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Chocolate Labs coat colors could affect health

Could Fido’s coat color play a role in his health? In the case of chocolate Labs, a new study shows that it might.

Researchers at the University of Sydney have analyzed vet records for 33,000 Labrador retrievers of all colors. They found that chocolate Labs have higher rates of ear and skin infections than black and yellow Labs do.

They also found that chocolate Labs’ lifespans are, on average, 10 percent shorter than their non-chocolate counterparts. Lead author Dr. Paul McGreevy said the researchers were surprised by the findings.

“The relationships between coat color and disease may reflect an inadvertent consequence of breeding certain pigmentations,” he said. “Because chocolate color is recessive in dogs, the gene for this color must be present in both parents for their puppies to be chocolate. Breeders targeting this color may therefore be 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.”

They found that across the UK, the most common health conditions among chocolate Labs were obesity, ear infections and joint problems. Male dogs who had been neutered were more prone to obesity than other Labs.

“We found that 8.8 percent of UK Labradors are overweight or obese, one of the highest percentages among dog breeds in the VetCompass database,” McGreevy said.

The researchers collected their data through the VetCompass Programme, which began in 2007 at the Royal Veterinary College in London in partnership with the University of Sydney.

The program is now working to collect data on chocolate Labs and their black and yellow fellows in Australia. VetCompass now works with all of Australia’s veterinary schools with support from the Australian Research Council.

The study has been published in the open source journal Canine Genetics and Epidemiology.

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