Labrador Retriever

A Complete Breed Guide

Last Updated 13 OCT 2021

This article is written by Pet Circle veterinarian, Dr Teagan Lever BVSc (Hons)

A favoured breed in many countries world wide, the Labrador Retriever has a friendly, eager to please and sweet nature making it a fantastic family dog. This incredibly versatile breed is well suited to a range of disciplines including obedience, hunting and agility, Labradors are also often used as service and search and rescue dogs.


1. At a glance

2. History

3. Personality

4. Best Toys for Labradors

5. Health Concerns

6. Best Joint Supplements for Labradors

7. Nutrition

Further reading

At a glance

Breed size: Place of origin: Other names:
Large Canada Labrador, Lab
Breed group: Energy level: Weight range:
Gun Dog, Sporting High Female: 24.9 to 31.8kg, Male: 29.5 to 36.3kg
Life expectancy: Tendency to bark: Height range:
10 to 12 years Low Female: 54.6 to 59.7cm, Male: 57.2 to 62.2cm at shoulder
Drool factor: Social needs: Coat length:
Low Moderate Yellow, black and chocolate.
Shedding factor: Overall grooming needs: Colours:
Moderate Low Short to medium, dense


The Labrador Retriever first originated in Newfoundland, Canada. Coming to prominence in the early 19th century, the breed was used by fishermen to retrieve nets and ducks from the water. English nobles visiting Newfoundland brought some of these 'Labrador dogs' home where they quickly demonstrated their innate suitability for use as gun dogs.

With the breed further refined in England throughout the latter half of the 1800s, the Labrador Retriever was recognised as a breed by the Kennel Club of England in 1903 and was first registered with American Kennel Club in 1917. In 1991 the Labrador Retriever topped the charts as the American Kennel Club's most registered breed and has remained there ever since, demonstrating the breed's ability to stand the test of time as a time honored favourite pet, companion, family member, working and sporting dog.


Labradors are goofy, outgoing and friendly towards humans and other animals alike. While their sweet and trainable nature makes Labradors an excellent family pet, their energy level along with their need for exercise and mental stimulation should not be underestimated. In order to keep them mentally and physically stimulated, Labrador Retrievers require daily exercise and play, revelling in prolonged games of fetch and any activity involving water.

The vast majority of Labradors are highly food motivated, and while this trait makes them easily trainable, it also often results in an inability to self regulate food intake, often leading to them becoming overweight or obese as they move into young adulthood. This tendency of the Labrador to over indulge may further predispose them to certain health concerns.

Top toy recommendations for Labradors

Yours Droolly Entertaineze Treat Ball

Fill the this bouncy ball with some of your Labrador's kibble to slow their eating or to keep them occupied and out of mischief.

KONG Wet Wubba

Made with highly visible, fast drying neoprene, this special Wet Wubba is ideal for games of fetch in and out of water.

Chuck It Classic Long

An extra long ball thrower to help you launch your Labrador's ball further than ever before to satisfy those intense fetch cravings!

KONG Jumbler Football

Contains an interior tennis ball and two handles so it's easy to pick up and throw during interactive play time!

Health concerns

In general, Labradors have a fairly hardy constitution for a pure breed dog; many will live long, healthy, uneventful lives, sometimes years in excess of their expected 10 to 12 year lifespan. There are however, a few ailments and conditions for which Labradors do appear to be predisposed and are worthwhile noting for current and potential owners.

Joint health

With an anticipated adult bodyweight of greater than 25kg, Labradors are classed as a large breed dog. For a variety of reasons, large breed dogs are predisposed to development of joint problems, most notably osteoarthritis, during their lifetime.

Osteoarthritis (also known as degenerative joint disease or simply arthritis) is painful inflammation of one or many joints and can occur secondary to a number of factors, including joint trauma or infection, however most frequently it occurs in Labradors and other large breeds due to congenital joint defects such as hip and elbow dysplasia. In these conditions the normal conformation of the joint is lost, leading to instability which can result in inflammation of the joint and the development of degenerative changes to the bone and cartilage. These changes manifest as pain and reduced mobility which worsens over time.

Osteoarthritis is a chronic condition and is usually managed through a combination of diet, joint supplements, physiotherapy and prescribed anti inflammatory and pain relief medication. Addressing any known underlying causes (such as hip or elbow displasia), along with weight management is also important for best results.

Top joint supplements for Labradors

4cyte Joint Support

A premium quality, vet recommended joint supplement containing green lipped mussel and epitalis to help support joint health and ease the symptoms of arthritis.

Sasha's Blend

Sasha's Blend powder and chews contain green lipped mussel, abalone and marine cartilage which are rich in omega 3 fatty acids and glycosaminoglycans to support joint health.


Available as powder or tasty chews, Glyde contains glucosamine, chondroitin and green lipped mussel to support joint health and mobility.

PAW Osteosupport

These capsules contain green lipped mussel powder, a potent source of anti inflammatory omega fatty acids and may be given whole or broken open and sprinkled over food.

Hip dysplasia refers to a condition where the conformation (physical structure) of the hip joint is abnormal. A healthy hip joint operates as a smooth 'ball and socket' type joint, whereas hips affected by dysplasia typically have a flattening of the 'socket' component of the joint, resulting in a shallow joint where the 'ball' or head of the femur is not held securely. This leads to instability of the joint which may cause pain in the young dog (juvenile hip dysplasia) and ultimately causes development of osteoarthritis.

Elbow dysplasia affects the elbow joint, which is an articulation of three bones, the humerus, radius and ulna. The correct alignment of the joint requires each bone to grow at the correct rate otherwise displasia can occur. While there are a few different locations in the joint where dysplasia can occur, each with different potential underlying causes, the end result is the same. Dogs with elbow dysplasia typically display signs of lameness in one or both front limbs at around 4 to 10 months of age, with arthritis appearing and worsening with age.

Hip and elbow dysplasia have been demonstrated to be inherited conditions in dogs, so all good Labrador breeders screen their breeding dogs and bitches using hip and elbow scoring to help prevent the condition being passed on to puppies. It's worth noting that while hip and elbow screening of the parents reduces the risk a puppy will have hip or elbow dysplasia, it doesn't remove the risk completely.

Management of hip and elbow dysplasia is best achieved early, before significant osteoarthritis develops. Depending on the type and severity of dysplasia present and the age of the dog, there are some surgical procedures which aim to correct the abnormal conformation of the joint to reduce the development of arthritis in later life. In severe cases of hip dysplasia, particularly in older dogs or those with significant arthritis, a total hip replacement may be neccessary.

Developmental joint disorders, including some forms of elbow dysplasia, may be affected in part by diet, as the energy, calcium and phosphorus content of traditional puppy foods can result in excessively rapid growth of some bones. Due to this, it is highly recommended that Labradors and all large breed puppies are fed a large breed puppy specific diet. These formulas are designed with an adapted energy, calcium and phosphorus content to promote controlled bone growth and help prevent the development of some developmental bone and joint issues.

Top food recommendations for Labrador puppies

Advance Puppy Growth Large and Giant Breed

This Australian made, high quality puppy food is designed to support healthy growth and development of large and giant breed puppies, including Labrador Retrievers.

Royal Canin Labrador Retriever Puppy

This very high quality diet is tailored for the needs of Labrador puppies is high in fish oil which is a natural source of omega fatty acids to support healthy skin, a shiny coat and optimal brain development.

Hills Science Diet Large Breed Puppy

This premium large breed puppy food contains the ideal levels of energy, calcium and phosphorus to minimise the risk of developmental bone and joint problems, as well as added omega-3 fatty acids to ensure optimal brain and eye development.

Eukanuba Puppy Large Breed

This complete and balanced puppy food contains the correct balance of energy, calcium and phosphorus to support controlled bone growth in large breeds, along with nutrients to promote healthy digestion, brain development and skin & coat health.


Obesity is linked with a number of health conditions in dogs, most notably osteoarthritis, which as previously mentioned is not uncommon in Labradors. Obesity can also contribute to other health conditions in dogs including heart disease, metabolic disease, breathing problems and skin problems.

One of the most common health conditions to impact Labradors is obesity, in the majority of cases due to overnutrition. The Labrador's strong affection for food teamed with their sociable nature makes them the masters of begging for food. While the temptation to give into those forlorn puppy dog eyes can be strong, it is in your Lab's best interest to closely regulate and monitor their food intake and bodyweight.

As well as simply contributing excess weight that your dog has to carry around, we now know that in the case of obesity, fat acts as an organ itself, releasing inflammatory mediators which result in a chronic state of inflammation that contributes to health conditions and adversely effects the immune system.

Top weight loss foods for Labradors

Hills Prescription Diet Metabolic

This prescription food uses a synergistic blend of ingredients to boost the metabolism of obese and overweight dogs, so that it acts more like that of a lean animal. It is also available in a mobility support formula designed for dogs who are also suffering from osteoarthritis - Hills Prescription Diet Metabolic and Mobility

Royal Canin Veterinary Diet Satiety

This low calorie prescription food contains a unique blend of fibres which physically fill the stomach and slow digestive transit time, helping your dog to feel full for longer and reduce begging behaviour.

Advance Healthy Weight

This super premium, Australian made, dry dog food is complete and balanced, with fewer calories to support the health and wellbeing of your less active or obesity prone large or giant breed dog.

Hills Science Diet Perfect Weight

This premium food is made using a proprietary blend of ingredients designed to promote healthy weight loss and lean muscle mass, and is ideal for keeping your Labrador at a healthy weight.

Other health issues

Due to the Labrador's playful nature and love of food, as a breed they do have a tendency to eat things that they shouldn't! This can result in tummy upsets and in more severe cases, obstruction of the gastrointestinal tract with foreign bodies. Labrador owners should take extra care, particularly with puppies, to ensure that their dogs do not have access to items which commonly cause problems such as socks, corn cobs and children's toys.

Thanks to their dense coat, Labradors can develop acute moist dermatitis or 'hot spots', particularly during warm weather or after swimming or bathing. Hot spots can be quite painful so early treatment by removing the hair and application of topical antibacterial and anti inflammatory medication from your veterinarian is needed to prevent them worsening.

Along with hot spots, the Labrador's love of water can also lead to the development of ear infections if water becomes trapped in the ear canal. One simple step to help prevent ear infections in Labs is to use a gentle ear cleaner like Virbac Epi Otic in the ears after bathing or swimming.


Seeing as Labradors tend to be predisposed to development of obesity and are also more likely than some other breeds to experience osteoarthritis, I usually suggest choosing a food designed to support both a healthy weight and healthy joints. The most suitable foods for adult Labradors are usually ones with modified calorie contents, tailored kibble shape to slow the rate of eating and additional nutrients such as green lipped mussell powder along with fish oil to support joint health and mobility.

As mentioned earlier, large breed puppies such as Labs can suffer from developmental joint disorders if fed a diet too high in energy, so it is best to choose a large breed (or Labrador Retriever) specific diet to promote controlled bone growth.

Top food recommendations for adult Labradors

Advance Adult Retrievers

This Australian made formula tailored for adult retriever breeds contains functional nutrients including green lipped mussel powder to support joint health and an adapted calorie content to aid weight control.

Royal Canin Adult Labrador Retriever

With kibble specially designed to slow your Labrador's rate of eating, this premium quality food contains nutrition tailored the the specific requirements of adult Labrador Retrievers. Royal Canin also have a useful breed guide for Labradors.

Hills Science Diet Large Breed

This diet is formulated specifically to suit the nutritional needs of large breed dogs like Labradors, with the addition of glucosamine and chondroitin for joint health and L-carnitine which encourages fat metabolism and maintains lean muscle mass.

Eukanuba Large Breed Adult

This premium quality food is designed with your adult Labrador Retriever's health and wellbeing in mind, including the addition of glucosamine and chondroitin for joint health and reduced fat levels to maintain a healthy weight.