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Health and Genetics


A healthy dog is probably every owner’s goal.  Labrador health is made up of a couple of areas:  physical health, emotional health, mental health.

Physical Health has several components – feeding, housing, exercise, medical care.

Feeding:  feeding is one of the most discussed areas of Labrador Health.  Often it seems like every person and every veterinarian has a different idea of what is right for Labradors.  Here are some simple guidelines:

o Learn how to read labels on Dog Food.  You can start here:  http://www.fda.gov/animalveterinary/resourcesforyou/ucm047113.htm

o Feed your Labrador a diet that at a minimum meets AAFCO standards [ Association of American Feed Control Officials] for the age and stage of life of your Labrador http://www.aafco.org/Consumers

o Listen to your breeder from whom you obtained your Labrador.  Responsible breeders will often have experience with generations of Labradors directly related to your individual dog.  Some families of dogs do better on one type of diet or brand of dog food versus another one.  If you want your dog to look like your breeder’s dogs, listen to their advice.

o Think for yourself and your Labrador – observe your dog and how it thrives [or fails to] on a specific diet.  Read, learn, listen, question … and then decide how best to provide for your dog.  One size does not necessarily fit all.  

Housing.  Again, it seems like Labradors live in all sorts of housing arrangements – as pets in apartments or homes, as kennel dogs, as service dogs, as law enforcement dogs.  The important factors in housing arrangements are:

o Safety:

Is the dog sheltered from the weather?

Is the dog safe from attack by predators and stray domestic animals?

Is the dog warm in winter and cool in summer?

Is the dog safeguarded from theft by strangers?

o Comfort:

Does the dog have a comfortable place in which to sleep?

Does the dog have adequate area in which to eliminate away from its eating and sleeping spaces?

Does the dog have adequate fresh water at all time?

Is the dog fed on a regular daily schedule?

o Hygiene:

Provide for daily removal of excrement

Provide for daily washing down and/or disinfection of elimination areas

Provide adequate fresh water at all times

Clean dog dishes for food and water daily

Exercise.  Labradors require regular daily exercise to develop properly and to thrive.  Every Labrador home should provide this for their dog.

o Supervised self-exercise.  Many breeders recommend this type of exercise for their growing puppies and adults.  Ideally a fenced yard and toys along with supervision from the people results in a rewarding and fun relationship between owner and dog.  Retrieving-fetch is a favorite game.  Supervision and joint participation are the keys to success and to avoiding injury or mishap.

o Leash walking.  Some housing circumstances do not provide a fenced yard or exercise area and leash walking must substitute.  The keys to success here are to match the length of the leash walking and terrain with the physical development of a puppy or adult dog.  Young pups and older dogs cannot be expected to become running or jogging companions, or to display the fitness or stamina of an adult in its prime condition.  

o Dog parks.  Many urban areas feature dog parks.  Blackhawk LRC cautions owners to familiarize themselves with the dog park rules and use good judgement prior to exposing their Labrador to the park.  Dog parks can be excellent exercise and socialization, but they can also be places where disease is quickly transmitted from dog to dog and where dog aggression can expose your Labrador to physical danger.  

o Swimming.  Most Labradors enjoy swimming and will begin swimming at a young age if properly introduced to water.  Caution must be taken to avoid situations where too many dogs are using a small pond or pool.  And extreme caution must be taken in winter months where pools and ponds may freeze or partially freeze, allowing dogs to drown under ice.  Supervision is always required when dogs are in or around water.

Medical Care.  Nothing substitutes for a good working relationship with a veterinarian you trust.  Again, one size does not fit all.  Shop around for the veterinarian or practice that will listen to your concerns, is well equipped and hopefully offers 24/7 emergency care.  Remember, you are your Labrador’s advocate.

o Vaccinations.  There are many viewpoints regarding what types of vaccines to administer and how often to administer them.  Research.  Think.  Make informed decisions.

o Spay/neuter.  Again, there is a lot of information available about the optimum age at which to spay or neuter a dog who will not be in a breeding program.  There are many considerations.  Make informed decisions.

o Preventive care.  Many owners overlook preventive care.  There are simple things you can do to enhance the health of your Labrador.

Maintain clean housing for your dog.

Regularly groom your dog.

Pay attention to cleaning your dog’s teeth.

Find and feed the probiotic that is right for your dog.

Provide a daily health & wellness check of your dog, including nails, teeth, ears, skin and coat.

o Emergency Care.  When you are having an emergency is not the time to try to find your emergency care.  Make sure you plan ahead for veterinary emergencies if your practice does not offer 24/7 care:  interview clinics, find out about fees, visit.  No one wants to need emergency care, but the reality is you probably will at some time.  Be Prepared.

Mental Health.  The concept of mental health in dogs is not a new one, but it is one that many people overlook.

o Mental health at its most basic is tied to a dog feeling that it has a stable place to belong, and safety and food in that place.

Belonging, safety, stability are most easily expressed by a stable routine so that your Labrador knows when you will wake up, when you will be with it, when to expect its food and exercise and play, and when it can safely sleep.

Happiness is tied to stable expectations by your Labrador that you will be consistent with it regarding what behavior is rewarded and what behavior is not – in other words, that you set limits and rewards, and you are consistent with them.

o Mental health is very often tied to a dog having the opportunity to develop its brain or learning potential.

Daily training with your Labrador is important.  Even if you only spend 5 minutes per day in training, this is a huge learning experience for your dog and a terrific bonding for the two of you.

Putting on a collar and leash is training.

Walking on the leash is training.

Teaching your dog to sit is training.

Making your dog sit while you put down the feed bowl is training.

Grooming is training.

Anything that exercises your dog’s ability to learn is training.

o One of the single biggest parts of mental health for Labradors is talking to them.  Carry on a conversation with your Labrador, today, every day.  Your dog will be much happier for it !