Strong, smart, playful, and friendly, Labrador Retrievers are lovable companions. But like all breeds, they have their vulnerabilities. Knowing the health risks that affect your Lab can make early detection and prevention easier, and keep him feeling like top dog.
Hip Dysplasia: A painful condition
Many large breeds are prone to an inherited disease called Hip Dysplasia, and your Lab is no exception. This disease causes abnormal formation of the hip joint, resulting in instability and arthritis. Pain and lameness ensue as the disease progresses.
Hip Dysplasia can be treated by your veterinarian, generally with oral medication or injections. Surgery has been successful, too. Aspiring Lab owners can also now obtain a "hip score" for a puppy's parents from responsible breeders who perform this screen. Since Hip Dysplasia is genetic, a favorable hip score suggests a low incidence of the disease being passed to offspring. However, multiple genes are involved, so even parents with good hip conformation can produce affected puppies.
Labs can become overweight easily, and these added pounds can actually worsen the effects of Hip Dysplasia.
Other health concerns from nose to tail
Watch what they eat. Labs love to eat as much as they love to play. But their sidewalk scavenging and garbage picking can be hazardous to their health. Remove unknown food objects from their mouths immediately to avoid stomach problems and illness. And watch your dog's caloric intake.
Ear Infections. Long, floppy ears that cover a dog's ear canal can trap warm, moist air. This is the perfect breeding ground for bacteria and infection. Consider cleaning your Lab's ears frequently, or as recommended by our veterinarian. Clean dog ears by using a simple cotton ball and doggie ear wash, available at many pet stores. Gently scrub the inside of the ear flap, getting inside folds and crannies without poking too deeply into the ear canal. If you ever detect a foul odor from the ear or notice any discharge or unusual buildup, see your vet immediately. An infection is probably the cause and must be treated professionally.
Swim Tail. Natural swimmers, Labradors use their tails as rudders and stabilizers in the water. But overuse can actually cause the tail to become sore and swollen. You might even see a kink in your Lab's tail. While uncomfortable for your dog, this is not a serious condition and usually corrects with rest. Sometimes a veterinarian will prescribe an anti-inflammatory medication for relief.
Laryngeal Paralysis. Seen in middle-aged and senior Labs, this canine illness partially paralyzes the muscles of the voice box. The result is a muffled bark, noisy or labored breathing, and a reduced tolerance for exercise. This can be a life-threatening problem and may require surgical treatment.
You can also talk to your veterinarian about a Lab-specific preventive health plan to help minimize illnesses and ailments that affect your favorite dog.
As your dog ages, you’ll likely notice changes in your best pal’s energy levels, routine and even muzzle. Older pets may require adjustments to help them get around, exercise and live their best life as a senior. One important aspect of caring for a dog entering their golden years is diet.
When it comes to diet, every dog has unique, individual needs, regardless of age. So, there's no one easy answer to the question of soft food versus hard food. Both types of food can provide your dog with the nutrition they need — as long as you feed your dog a high-quality dog food that’s nutritionally balanced and complete.
Signs Your Senior Dog May Benefit from Wet Food
If your dog has very specific health concerns, such as aging joints or weight issues, consult with your vet for more information about what type of food best addresses your dog's needs. That being said, there are a few reasons why you may consider switching your senior dog to soft food.
As your dog gets older, their teeth may become more sensitive, which can make chewing kibble more difficult and even uncomfortable. Switching to a soft food can help to alleviate your pet’s oral discomfort when eating.
However, if your dog is experiencing serious pain at mealtime from a condition like tooth decay or gingivitis, switching to soft food won't remedy the problem. Make sure you talk to your vet about oral care and dental treatment.
Digestion begins in the mouth with saliva, so if your dog has a tendency to scarf down meals, they may not be adequately chewing the food or adding enough saliva to it. Soft food can aid with digestion because it's more easily chewed.
It’s no surprise that wet food has a higher moisture content when compared to dry kibble. If your senior pup is prone to urinary-tract issues or simply needs a little help staying hydrated, canned dog food may be a good choice.
Aging dogs tend to have a slower metabolic rate compared to their younger years, which puts them at a higher risk of becoming overweight or obese. Many nutritionally balanced wet dog foods offer high protein content with fewer carbs than dry food, which can benefit older dogs with slower metabolism. Always talk to your vet if you have concerns about your pup’s weight.
While wet food may be less than appetizing to humans, the opposite is true for dogs! If your aging best friend has started turning their snout up to dry food, wet food tends to be more appealing to picky eaters. Mixing wet food and kibble offers your pup a variety of flavors and textures; try adding wet food as a topper on dry food for a real treat!
Whether you choose dry food, soft food or a mix of both, ask your vet before making any transition. And when it's time to switch your dog's food, remember to do it slowly — even if it's the same brand and flavor — to help prevent stomach upset and allow your dog time to adjust.