There are several different health problems that affect the Labrador retriever throughout their life. Some are easy to spot and others may go undiagnosed until it's too late to really help the dog. It would be nice if all dogs were the same so we would always know what to expect. Unfortunately, this is not the case as many of the health ailments the Labrador retriever (as well as other dogs) develops are hereditary. This answers many of the questions about why one Labrador is perfectly healthy and another got seriously ill in his or her lifetime.
One of the most common health ailments that affect the Labrador retriever is hip Dysplasia. Canine hip Dysplasia, which is a skeletal problem, is a malformation of the hips when the hip joints experience excessive looseness. This is a result of the head of the femur not being snug in the pelvic socket as it should be. The cup of the hip joint (acetabulum) is shallow and changes in the shape of the ball of the hip joint (femoral head). The hip Dysplasia may be mild or very severe. Often the Labrador can have hip Dysplasia and show no symptoms or he may develop severe arthritis from the disease. When they do show symptoms, the symptoms are usually pain or becoming lame in one or both legs. When there is malformation in the entire hip joint, the Dysplasia is severe as well as the pain and it progresses quickly to death.
Although hip Dysplasia is an inherited disease, there are certain things that can also contribute to the Lab getting the disease such as trauma or excessive growth. Many times young dogs under the age of two that do a lot of jumping (on to pick up trucks, over fences, etc) are more prone to developing hip Dysplasia because their hip joints are not yet fully grown, but are being stretched and worked beyond their young capabilities.
As a rule, the first symptoms may appear before the Labradors' first birthday and will manifest themselves in an irregular gait. It may look as if the dog is limping. Labradors affected at a young age may improve with treatment, but the chance of them developing arthritis when they get older is very high. If an owner suspects their Labrador may have hip Dysplasia, they can have the hips x-rayed as young as 4 or 5 months of age. However, veterinarians prefer that the dog be at least two years old so their hips are fully developed. Females should be not x-rayed within four weeks either way of her heat as the hormones may give a false positive result.
The results of the x-ray are sent to the Orthopedic Foundation of America, where it will be read and graded. If you are getting a Labrador retriever, ask to see the registration papers of the parents to see if they've been certified as not having the disease. Although the disease doesn't take away from the lovable qualities of the Labrador, you may not want to worry about him getting sick.