneecap) (0.2x)

– Heart murmur (0.2x)

– Flea infestation (0.2x)

– Retained deciduous tooth (0.3x)

– Dental disease (0.4x)

– Aggression (0.4x)

– Anal sac impaction (0.7x)


The study, which has been published in Scientific Reports, provides owners with guidance over what health issues to look out for in order to seek veterinary advice as soon as possible. 

‘This data enables us to continue to monitor and improve the breed’s health and provide the many responsible breeders with the tools they need to do the same,’ said Bill Lambert, Health, welfare and breeder services executive at The Kennel Club

‘There are estimated to be well over one million Labradors in the UK, and whilst it’s important to remember that this study is just a small percentage of these dogs that have visited a vet, it remains a valuable addition to our Kennel Club breed-specific research base which protects Labrador health, both now and in the future.’

Previous research from the RVC has already revealed that the Labrador Retriever is the sixth-highest breed at risk of obesity out of 18 breeds. 

Pictured, an overweight pug, which is the dog breed most at risk of obesity, according to previous research from the Royal Veterinary College (RVC)

The top three breeds at risk of obesity were found to be the Pug, followed by the Beagle and the Golden Retriever.

Owners of these breeds must be ‘especially vigilant’ to protect their dogs from piling on weight, RVC said at the time, by avoiding excessive treats and giving them lots of exercise. 

The Labrador Retriever will benefit from of exercise, like swimming and ‘marathon games of fetch’, to keep physically and mentally fit, according to the American Kennel Club. 

Fat people are more than TWICE as likely to have overweight dogs because they feed their pet pooches fattening treats 

Overweight people are more than twice as likely to have overweight dogs, a 2019 study found.  

The team of Danish study authors said this is at least partly because they are guilty of feeding their pets fattening treats. 

Writing in their study the authors claim this  lends credence to the saying ‘like owner, like dog’.

‘The prevalence of heavy or obese dogs is more than twice as large among overweight or obese owners (35 per cent) than among owners who are slim or of a normal weight (14 per cent),’ the researchers from the University of Copenhagen said.

Of the 268 dogs studied, 20 per cent were found to be overweight.

Average-weight owners tend to use treats for training purposes while overweight owners prefer to provide treats far more often. 

The study’s main author, Charlotte Bjornvad, said: ‘For example, when a person is relaxing on the couch and shares the last bites of a sandwich or a cookie with their dog.’ 

The University of Copenhagen study also showed that castration tripled the risk of being heavy or obese.

‘Castration seems to decrease the ability to regulate the appetite in male dogs and at the same time, it might also decrease the incentive to exercise which results in an increased risk of becoming overweight,’ Professor Bjornvad said.

Separate research published earlier this year found pet dogs who are overweight from too many treats could see their lives shortened by more than two years, a study has found.

Researchers tracked more than 50,000 dogs from the 12 most popular breeds over two decades to see how their weight affected their health.

They found every breed, from shih tzus to golden retrievers, had shorter lives.  

Read more: Overweight dogs live TWO YEARS less than healthy pooches

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