Startling new research shows that the color of a dog’s coat could indicate how long it will live.
A study involving more than 33,000 Labrador retrievers in the UK
the life expectancy of chocolate labs is significantly lower than that of yellow or black labs. He also found that brown puppies had a higher incidence of ear infections and skin diseases.
The findings, published this week in the journal Canine Genetics and Epidemiology, were part of the VetCompass project led by researchers at the University of Sydney. Lead author Professor Paul McGreevy said the correlation between coat color and life expectancy caught them off guard.
McGreevy postulated that this could be the result of breeding. He explained that the chocolate color comes from a recessive gene, so both parents must have the gene for their puppies to be chocolate.
“Breeders targeting this color may therefore be more likely to only breed Labradors that carry the chocolate coat gene,” he said. “It may be that the resulting reduced gene pool includes a higher proportion of genes conducive to ear and skin conditions.”
According to the study, the median life expectancy of a black or yellow Lab is 12.1 years, which is 10% longer than their chocolate counterparts. Additionally, chocolate labs were four times more likely to have pyo-traumatic dermatitis, also known as hotspot, and twice as likely to suffer from ear inflammations.
Ear infections were among the most common health problems for all types of Labradors, along with joint problems and obesity.
“We found that 8.8% of British Labradors are overweight or obese, one of the highest percentages among dog breeds in the VetCompass™ database,” Professor McGreevy said.
Labs of castrated men had a higher prevalence of obesity, the study showed.
The University of Sydney’s VetCompass program collects and analyzes patient records from the dogs, the researchers said, adding that they plan to replicate the findings in Australia, where (as in the United States) Labradors are the most popular breed. They say the UK finds may not extend downward, but the finds warrant further investigation.