Labrador Retriever Joint & Bone Disease

by Susan Leisure, Demand Media
    Dysplasia, arthritis and cancer can affect Labrador retrievers.

    Dysplasia, arthritis and cancer can affect Labrador retrievers.

    Labrador retrievers are among the most popular dog breeds, and rightly so: They are loyal, smart and active, and they're loving companions. Labs also face some bone and joint issues, so it's important to know how to recognize them.

    Hip Dysplasia

    Hip dysplasia is one of the most common conditions that affect Labrador retrievers. Hip dysplasia is a genetic condition whereby the hip joint doesn’t form properly. The ball and socket may be misaligned or may not be aligned at all. Hip dysplasia causes a significant amount of pain as dogs get older; it may make your lab reluctant to run, climb stairs or even go for walks. In severe case, hip dysplasia may be evident in puppies as young as six months. If your lab shows any signs of discomfort in his hips, it’s worth a trip to the vet to rule out dysplasia. If you are choosing a purebred lab puppy, ask the breeder for proof that the genetic line doesn’t have a history of hip dysplasia. Since it is a genetic condition, it’s likely that your puppy will have it if his parents do.

    Treatments for Hip Dysplasia

    If your Labrador retriever has hip dysplasia, effective treatments are available to get your pooch running and playing again. Dogs with hip dysplasia should always maintain a healthy weight and eat a high-quality grain-free food. Obesity puts extra pressure on the joints; foods with grain exacerbate joint swelling and soreness. Manage mild cases of dysplasia with supplements and anti-inflammatory medications, so talk with your veterinarian or pet nutritionist about recommended prescription or natural supplements. For severe cases, your lab may need surgery to repair the hip joint. Without treatment, dogs may not be able to move much at all without pain, especially if the dysplasia is severe and in both hips.

    Osteoarthritis (Degenerative Joint Disease)

    Like many of us, dogs often develop arthritis as they age. Arthritis affects 20 percent of dogs. It may develop from an injury, obesity or genetics. Larger, stockier dogs like Labrador retrievers are more prone to arthritis, since their joints have to support much more weight. As a dog ages, the cartilage in the joints breaks down and causes pain in the joints, especially an overweight dog. Labradors are also very active dogs, so joint injuries are more of a risk. Often, injured joints will quickly develop signs of arthritis. In some cases, arthritis is also a genetic condition, and Labrador retrievers are more prone to degenerative joint disease than many other breeds. Before you select a new Lab puppy, make sure his genetic line is free from arthritis.

    Treatments for Osteoarthritis

    If your Labrador begins to show signs of arthritis, take him to your veterinarian for an evaluation. Signs of joint damage will show on X-ray, which will give you a more definitive diagnosis. Unfortunately, there is no miracle cure for arthritis in dogs. But, you can make your dog more comfortable and improve his quality of life. The first step is to get your dog in better shape. Labradors are prone to obesity, especially as they age. If your lab is overweight, consider swim therapy to help him lose some pounds. Swimming is gentler on the joints, and most Labradors love the water, so it’s a fun therapy for them. Be sure to look for a certified canine physical therapist or swim therapist for your lab’s swim therapy.

    Osteosarcoma (Bone Cancer)

    Osteosarcoma affects all breeds of dogs, but large breeds like Labrador retrievers are more at risk. Approximately 8,000 dogs a year are diagnosed with bone cancer, and most dogs weigh more than 50 pounds. Studies have shown that the site of the cancer is often linked to sites of previous fracture or joint repair where metal pins or plates have been used. Bone cancer is more prevalent in overweight dogs, suggesting that extra stress on the bones can cause the development of osteosarcoma. The most common course of treatment is amputation of the infected limb, followed by chemotherapy. While bone cancer is not nearly as common as other bone and joint diseases, it is something to look out for, especially as your Labrador retriever grows older.

    About the Author

    Susan Leisure is the director of an animal welfare organization and owner of a holistic pet supply store in Atlanta, Georgia. She has a master's degree from Emory University, and is currently completing a degree in clinical pet nutrition.

    Photo Credits

    • Brand X Pictures/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images