Note: This is a compilation of tips that have helped me raise healthy, sound Labradors. This information is not intended to override anything suggested by your personal vet (who should be seen as needed for routine exams, vaccines, etc), though some of the best tips shared here actually came from vets and online veterinary resources!
FEEDING GUIDELINES: I feed Eukanuba Large Breed Puppy food to all of my puppies for the first 12-14 months. It has lower calcium and phosphorus levels (and proper ratios of both) which help maintain a slower, more uniform growth rate. In addition to the right formulation of food, I feel it is very important to keep puppies lean (but not "skinny" either!!!), particularly while growing through 12- 14 months. After this time I gradually change over to a high quality adult formula. I currently feed Eukanuba Premium 30/20 to my adults but have fed Canidae ALS for years prior (only reason for switch is it seemed as though my adults needed a bit more fat to their diet).
MORE ABOUT WEIGHT: I record my puppy's weight weekly for the first 6 months, and then at least monthly thereafter through the rapid growth stages (normally 10 -12mos). Most vets will welcome your visits to weigh in regularly! A Purina feeding study once found that an overweight pup is much more likely to develop hip dysplasia as compared to its lean littermates. This study also found that lean Labradors lived an average of 2 years longer than their chunkier littermates. See this link for understanding your dogs' body condition so you can prevent weight related health issues. Please--- to (over)feed is NOT to LOVE!!! Obesity is probably the number one health issue facing canines currently, yet it is SO preventable.
CRATE TRAINING: You may ask why this belongs here under the "Health" topic. There are times when we aren't able to watch our dogs closely around the home (or in travel), and a crate will keep them from ingesting harmful things, for instance. I am an advocate for crating all dogs riding in vehicles, and I ask my puppy owners to do the same. Even in a minor accident, an untethered dog can become a dangerous projectile, injuring or even killing others in the vehicle. In the case of airbags deploying, an uncrated dog is not safe and can be seriously injured or killed.
EXERCISE: Daily "free" (off leash) exercise on safe, soft surfaces (fully fenced until training is sufficient) is far preferable over leash walking/running under typical urban conditions. This allows your pup to change speed and direction as needed, and in turn will result in more uniform conditioning of your companion. Please refrain from long forced walks or runs with your pup until his growth plates are closed (generally at or around 14 months), to prevent injury to soft tissues and delicate growth plates. Repetitive exercise such as games of fetch with tennis balls or Frisbees is also very hard on young growing puppies' joints due to the jumping, twisting, and tight turns involved. Many cruciate injuries have been associated with such popular activities. Swimming is generally a very good form of exercise for all ages!
TRAINING/OBEDIENCE: Regular, short training sessions which are mentally challenging will replace some of your pup's need for physical exercise if time or daylight is a factor. I like to start (indoor) puppy kindergarten obedience classes with my own as early as 9-10 weeks old, after they've received at least 2 parvo vaccinations. The first 4 months of a pup's life is a critical socialization period. The puppy's brain is a sponge at this point too, capable of learning so much! Ideally, I like to enroll in at least 2-3 classes, if not more, during the pup's first year.
NAILS & TEETH: Don't ignore regular maintenance!!! I dremel nails here at least 2x a month (1st and 15th of the month normally so I remember or when I start hearing clicking on the tile-- I have very little concrete here to wear them down). I try to check teeth every couple months at least and scale tartar w/ my dental tools if present and brush w/ enzymatic doggy toothpaste. It's a good time also to examine gums for any growths, and of course any tooth damage. Prevention is key to so much!!!
SPAYING/NEUTERING: Unless you purchased your Lab with the intention to show or breed, it is healthiest for your pet to be neutered at the appropriate age. Current studies point to waiting until growth plates close (this generally occurs in Labs by about 14 mos) as the premature removal of hormones can alter the normal skeletal growth patterns and increase your pups' risk for certain health issues. See Chris Zink's article entitled "Early Spay-Neuter Considerations for the Canine Athlete --One Veterinarian's Opinion" for more information and insight. Yet another eye opening article is hinting that we may want to wait even longer to spay our females: http://www.gpmcf.org/respectovaries.html
SUPPLEMENTS: I supplement my own Labradors with the following:
1. MSM (methylsulfonyl methane): This is a sulfur source available at most feed stores in granular or powder form for animals, or at Costco, Walmart, etc, in capsule form for humans. I give just a pinch (~250mg) to my young puppies, increasing this amount to ~500 mg (1/8 teas) at 3 months, and to 1000mg (1/4 teas) by 5-6 months. In case of an injury, I will double the dose, giving it twice a day instead of just once a day. Sulfur is generally deficient in all kibble (processed) food, yet is credited in helping with musculoskeletal development and associated pain; it also helps with arthritis, immunomodulation, and resistance to parasites (roundworms, giardia, etc), and allergies. In the growing active puppy, having the MSM in the diet is especially helpful in the case of injury or "overdoing it", but also because our pups' immune systems tend not to be fully mature for the first several months. I give MSM to my dogs for their entire lives for pennies a day.
2. Glucosamine sulfate: I buy the Kirkland brand at Costco w/ MSM already in it and give 1 per day starting at 3 months, increasing the dose to 2 per day at ~5 mos. I keep my pups on Glucosamine sulfate until they have their final OFA (Orthopedic Foundation for Animals) x-rays done on hips and elbows at age 2 and am assured all joints are healthy. Unless an injury occurs which may promote premature arthritic changes, I will not give it again until my dogs reach approximately 9 or 10 yrs old.
3. Fish Oil: I buy the Kirkland Fish Oil capsules at Costco and begin by giving 1 per day (1000mg fish oil/ 300mg Omega-3 fatty acids) at 3 months, and increase this to 2 per day at ~5 mos. I give my dogs fish oil daily for life.
4. Vitamin E: I also buy the Kirkland brand Vitamin E at Costco (400 I.U.), and give one capsule a day to balance the Fish oil. This isn't needed if you buy certain fish oil supplements which already contain vitamin E, however.
5. B-100 or Super B Complex: I generally split one caplet between 2 dogs daily here, for life. B vitamins promote a healthy immune system, and is particularly helpful for hard working dogs or dogs under more stress than normal.
6. Bac-Pak Plus Nzymes: Fantastic product! I give this to all of my litters beginning with their very first meals. This probiotic/digestive enzyme prep has reduced my total food use by an estimated 20-25%. Not only that, but it helps overcome many other issues common to our pets. For more information, go to the Bac-Pak Plus product link.
7. Cranberry caplets: For the first six or so months of a puppy's life (esp those little girls!), I find this or the ascorbic acid form of Vitamin C to be very helpful in helping to prevent urinary tract infections (UTI's).
8. Supplements/ Vetting for the Golden Years: In addition to the glucosamine sulfate mentioned above, I now begin to give my seniors Cholodin at ~10 years old as well. Cholodin helps support basic neurological and cognitive functions. Older Labs are prone to Laryngeal Paralysis (LP), dementia, and incontinence, to name a few. Cholodin has also been touted to help with seizuring disorders in some dogs. I also make an "organic green mix" recipe that contains spirolina, alfalfa, kelp, garlic, pumpkin seed and other goodies available at many health food stores. Email me if you would like this recipe! Another product suggested to me by a holistic vet for geriatric immune health is Vetri-DMG.
Every dog past age 7 should at least have an annual senior blood panel done. Ask your vet if they don't mention it. It's a good way to catch and reverse liver, kidney and thyroid issues especially!