Why Chocolate Labs Live Shorter Lives Than Black and Yellow Labradors
As humans, we just can’t help ourselves when it comes to cute animals. But breeding from generation to generation, our obsession with achieving the ultimate smush of a French bulldog’s face or the perfect curly tail comes with a price — and our pets are paying for it with their health.
It’s a problem so large that it’s plagued the most popular dog breed in America for 26 years running: the Labrador Retriever. Scientists from the University of Sydney revealed in a study published on Sunday in Canine Genetics and Epidemiology that out of three cute coat colors (yellow, chocolate, and black), chocolate labs live shorter lives than black and yellow labs.
The team studied more than 33,000 Labradors in the United Kingdom. (That’s a lot of petting and tennis balls thrown.) Now, it’s not uncommon for these lovable boys to struggle with obesity, ear infections, and joint conditions, but the brown-colored dogs suffered from these health issues at higher rates. They’re twice as likely to develop ear infections and four times as likely to suffer from an itchy, painful skin condition called pyo-traumatic dermatitis. When scientists accounted for this difference, they found chocolate labs live, on average, 10 percent shorter than other labs. On average, black and yellow labs live 12.1 years; 10 percent is a full 14.5 months of cuddles lost.
We did this to them.
“Because chocolate color is recessive in dogs, the gene for this color must be present in both parents for their puppies to be chocolate,” lead researcher Paul McGreevy, Ph.D., explains. “Breeders targeting this color may thereforebe more likely to breed only Labradors carrying the chocolate coat gene. It may be that the resulting reduced gene pool includes a higher proportion of genes conducive to ear and skin conditions.”
In short, by breeding within a smaller group of dogs, thus reducing their gene pool, we’ve increased the amount of genes that are detrimental to their health. While their cuteness increases, their health declines.
The issue isn’t limited to chocolate labs, either. Research from the University of California in 2016 found that English bulldogs basically reached a genetic dead end and need other breeds to increase their genetic diversity simply to survive.
In the meantime, McGreevy and his team are exploring whether these unfortunate results transcend borders. As this study only observed doggos in the UK, they’re headed to another lab-loving country — Australia — to perform a similar survey.