Every caring and responsible owner wishes for their dog to be as healthy as possible.
Luckily for us, caring for a Labrador Retriever isn’t as demanding as it is for many other breeds. Well-bred Labradors are relatively low maintenance, fit and healthy dogs.
But your Labradors continuing health and well-being does depend entirely on you.
A nutritious diet, regular exercise, grooming, preventive measures and regular visits to the vet are the real key to maintaining a high level of wellness and good health. All these actions are your responsibility and solely under your control.
What you’ll want to do is gain a little knowledge of how to take care of your Labradors health and hygiene, and set up daily, weekly, quarterly and annual routines.
Daily routines will be diet control, exercise and physical inspections. Weekly routines will be grooming, ears, eyes, teeth and nail care. Quarterly routines could be shared between visits to the vet, a canine dentist and bathing. And the annual routine will be vaccinations.
Just remember that prevention is always better than cure, so doing your best to prevent any illness and catching problems at the earliest possible stage is the goal to aim for.
The following are all areas where you only need a little knowledge to effectively take care of your Labrador well. And if you cannot dedicate this time and effort, then in the nicest possible way, you might be better suited to a pet with less demanding care requirements such as goldfish.
Contents & Quick Navigation
Making Safe Your Home and Garden
Labradors are a lively and inquisitive breed, especially during their first three years so you need to keep dangerous household items out of their reach. You might even need to keep your Lab away from entire areas of your home and garden where access to dangerous objects can’t be easily controlled. You need to:
- Remove sharp objects they may walk over / lay on / rub against / chew etc.
- Conceal electrical wiring…we all know of their infamous love for chewing. Sharp teeth and electricity do not mix!
- Don’t leave food wrappers and trash lying around. A Labrador can easily choke on wrappings or trash that may be swallowed along with edible scraps.
- Use ‘child-proofing’ catches on cupboards and drawers containing household chemicals, such as bleach and anti-freeze. Labs are smart and opening cupboards and drawers soon becomes easy for them.
- Be mindful of the toxicity of certain plants – Over 100 plants have been identified as toxic to dogs, so be sure to research any plant before bringing it into your home.
- Fence of any ponds or pools in your yard. Labs love water, but when your Lab’s unsupervised, these can present a real danger if your Labrador struggles to get out.
These are just a few points to consider around your home and garden, there are many more.
Just try to put yourself in your Labradors shoes and take a good look at his environment as he would see it. Try to see how he could get into trouble and take measures to prevent it.
Click here for a more detailed guide on puppy-proofing your home and garden.
The Basics of Labrador Grooming
Grooming coat care and brushing, it’s looking after every part of your Labrador and a time during which you familiarize yourself with your dogs look and feel so you’re able to spot any changes that might signify health problems. It’s also quality time spent bonding with your dog and strengthening your relationship.
Basic Labrador Coat Care and Bathing
Labradors are a short-haired breed that don’t need much brushing for most of the year. But during the moulting season you’ll want to brush them regularly to remove shed hair if you want to limit the amount that covers, well, every surface of your home. Brushing also helps to shake loose dirt out of and spread the natural oils throughout their coat for that desirable, healthy glossy look we know and love.
Related article: The Best vacuums for removing pet hair from your home.
When it comes to bathing, Labradors have natural oils in their coat that provide waterproofing and it’s highly recommended you don’t bathe them too often to preserve this natural property. Frequent baths will strip their oils, leaving them prone to wet and cold in winter, causing dry skin and making their coat look dull and not shiny.
Bathe them only if they’re particularly dirty and smelly or on a schedule of just 3 or 4 times per year.
Keeping Nails Trim
Most Labradors will need a nail trim every 2 to 3 months, although some may never need it. Regularly walking your dog on hard ground, especially sidewalks and roads, will have a natural filing effect and keep your dogs claws in order.
You should pay your dogs paws regular attention, inspect them often and don’t let them overgrow. If you can hear them rapping on your kitchen floor, it’s definitely time to get the clippers out!
Personally I’ve always taken my dogs to the vet for nail clipping, but you can do it at home yourself. Just please ask your vet for instruction first so you know how to do it properly and don’t cut them too short. This can make them sore and bleed.
And please, use proper dog nail trimmers made especially for the task, don’t hack away with human nail clippers.
What with a Labradors slightly drooping ears and their love of water, the inside of their ears can sometimes retain too much moisture, causing bacteria to build up and infections to form. You should check your Labradors ears regularly to make sure they aren’t red, inflamed or have a high build up of wax.
I shall be writing an article on this very soon.
This is possibly one of the most neglected areas of pet dogs health, we really should pay more attention to it.
Just some of the problems a Labrador may have with its teeth are gum disease, loose teeth, cracked or broken teeth, root abscesses and a build up of tartar. These can be very uncomfortable for your dog and can lead to further problems if neglected.
Therefore, you need to inspect their teeth regularly, take measures to clean their teeth and even visit a professional canine dentist every 6 months or annually for a thorough check up and any necessary treatments. Treat their teeth like you would your own.
Dealing with Parasites
Controlling fleas, ticks and other parasites is essential for keeping your Labrador healthy. Immediate problems include extreme irritation and skin sores, but extreme infestations can lead to more dangerous problems including Lyme disease and tape worms.
If you stick to a regular grooming schedule (as you should!) checking for external parasites is an easy task. Simply brush your hand against the lie of your Labradors fur and watch for any small moving dots and check for any clearly visible ticks.
There are many safe and effective over-the-counter flea control products, many of which contain formulations to prevent ticks at the same time. I recommend you get one of these for your Lab because once a flea infestation takes hold, they’re hard to get rid of and the preventive medicines really are very safe nowadays.
Finally, depending on where you live in the world, you may need to put your Labrador on medication for heartworm.
Where mosquitoes are a problem, they can pass on heartworm and this can be fatal. Even the medicine for heartworm makes your dog very ill so prevention is definitely better than cure!
Regular Visits to the Vet
You’ll want to make sure your Labrador has regular visits to a vet, not only when they’re showing signs of an illness.
A vet will perform a full health check and could discover things with their knowledge and specialist tools that aren’t immediately visible to the untrained or unskilled eye, such as a heart problem or diabetes.
It’s also very important for your dog to receive regular vaccinations…
A number of potentially fatal diseases Labradors are prone to can be prevented by vaccination. Diseases such as distemper, rabies, hepatitis and parvoviros to name just a few.
Your puppy will have had his first shots at five or six weeks before you got to take him home, and he will need a few further shots over a period of up to 18 weeks. A rabies shot usually follows at 6 months of age or so. After this, your adult Labrador will need just a single booster each year to stay protected.
For many facts on vaccinations and the schedule you should follow when vaccinating your puppy, please click here.
Nutrition and Diet
It goes without saying (although I’ll say it) that you’ll need to provide your Labrador with food and water daily. But you shouldn’t allow your Lab to ‘free eat’ anything whenever he feels.
Obesity is a very common problem in the breed because Labradors just LOVE to eat. If you hand out too many treats and feed him twice daily, there’s a very real chance your Lab could become overweight.
Like all living animals, your Labrador has particular nutritional requirements and the cheapest tinned dog food or ‘human foods’ just aren’t good enough. Dogs need a balance of vitamins, minerals, fats and proteins different to that of a human and feeding them on human leftovers can lead to malnutrition, as can a diet based on cheap filler packed dog food. I’m not saying to ban giving all scraps, just make it an occasional treat.
You should perform a little research to find and use a recognized healthy brand of dog food that will cater to your Labradors needs. To help with this, please see our articles that list 4 of the best foods for Labrador puppies (opens in new window) or the best dog foods for adult Labradors (opens in new window) …yours really will thrive on these handpicked, quality foods!
Additionally, the best thing you can do is set up a feeding schedule for your dog, twice per day being the recommended, and be mindful of any extra treats. Your Lab should always be well fed but not over-fed.
Another thing to consider is that puppies and adult dogs have different dietary requirements so you’ll need to feed your puppy differently to your adult dog. It’s not just a question of quantity, the nutritional needs of a puppy and adult dog differ and their food needs to cater for this. I shall discuss this more in a later article.
Finally, water…Your Labrador should have access to water 24/7/365 and the water must be regularly changed and kept clean.
An Important Note On Drastic Changes In Eating And Drinking Habits
If your dog is off their food, drinks way too much or way too little for a period of time more than 36 hours, you should call your vet as this is almost surely a sign of an underlying problem.
Leading on from diet…
Always Monitor Your Dogs Weight
As mentioned previously, Labradors are prone to becoming overweight and obese. They are voracious eaters and will eat just because they can, not because they need it.
Excess weight can lead to all sorts of issues including arthritis and heart problems. To prevent this, control their diet and give them plenty of exercise for them to burn off those calories.
Labradors are a high energy breed and need a lot of exercise to stay physically and psychologically healthy. If they aren’t given regular exercise, they’ll become stir crazy with pent-up energy leading to destructive behavior and will almost certainly start to gain weight.
A good 30 minutes of exercise per day in addition to his routine walks is the minimum…more if you don’t have a nice yard for them to run about in…with a longer session of 1.5hrs at least once per week.
But please don’t apply this to your little puppy. They really do need very little exercise of just a few short minutes a couple of times per day. Too much exercise for a puppy can cause skeletal formation issues and plays a large part in joint problems.
Take it easy until your puppy is at least a year old. From this point forward, they will easily beat you ‘paws down’ in any exercise requiring stamina!
Bedding and Shelter
A Labrador should always have a soft surface to lay upon.
Being a medium-sized dog, there’s a fair bit of weight resting on their elbows when laying down and this can result in calluses if they’re forced to lay upon a hard uncovered floor.
To prevent this you should get your Lab a large sized dog bed or line a crate to offer a soft and comfortable place to rest.
Even if it wasn’t for calluses, just out of respect for the comfort of your friend, don’t leave your Labrador to sleep on a hard uncovered floor!
If your Lab spends any amount of time outside, you must provide shelter to offer an escape from the sun in summer, and preferably the shelter should have a raised floor so the wet and cold is kept away in winter.
I also recommend you get your Labrador used to their own bed as soon as possible, whether that be a dog bed in your room or a crate that’s a den of his own in a separate room.
If your Lab puppy gets used to sleeping in a bed of yours or your children, it will be a hard habit to break and will more than likely end in separation anxiety and night-time whining. You want your Labrador to be comfortable alone for periods of time and should start forming this habit ASAP.
The importance of training your Labrador cannot be overstated.
A dog is a dog and not a human. As a different species they have their own natural behaviors, many of which aren’t compatible with our way of living, either because they aren’t agreeable to us in some manner (digging, counter-surfing, eating poop) or in some cases because they just aren’t safe (chasing motor-vehicles and small animals, chewing our possessions.)
A dog isn’t born with the knowledge of how we’d like them to behave and they don’t naturally understand any commands they are given. You need to teach your dog how to behave and what your instructions are asking them to do.
Before a puppy can become a trusted, well-behaved dog they have a lot of learning to do…and you a lot of teaching!
To learn from the written word, I am part way through building the ultimate resource in the form of this site. Have a look around, there’s a lot of useful material here, particularly in my section dedicated to Training your Labrador.
Recommended Training Course
If you’d like a more comprehensive program to follow in video format, including a follow along time-line of a puppy being trained from 8 weeks old to 1-year-old, with every step along the way committed to video, please check out The Online Dog Trainer.
It’s an excellent, fully comprehensive online training course that covers all aspects of dog training that I am very happy to put my name to and promote :-)
I am creating a great resource for Labrador training and care here, working toward making all the information an owner needs available for free. But sometimes there’s no substitute for instructional video. Not something I’m able to (or want to) create myself, and that’s why I’m happy to promote this course.
You can check it out for as little as $1 for 3 days, so there’s nothing to lose.
Caring for a Labrador Retriever – Conclusion
It’s relatively easy once you know what needs to be done and you set up easy to follow scheduled routines. Routines for feeding, exercise, grooming and visits to the vet are all easily managed with a little knowledge and by planning a schedule in advance and sticking to it.
Spending quality time with your Lab is also key, especially regular grooming sessions. These will teach you what’s normal with the way he looks and feels to your touch so you can spot any changes in their appearance and attitude that may point to an underlying problem.
You should also attempt to learn your dogs normal living habits, how much he eats, drinks and sleeps. A change in these habits can be a sign that something isn’t quite right with your dog.
Anything To Add?
As always, if you have any questions, would like to offer feedback, suggestions or further advice on the subject, please do so in the comments section below. We’d love to hear your thoughts :-)
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LabradorTrainingHQ.com assumes no responsibility or liability for the use or misuse of what’s written on this site. Please consult a professional before taking any course of action with any medical, health or behavioral related issue.