Image: Two labrador retrievers in ocean
Jim Michaud  /  AP file
The Dogslife project also is collecting DNA cheek swabs from about 500 dogs to determine how genetics interplays with environment.
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updated 1/18/2013 8:33:37 PM ET 2013-01-19T01:33:37

Should Rover lounge on the couch or ski down a mountain? Right now, there's no way to tell.

But a new health database for Labrador retrievers aims to change that. The database has enrolled more than 1,407 adorable puppies and tracks their health problems as they grow.

The database, described in the Jan. 16 issue of the journal BMC Veterinary Research, could identify genetic and environmental factors — such as exercise and food — that keep Labrador retrievers healthy. In the first year of life, about eight in 10 puppies were ill (mostly from gastrointestinal problems), although only half of those dogs needed to see a vet, according to the new study.

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"We hope to follow the health of these dogs throughout their lives so that we can identify aspects of care which might reduce the risk of dogs developing disease in the future," study co-author Dylan Clements, a veterinarian at the Roslin Institute at the University of Edinburgh, said in a statement. [The 10 Most Popular Dog Breeds]

Healthy pups
In general, some amazing pups are healthy from birth, while others are inbred or sickly. But knowing how to keep Fido in peak condition is less clear-cut.

"If you ask a simple question like, 'How much exercise should my dog get,' then actually it's very difficult to provide an answer based on scientific fact," Clements told LiveScience.

To change that, Clements and his colleagues created an Internet database called Dogslife to track the U.K.'s most popular dog breed from puppyhood onward. They contacted new Labrador owners forwarded from the Kennel Club, and used an online survey to find out what their dogs eat, how often they exercise, where they sleep and live, and what diseases they've had.

Periodically, they remind owners to provide updates on the website. They are currently collecting DNA cheek swabs from about 500 dogs to determine how genetics interplays with environment.

While other dog health databases do exist, including here in the United States, this is one of the few to track puppies as they grow up, and without relying on veterinarian visits, which have the potential for bias toward sick dogs or dogs with wealthier owners.

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