Labrador retriever genetic conditions and health issues you should know about!

The Labrador retriever has been the most popular breed in the American Kennel Club registry for years. There’s a reason why people love Labs. They’re friendly, loyal, obedient, and make excellent companions and family dogs. Whenever a breed becomes that popular, people will start breeding for particular traits, be it color, size, retrieving ability, or even pointing ability. When all other considerations are tossed aside—“silver Labs are really cool!”—invariably unwanted genetic conditions are compounded. Often it takes several generations of puppies to discover these unwanted genetic traits, and often a leading sire is discovered to pass them on.  

CNM—Centronuclear Myopathy—what is it?

From the University of California, Davis, website: “Centronuclear myopathy (CNM) is a naturally occurring, hereditary myopathy of Labrador Retrievers resulting from a mutation in the protein tyrosine phosphatase-like member A gene (PTPLA).  This condition is also known as: type II muscle fiber deficiency, autosomal recessive muscular dystrophy and hereditary myopathy. The disease is inherited in an autosomal recessive fashion with both sexes being equally affected.  CNM typically manifests in puppies at 2-5 months.  Signs of CNM include: generalized loss of muscle tone and control, exercise intolerance and an awkward gait. Dogs with one normal copy and one mutant copy of the gene do not display signs.  Breeding two carriers is predicted to produce 25% affected offspring and 50% carriers of the disease.”

         In other words, if you buy a new puppy and both parents carry the CNM gene, there’s a 25% chance that your new puppy will not thrive. The pup will never gain muscle control and become strong, fit, and active. In the event that a carrier dog is bred to a clear dog, chances are 50% that the puppies will carry the gene, perpetuating a never-ending cycle of genetically deficient dogs. Up to 50% of the Labradors in the AKC registry today are carriers of the CNM gene. The animal diagnostic testing lab at UC Davis offers testing for $50 or so—has your breeder tested his breeding stock? ALL OF OUR LABRADOR BREEDING STOCK DOGS ARE CNM CLEAR.

EIC—Exercise Induced Collapse in Labrador retrievers

Exercise Induced Collapse (EIC) is a genetic condition found in several breeds of dogs, including Boykin spaniels, Cocker spaniels, German wire-haired pointers, and yes, Labrador retrievers—especially from top field trial bloodlines.  
From the website: “The first thing noted is usually a rocking or forced gait. The rear limbs then become weak and unable to support weight. Many affected dogs will continue to run while dragging their back legs. Some of the dogs appear to be uncoordinated, especially in the rear limbs, with a wide-based, long stride rather than the short, stiff strides typically associated with muscle weakness. In some dogs the rear limb collapse progresses to forelimb weakness and occasionally to a total inability to move. Some dogs appear to have a loss of balance and may fall over, particularly as they recover from collapse. Most collapsed dogs are totally conscious and alert, still trying to run and retrieve, but as many as 25% of affected dogs will appear stunned or disoriented during the episode.

It is common for the symptoms to worsen for 3 to 5 minutes even after exercise has been terminated. NOTE: A few affected dogs have died during exercise or while resting immediately after an episode of exercise-induced collapse so an affected dog's exercise should ALWAYS be stopped at the first hint of incoordination or wobbliness.”

Great. So you buy a Lab puppy and enter him into a training regimen, spending a lot of time and money to make your ideal hunting dog and family companion. He gets excited while pheasant hunting, and then suddenly drops to the ground, his rear legs incapable of movement, stunned and disoriented, while still trying to run and retrieve. He might even die. This sounds like an incredibly disappointing and heartbreaking scenario, which can be completely avoided by buying a pup from a conscientious breeder who has tested his breeding stock for this genetic deficiency. Approximately 50% of Labradors in the AKC registry today are carriers of the EIC gene, and most of them come from field trial lines. Several very prominent AKC field champions are carriers, and a couple of them are even full-blown victims of the disease, sometimes suffering symptoms in the middle of a field trial. EIC usually manifests itself when a young dog is exposed to vigorous training, and most affected dogs are described as being very fit, athletic, prime specimens of the breed. A simple blood test can verify whether or not a dog carries the gene or is affected by it. The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) provides a public database for dogs that are DNA tested for EIC. Every dog is cataloged by its AKC registration number. Cheek swabs or blood tests can detect EIC, and tests cost about $65. ALL OF OUR LABRADOR BREEDING STOCK DOGS ARE EIC CLEAR.

OFA hips & elbows X-rays for dysplasia

Unlike CNM and EIC, most people are aware of the issue of hip and elbow dysplasia in dogs, identified by X-rays of hips and elbows, which are examined by certified veterinarians and orthopedic specialists. X-rays are graded on the depth of the hip ball in the hip socket and the propensity for the hip joint to disengage and cause painful movement and arthritis.
Hip dysplasia in dogs is a disease of the hip in which the ball and socket joint is malformed. This malformation means that the ball portion and its socket don’t properly meet one another, resulting in a joint that rubs and grinds instead of sliding smoothly. Hip dysplasia is known to be a genetic condition. If you’ve seen a dog afflicted with dysplasia, it’s not a pretty picture. The dog will have moderate to severe difficulty in moving, and it’s obviously painful for the dog. Of course, the idea of hunting a dog with any kind of advanced hip dysplasia is out of the question. Surgery can be accomplished to alleviate some symptoms of hip dysplasia, but this is not a ready cure, and it’s expensive—often several thousands of dollars. Even if surgery has been performed, many dysplastic dogs still degrade, often to the point of being unable to get up or move. Many dysplastic dogs ultimately have to be euthanized.
When a breeding Labrador has been certified as either “Good” or “Excellent” by the Orthopedic Foundation of America (OFA), chances are greatly minimized that its offspring will have hip dysplasia. Sometimes a dog from quality lines will still develop dysplasia, but it’s much more rare than from breedings with dogs that either have not been checked or have achieved a poor result. Dogs with “fair” or “poor” hips should not be bred, in our opinion. ALL OF OUR LABRADOR BREEDING STOCK DOGS ARE OFA “Good” or “Excellent”.

“CERF” eye tests for Labradors

Some breeds of dogs produce offspring with hereditary eye diseases. The Canine Eye Registry Foundation (CERF) was formed by breeders and veterinary ophthalmologists to devise an evaluation of breeding dogs. Affected Labs suffer from Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA), which begins as night blindness and ultimately may result in the dog going completely blind. Once again, if two parents carry the recessive gene, a dog that inherits both genes is in trouble. This can be easily avoided by not breeding dogs that carry the gene. In Colorado, we have to make a 10-hour round trip to get our dogs reviewed by a veterinary ophthalmologist, so it’s not a cheap or easy deal.


Let’s face it, people get emotional about their dogs. I’ve seen grown men break down and cry over losing a Lab. Lots of people consider their dogs to be their “children” or “babies”. It’s hard enough when you lose a good dog after 12 or 13 years. Some of them make it 15 years or more, but that’s rare. However, to see a dog go blind, lose his ability to walk or run, collapse in the field, or die too young because of a known genetic condition is just unacceptable. When people shy away from buying a quality dog because a pup is “expensive”, in their eyes, just try paying for a hip dysplasia surgery on that dog that you love so much. That surgery will cost three or four times more than you would pay for a quality puppy with all health clearances. So what is more expensive--spending $1,500 on a quality pup or spending $6,000 on a surgeries on a dog that you'll have to put down in his prime? I choose the first option. 



These Lab diseases are known by practically every professional in the business, and if they don’t know, they damn well should. Yet still some breeders are actively breeding dogs that carry the EIC or CNM gene, or perhaps have a “fair” OFA report or carry the gene for eye disease. Why? Because it’s a “big-time dog” who has won a field championship or something like that. DO YOURSELF A FAVOR. INSIST ON COMPLETE DOCUMENTATION OF THE PARENTS OF A LITTER. WE HAVE ALL RECORDS AND CAN SUBMIT THEM AT A MOMENT’S NOTICE.