Oh, the beloved Labrador Retriever. Widely accepted as the most popular breed in the world. Faithful Companion. Prized hunting and sporting dog. A favorite disability assistance breed, frequently trained to aid the blind, act as a therapy dog, and perform screening and detection work for law enforcement. Outgoing, highly social, and even-tempered, labs are a great fit for an active family. You want your Lab to be with you for as long as possible and to remain healthy for the duration, and high-quality nutrition is one of the cornerstones of reaching that goal. These foods are our top picks for Labs.
Considerations for Labrador Retrievers: Obesity, Allergies, and Bloat
Out of all breeds, the Labrador Retriever is the most likely to become obese. This has been attributed to a specific gene mutation. In a 2016 published study, it was shown that out of 310 Labradors, most were missing all or parts of the POMC gene, which plays a part in appetite regulation. According to the study’s owner survey, the dogs with the mutation displayed more food-obsessed behavior. They begged their owners for food more frequently, paid more attention at mealtimes, and scavenged for scraps more often. Out of the 81 assistance Labs in the study, 76 percent showed the POMC deletion. This led researchers to believe that their stronger food motivation may lead these dogs to be selected for assistance dog training at a higher rate as the training generally uses food rewards. The study concluded that the alteration of the POMC gene had a significant impact on Labrador weight and appetite. Keeping a dog with this gene mutation at a healthy weight requires more rigorous portion control, and a strong resolve on the owner’s part to limit treats when Fido is giving you his best puppy dog eyes.
Obviously, lack of proper exercise only contributes to this problem. In general, a healthy adult Lab requires at least one hour of exercise every day, with more energetic individuals requiring a minimum of 1.5 hours. The Lab is a high energy working breed, initially bred for very physically demanding work retrieving game for hunters. This work involved all day hiking, running, and swimming, sometimes in difficult conditions. Because they are genetically predisposed to a highly active life, it’s important to fill this need for activity on a daily basis, or your Lab’s pent-up energy might also lead to serious behavioral problems.
Obesity exacerbates conditions such as hip dysplasia and joint problems, and can lead to secondary diseases such as diabetes. Osteoarthritis is very common in older, especially overweight, Labs.
When a dog’s immune system responds to allergens in the environment, whether it be to dust, pollen, food, chemicals, or bacteria, their immune system produces a protein called IgE (immunoglobulin E) which triggers the release of histamine. Histamines are the compounds that cause irritation and inflammation. Labs tend to be a more allergic breed because their immune systems produce more IgE.
Food allergies can present as itchy skin, hair loss, ear infections, diarrhea, skin infections, and even behavioral problems.
Food allergies are caused by allergic reaction to common ingredients in dog food such as beef, chicken, corn, soy, wheat, and eggs. The easiest way to deal with food allergies is to feed your Lab a diet that doesn’t contain the ingredient they’re allergic to. Your vet can perform an allergy test to determine which allergens your dog is allergic to, or you can switch foods to see if a more limited ingredient food eliminates the problem. Just remember that when switching food, you should do it gradually. Start day 1 with 25% new food, 75% old food and gradually increase the new while decreasing the old until the transition is complete on day 10.
Bloat is a major consideration for large dogs, particularly deep-chested breeds like Labrador Retrievers. It often occurs after a dog has scarfed down a large meal and then exercised vigorously, and Labs are notoriously fast eaters. When you encourage your pup to eat slowly, it helps them avoid swallowing excess air. Consider feeding your Lab two meals a day, not just one large meal, and never free feed. Most vets recommend large kibble because it forces the dog to chew the food (as opposed to inhaling a bowl full of small kibble) and extends the meal. Keeping them from exercising 1-2 hours after the meal allows them to digest the meal entirely. Bloat can progress into a condition known as gastric torsion or GVD: Gastric Dilation Volvulus. Essentially, the stomach, which has filled with air, twists and flips over on itself, preventing the air from escaping. The bacteria in the stomach continues to produce gas, which makes the situation worse. This is a horribly painful condition. Look for excessive drooling, repetitive, unproductive vomiting, and a swollen or enlarged abdomen. If this happens to your Lab, seek emergency treatment immediately as this condition is life-threatening.
And just for fun, this two minute video sums up the Labrador Retriever in a nutshell.
The Best Dog Food For Labs
Purina Pro Plan FOCUS Weight Management Large Breed Formula
- One (1) 34 lb. Bag - Purina Pro Plan High Protein, Digestive Health Large Breed Dry Dog Food, Chicken & Rice Formula
- Glucosamine and EPA, an omega-3 fatty acid, for joint health and mobility
- High protein promotes muscle conditioning when combined with proper exercise. No artificial colors or flavors
- Fortified with guaranteed live probiotics for digestive and immune health
- Used to be known as FOCUS Large Breed Formula
Purina developed their FOCUS line to address a dog’s specific needs, which in this case, is weight management for dogs over 50 pounds. This formula contains high-quality chicken as the #1 ingredient, and features 26% protein and 9% fat to help your Lab maintain an ideal weight and body condition. They add Omega-3 fatty acids and glucosamine to support your Lab’s joint health and mobility, and prebiotic fiber to support digestive health. Reviewers overwhelmingly agree that this product is 5 star for weight loss success and maintaining a healthy weight into the future.
Royal Canin Labrador Retriever Adult
- For labrador/retrievers over 15 months of age
- Helps maintain ideal weight
- Supports strong bone structure
- Promotes beautiful and healthy waterproof coat
- Vision support
Royal Canin’s formula, specifically designed for Labrador Retrievers, has 32% protein and 10% fat, a ratio that will help your dog maintain an ideal weight Their exclusive donut-shaped kibble was created to help large breed Labs chew their food and eat more slowly. Nutrients like EPA, DHA, and glucosamine support bone and joint health. This formula also reinforces the skin barrier with essential nutrients to support healthy skin and dense undercoats.
Royal Canin also makes a Puppy Formula specifically for Labs.
Eukanuba Breed Specific Labrador Retriever Adult
- EUKANUBA Labrador Retriever Dog Food features 3D DENTADEFENSE System, which is proven to reduce tartar build-up in 28 days
- Our nutritional dog food is made with high-quality, animal-based proteins to help your lab build strong, lean muscles for an optimal body condition
- Our Labrador retriever dog rood is formulated to help support healthy joints
- EUKANUBA PREMIUM Labrador Dog Food contains calcium to support strong bones
- Promotes healthy digestion and skin and coat health
This formula, designed for retrievers, features high-quality chicken as the #1 ingredient. It was developed with an appropriate protein to fat ratio (23% protein, 13% fat) to help maintain a healthy weight and minimize joint stress. This food also features Eukanuba’s 3D Dentadefense System, which is proven to reduce tartar build-up in 28 days. Backed by 45 years of research, Eukanuba products offer proven nutrition to help promote peak physical condition and activity.
Wellness CORE Original Grain Free Large Breed Adult
- ADVANCED NATURAL NUTRITION TO FUEL YOUR LARGE BREED DOG'S BEST LIFE: Premium protein expertly balanced with nutrient rich superfoods for a complete and balanced dog food, with guaranteed levels of the nutrients your large breed dog needs to thrive
- SAVORY FOOD DOGS LOVE: Wellness CORE is available in grain and grain free recipes, as well as limited ingredient diets for dogs with food sensitivities
- LEANER BODY MASS AND MUSCLE TONE: Wellness CORE dog food is made with a high concentration of protein from fresh meat ingredients
- SUPPORTS HEALTHY SKIN AND COAT with guaranteed levels of omega fatty acids from ingredients such as flaxseed and salmon oil
- WHOLE BODY HEALTH: Supported by omega fatty acids, antioxidants, glucosamine, probiotics and taurine for a healthy heart
CORE products are 100% free of grain, animal by-products, artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives. Wellness CORE uses higher amounts of protein (34% protein, 12% fat), and real chicken is the #1 ingredient. CORE also supplements glucosamine and chondroitin to support joint health. This nutrient-dense recipe is formulated with optimum fat and calorie levels to help large dogs maintain a healthy weight, and after cooking, each kibble is coated with probiotics to help support a healthy digestive tract. It also feature a larger kibble size for large breed dogs. Wellness CORE is made in the USA.
Please note that Wellness CORE makes a Reduced Fat option with the same high-quality ingredients that Wellness is known for. Protein to fat ratio in their Reduced Fat food is 33% protein, 10% fat.
Blue Buffalo Basics Limited Ingredient Grain Free
- STARTS WITH REAL SALMON: This adult dry dog food features a single animal protein source along with potatoes, peas and pumpkin to support gentle digestion, making it a good option for dogs with a sensitive stomach
- LIMITED INGREDIENT DOG FOOD: BLUE Basics is a limited ingredient dog food that doesn’t contain any chicken, beef, corn, wheat, soy, dairy or eggs making it a good option for dogs with food sensitivities
- ANTIOXIDANT-RICH LIFESOURCE BITS: A precise blend of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals carefully selected by holistic veterinarians and animal nutritionists to support immune system health, life stage needs and a healthy oxidative balance
- A NATURAL DOG FOOD: BLUE dry dog food is made with the finest natural ingredients enhanced with vitamins and minerals; BLUE contains NO chicken (or poultry) by-product meals, corn, wheat, soy, artificial flavors or preservatives
- Contains one (1) 24lb bag of BLUE Basics Limited Ingredient Diet, Natural Adult Dry Dog Food, Salmon & Potato
If your dog is highly allergic, a limited ingredient food may be the way to go. Unique to this brand are Blue Buffalo’s exclusive LifeSource Bits, containing a precise blend of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, which are cold-formed. This means that they minimize the amount of heat exposure to these bits to prevent the important nutrients from being destroyed in the manufacturing process. This food is comprised of high-quality protein, easily digested carbohydrates, a healthy blend of vitamins and minerals, and Omega 3 & 6. They use no poultry by-product meals, no corn, wheat, soy, dairy, or eggs, and no artificial flavors or preservatives.
You have a direct influence on your Lab’s health when you feed him high-quality nutrition. An overweight Lab is prone to heart disease, diabetes, kidney issues, and joint problems. The correct balance of diet and exercise will keep your Labrador Retriever fit and ready for anything.