Lab Life Expectancy Influenced by Color

If you own a Labrador retriever, you probably picked him out of the litter or chose him at the shelter without giving much thought to the way the color of his coat would affect his risk for disease and the length of his lifespan. Who worries about that kind of thing when picking out a furry friend, after all? But now there’s new evidence that the color of a dog’s coat may have a significant impact on how his life plays out.

Researchers at the University of Sydney originally took on the study with the goal of determining what diseases labradors are most prone to in an attempt to help breeders select better specimens and eliminate some of the health issues that are common in labs, such as hip dysplasia and obesity.

“The main reason we did the study was to find out what diseases they get,” says lead author Professor Paul McGreevy, “so that we can help breeders prioritise any breeding initiatives to get rid of inherited disorders.”

The researchers collected data from 33,000 labradors living in the United Kingdom, from which they used a random sample of 2,074 dogs.

The factors that influence a dog’s risk of disease, however, were a little bit surprising. It seems that the dog’s color—namely, whether it is black, yellow, or chocolate—says a lot about whether or not it’s likely to develop diseases and die young.

In the study, chocolate labradors were found to have slightly shorter lifespans than their yellow and black cousins, at an average of 10.7 years, compared to 12.1 years. Chocolates were also twice as prone to ear infections and develop four times as many skin diseases as non-chocolates.

“It was a surprise to find that these chocolate labs are dying 10 percent earlier than the yellow and black [labradors],” says Professor McGreevy.

The researchers have come up with a theory on the data, however. The chocolate color is a recessive trait, so breeders of chocolate labs have a much smaller gene pool to work with. And a smaller gene pool comes with a high probability of passing on genes that increase the risk of disease.

“This is a recessive gene that people have quite rightly found very appealing and obviously there has been a demand for it,” says Professor McGreevy. “But you have to breed from dogs that carry the gene; both parents have to carry the gene to have chocolate puppies. We may have taken our eye off some of the health [issues] and instead focused on colour.”

Researchers cannot confirm whether this longevity applies to all labradors or only those in the UK. But either way, you’re not likely to see chocolate labs disappear anytime soon, and it certainly isn’t a reason to avoid adopting one. All colors and breeds of dogs deserve loving homes!

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Elizabeth Morey graduated summa cum laude from Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, MI, where she dual majored in English Literature and Spanish with minors in Writing and Business Administration. She was a member of the school's Insignis Honors Society and the president of the literary honors society Lambda Iota Tau.

Some of Elizabeth's special interests include Spanish and English linguistics, modern grammar and spelling, and journalism. She has been writing professionally for more than five years and specializes in health topics such as breast cancer, autism, diabetes, and Alzheimer's disease. Apart from her work at GreaterGood, she has also written art and culture articles for the Grand Rapids Magazine.

Elizabeth has lived in the beautiful Great Lakes State for most of her life but also loves to travel. She currently resides a short drive away from the dazzling shores of Lake Michigan with her beloved husband.

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