Having a dog is one of life’s greatest gifts, and the only downside is that they don’t live as long as humans do. So we try to take the best care possible to ensure their longevity, maintaining their weight and diet, giving them plenty of exercise, and being grateful for all our time together (for the record, this is very similar to the techniques that make people live longer as well).
Now, a new study published in Canine Genetics and Epidemiology suggests that at least one factor of how long your dog lives is out of your control—at least where American’s most popular breed is concerned.
Researchers analyzed the records of 33,000 Labrador Retrievers in the UK and found that, accounting for lifestyle variables, the ones with brown coats had significantly more health problems than their yellow and black counterparts. Specifically, the chocolate labs were four times more likely to develop an ear infection or a skin disease called pyo-traumatic dermatitis—an itchy, painful condition also known as a “hot spot.”
This means that overall, chocolate labs tend to live 1.2 year less than the average golden retriever lifespan of 12.1 years.
“The relationships between coat color and disease may reflect an inadvertent consequence of breeding certain pigmentations,” said Paul McGreevy, the Professor of Animal Behaviour and Animal Welfare Science at the University of Sydney’s Faculty of Veterinary Science and lead author of the study. “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.”
The study is currently being replicated in Australia to determine whether or not the results hold up. It also concluded that, ultimately, the most common disorders among dogs stem from obesity, which males (particularly those that have been neutered) are more likely to suffer from than females. And for more on the link between your dog’s diet and their longevity, Meet the Former Model Who Wants to Save Your Dog’s Life.
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