Life is short for chocolate Labradors


Researchers uncover a surprising link between coat colour and lifespan. Andrew Masterson reports.


Awwww ... very cute, but not, it turns out, likely to be very long lived.

Awwww ... very cute, but not, it turns out, likely to be very long lived.

Saso Kos / EyeEm / Getty Images

Chocolate-coloured Labradors might have a certain high street cachet, but they tend to die younger and get sicker than their yellow or black peers.

That’s the surprising finding arising from a study of more than 33,000 Labrador retrievers registered on a UK veterinary database.

The study, led by Paul McGreevy from the University of Sydney in Australia, tracked demographic information for all the Labs registered on the UK branch of a registry called VetCompass in 2013, and then drilled down into disorder and mortality data for a random sample of 2074 of them.

The results showed a consistent pattern: chocolate Labs performed more poorly than yellow or black ones on almost every measure. The brown variety accounts for just over 23% of Britain’s Lab cohort.

Just over 61% of the sampled dogs had at least one disorder recorded on the vet database, the most common of which was a form of ear infection called otitis externa, followed by obesity and degenerative joint disease.

Getting fat was a colour neural condition – affecting almost 9% of the dogs – but the ear condition was considerably more common in those with chocolate coats. The condition was recorded in 12.8% of black animals, 17% of yellow ones, and 23.4% of brown ones.

Dermatitis was another condition that was colour-coded, being almost four times more prevalent in chocolate Labs.

“Skin and ear disease were significantly more common in chocolate dogs than in black or yellow dogs,” McGreevy and his colleagues write in a paper published in the journal Canine Genetics and Epidemiology.

They key finding, however, related to lifespan. Non-chocolate-coloured Labradors lived for an average of 12.1, while chocolate ones tended to peg out at 10.7 years.

Owners of black and yellow Labs, however, can take heart. According to another paper published in the same journal the average lifespan of their pets is one of the longest in the dog world.

Using data from the UK Kennel Club a team of researchers set out to map the longevity of all dog breeds.

The results found that West Highland Terriers were, overall, the longest lived breed, with an average age at death of 12.7 years. Dobermann Pinschers were the shortest lived, dying at an average age of 7.6 years.

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  1. https://cgejournal.biomedcentral.com/
  2. https://cgejournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s40575-018-0066-8
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