ARC-funded researcher, Professor Paul McGreevy, and his research team at The University of Sydney, in collaboration with the Royal Veterinary College (UK), has revealed that the life expectancy of increasingly popular chocolate Labrador retrievers is much lower than their black or yellow counterparts.

The study of more than 33,000 United Kingdom-based Labrador retrievers of all colours shows chocolate Labradors also have a higher incidence of ear infections and skin disease. Part of the ARC Linkage Infrastructure, Equipment and Facilities (LIEF) scheme-supported VetCompass™ Programme, which collects and analyses demographic and clinical information on dogs in Australia, the research is being replicated in Australia, where Labrador retrievers are the most popular breed of pet dog. The LIEF funding has united all of the nation’s veterinary schools on a single project for the first time.

The research found that the prevalence of pyo-traumatic dermatitis (a skin condition) in black dogs was 1.1%, in yellow dogs it was 1.6%, and this figure rose to 4% in chocolate-coloured dogs. Meanwhile, otitis externa (an ear infection) was found in 12.8% of black dogs, 17% of yellow dogs and 23.4% of chocolate-coloured dogs.

Professor McGreevy said the relationship between coat colour and disease came as a surprise to researchers and that the study confirms the dangers of breeding for colour if health is not monitored at the same time. The findings point to previously unknown genetic connections between coat colour and disease in dogs, which warrant further investigation.

Chocolate-coloured Labrador retrievers have, on average, 10% shorter lives than black or yellow Labradors, according to a study of veterinary records.

Image: Professor Paul McGreevy and his Labrador retriever, Bundy.
Credit: Cath Muscat.