About a decade ago I started seeing these interesting mixed breed dogs come into my office. They looked at first like a Labrador who had grown out its hair a little and gotten a perm. As time went by and they developed a more distinctive look, I realized that the “breed” was here to stay.
So, are Labradoodles healthy? Labradoodles are like any other dog breed. Based on the genetics of their parents, they are prone to a variety of health conditions. The most common ones that I see are orthopedic issues, allergies, ear infections, and cancer.
First – How is a Labradoodle Made?
A cross between a Labrador and a Poodle, the Labradoodle, can come in various sizes and colors. The Poodle can make the Labradoodle a medium-sized dog or a small one depending on what kind of Poodle was used during the breeding process. For example, Toy Poodles will likely produce a smaller Labradoodle.
However, genetics aren’t ever a for-sure thing. You may find that your dog ends up looking more like a Lab rather than a Poodle. They may also have behavioral traits more similar to a Lab as well.
Most often, you’ll get a blend between the two different breeds. It all depends on the genes. Whatever the dominant gene may be for hair color or whether the hair is straight or curly, that’s the appearance you’re going to receive.
Genes also play an important role in determining the health of your Labradoodle.
How is the Temperament of a Labradoodle?
One of the reasons the Labradoodle is so popular is because of its great personality. Labs are notorious for being playful and friendly towards people and pets. Poodles are usually quite friendly, too, if not a little crazy at times. They also can sometimes suffer from separation anxiety because of their social natures.
As a result, your Labradoodle will likely be an extremely friendly pet. You may find that it has high energy levels because both Labs and Poodles require a good amount of exercise and mental stimulation to stay happy and healthy.
What Health Risks Does a Labradoodle Have?
Labradoodles have a lot of health risks because their parents have a lot of health risks. Crossbreeds may claim to be healthier because they’re removing bad genes from the gene pool, but that isn’t the case when the only thing in the gene pool already is bad genes.
Poodles and Labs suffer from several health problems because of interbreeding. When the two are crossed, their shared health problems are made even worse. The puppy inherits bad genes from both parents and stands a greater chance of developing those health risks itself.
In my experience over the past decade or so in my veterinary practice seeing Labradoodles, I have seen the following common health issues:
- Orthopedic issues (hip/elbow dysplasia; ACL tears)
- Ear infections
Some breeds may try to convince you that hip or elbow dysplasia won’t happen in your Labradoodle because Poodles don’t get hip dysplasia very often and the mix will “dilute out” the possibility of hip dysplasia developing. Not true.
This isn’t always the fault of the breeder. Hip and/or elbow dysplasia frequently jumps generations so the parents could pass the Orthopedic Foundation of Animals (OFA) hip screen with a good result but still produce dogs that develop hip dysplasia.
Many times it’s a genetic role of the dice. Make no mistake – no matter how healthy the parents, any dog can develop hip/elbow dysplasia. It’s not related to the diet, too much exercise, or anything else that your breeder may try and convince you.
If your breeder has OFA certification for both parents, then I believe they bear no responsibility if the puppies eventually develop the disease. Breeders who aren’t confirming good healthy hips in their breeding dogs can’t guarantee or even suggest that the puppies shouldn’t get hip dysplasia.
ACL tears are determined by the overall angulation of the rear legs. A dog with a more “vertical” alignment from their knee to their hip will have more strain placed on the ACL and will result in an eventual degeneration and tearing of that ligament over time. Dogs that are overweight will have this happen sooner. Labrador Retrievers commonly have ACL issues and this can be passed along to their offspring.
There are two major categories of allergies when it comes to dogs: environmental allergies and food allergies.
Environmental allergies occur when your dog reacts to things like pollen, dust, grasses, trees, etc. Typical symptoms can include (but not limited to) itchy skin, itchy ears, itchy feet (see the itchy trend?), skin and ear infections, and poor hair coat quality.
Food allergies are greatly over-exaggerated in the general population. Many of my clients believe their dog’s allergies are related to food initially. What’s the major way to spot a food allergy vs an environmental allergy? If your dog’s allergy symptoms are consistent throughout the year despite the weather and seasons, that’s more likely to be a food allergy.
Allergies can be mild as not requiring any treatment at all to requiring the assistance of a dermatologist. I’ve had many Labradoodles with allergy issues so this particular problem something a Doodle owner is likely to see.
The vast majority of ear infections occur secondary to allergies. The ear canal is an L-shaped tunnel. The vertical part of the ear canal is what you see when you look into the ear. The horizontal part is a dark, warmer, and more difficult area to see unless you use an otoscope like a veterinarian. Unfortunately, it’s the horizontal ear canal where ear infections begin.
When a dog has allergies, the glands inside the ear will secrete a little more fluid and wax. When this happens, the normal amount of bacteria and yeast that already live in the ear will find a far better environment than usual to multiply.
One side point – if your Doodle happens to carry the gene that causes hair to grow in the ear canals, do not worry about having that hair removed on a regular basis at first. Despite what you would think, the hair in the ears does not cause ear infections. In fact, the hair can act as a protective mechanism to catch fluid and debris before it can enter the ear canal.
If a Poodle, or Doodle, with hair in the ears develops an ear infection (again typically due to infections), that hair should be “plucked” at that point so that the ear infection can be properly treated. That’s the only time in which I recommend a ear hair plucking.
This is the worst fear of any dog owner. Unfortunately because of the propensity of the Labrador Retriever breed in general to develop cancer somewhere at some point in their lives, this issue can be passed along to Doodle offspring. Diluting the Labrador Retriever out of the Doodle doesn’t necessarily mean that cancer is less likely. It can make it more likely if it’s a recessive trait that is more likely to be expressed as generations evolve.
What types of cancer have I already seen in Doodles?
- Liver cancer
- Osteosarcoma (bone cancer)
- Hemangiosarcoma (blood vessel cancer)
How to Determine If A Labradoodle Breeder Is Legit (Questions to Ask the Breeder)
One of the best ways to ensure you buy a healthy Labradoodle is to learn about its parents through the breeder. Unfortunately, due to the popularity of the Labradoodle, there are tons of dog breeders out there trying to cash in on the craze. Many of those breeders are amateurs who aren’t aware, or simply don’t care, about the health of the dogs that they’re breeding. That means you’re at risk of buying an unhealthy dog and supporting an unreputable breeder.
A few questions can help you determine whether or not you’re buying from a reputable breeder. The first is to ask about the parents’ medical history. Breeders should have paperwork from official sources that indicate whether or not they’ve been tested for hip dysplasia or eye problems.
Questions to Ask A Labradoodle Breeder:
- Are the parents in this litter OFA-certified? What is their health history?
- Have they been bred before and how healthy are the puppies of those litters? Do they keep track of those puppies?
- How many times a year is the mother bred (I recommend one litter a year per mother)?
- How old was the father/sire when he bred the mother? (there are pros/cons of the age of stud dogs; some feel that older stud dogs who are still healthy and active have the best genes that you want to pass on).
If the breeder is unable to provide this information to you, then it’s best to walk away. Even if they lower the price of their puppies, you’ll likely end up spending even more on vet visits and care for your sick puppy.
It can be difficult to find reputable breeders because Labradoodles aren’t officially part of the ACK. As such, there aren’t records about their health or breeders selling them. That being said, you can find several online communities that can help point you in the right direction.
How Can You Care For Your Labradoodle?
What are the best methods to keep your Labradoodle as healthy as possible?
- See your vet on their recommended schedule and follow their preventative health plan. These differ based on geographic location and lifestyle so there’s not one simple all-encompassing plan for everyone that I would talk about here.
- Start doing annual blood tests at 5-6 years of age to monitor for any early markers of disease.
- Feed a reasonably good quality food. Grain-free diets have no scientific backing and I don’t know of a single vet who think that they should be used without a specific reason (food sensitivities/allergies being the only ones). Limit people food and dog snacks in general. Dog food doesn’t have to cost $50 or more for a 20lb bag.
- Mental stimulation is a must – these dogs are intelligent and need to be challenged. Plenty of toys, playful interaction, training, and interaction with other dogs are recommended.
- Physical exercise is also great. Daily walks are ideal but a trip to the dog park on occasion based on your dog’s needs are great ways to get that exercise.
Do Labradoodles Need To Be Shaved?
For medical reasons, no. They don’t need to have their coats trimmed unless it’s causing matting or problems keeping the dog clean. However, most Labradoodle owner will have their dog trimmed to maintain the face appearance at the very least. My clients have told me that they usually take their Doodle to the groomer every 2-4 months, depending on the kind of look they want to maintain.
Labradoodles can be a great addition to the family. However, it’s vital that you take the necessary precautions and steps when dealing with a breeder. Learning about the puppy’s parents and asking your breeder questions can determine how healthy your puppy is and the kind of life you can have with your Labradoodle.