Your Labrador retriever is a strong, athletic dog. With a short, dense coat and stocky, muscular body, he is not delicate or affected by temperature extremes. Bred for hunting, he fetches, runs, swims in all conditions until his body gives out. His natural drive, coupled with breed-specific ailments, may carry him beyond fatigue and into life-threatening exhaustion. You are his guardian. Protect him from exhaustion and you may save his life.
Exercise Induced Collapse
Your Labrador retriever may have inherited exercise induced collapse syndrome. According to the University of Minnesota, this genetic disorder is carried by 30 to 40 percent of Labradors. A fit, muscular and hard-driving dog is strenuously working out when suddenly he shows signs of weakness, his hind legs give out and he loses his coordination. Though most dogs recover within 30 minutes, some dogs die during the episode.
Your vet can determine whether EIC or other factors cause your Labrador’s exercise intolerance. An EIC diagnosis does not mean the end of exercise. Regular working dog activities such as hiking, fetching, hunting or swimming are good for him and rarely trigger EIC. If he does engage in stressful activities or intense exercise, stop him at the first sign of weakness or leg wobbles. Neutering male dogs often reduces excitability and stops EIC episodes.
Your Labrador may have laryngeal paralysis, a nerve condition affecting his breathing and making him more prone to heat exhaustion. According to Michigan State University, LP primarily affects mature Labrador retrievers from 8 to 13 years old. With LP, a dog cannot pant normally to let out hot air and inhale cooler air to lower his body temperature. You may be playing fetch and his drive to please you leads him to retrieve over and over, even on hot, humid days, until he gets over-heated and collapses. The heat builds up inside his body, especially if he is a black or chocolate Labrador with a heat-absorbing dark coat, and he has no way to cool down.
Treating heat exhaustion means keeping him quiet, getting him out of the sun or hot environment and into a cool place. Shade, air conditioning, wet towels and fans all help cool his overheated body. Ease him into a pool or bathtub, if possible, but avoid icy water, which can send him into shock. Preventing heat exhaustion is easier than treatment. Moderate his exercise on warm days, provide him with shade and lots of water, and park in shady areas with the windows partly open for your Labrador.
Your Labrador comes from sturdy working dog stock. But he is affected by stress, environment, temperature and activity. His body can be drained by too little food, dehydration, not enough sleep, too much noise, frustration at confinement, and general anxiety. His exhaustion can be from age or an undetected illness. If he pants excessively, vomits, shows weakness or otherwise seems fatigued, rest may not be enough to overcome his exhaustion. Make a visit to his favorite vet.
Your Labrador may come with a pedigree, hunting heritage or unknown stock. But you chose him for his personality and his heart. He drives himself to exhaustion to please you, paces the house looking for a ball that needs throwing, and throws himself into whatever the day brings, not thinking about his inner workings. He needs a balanced life with food, water, play and people. No matter how or why he slid into exhaustion, he likely will soon be alert, awake and eagerly trolling for treats and toys again.
Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.
Phyllis Benson is a professional writer and creative artist. Her 25-year background includes work as an editor, syndicated reporter and feature writer for publications including "Journal Plus," "McClatchy Newspapers" and "Sacramento Union." Benson earned her Bachelor of Science degree at California Polytechnic University.