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Miniature Labrador Retriever: What You Need to Know Before Getting One

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Elaine Navajo

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Miniature Labrador Retriever: What You Need to Know Before Getting One 1

Thinking of getting a miniature labrador retriever? Do they shed? One look at a labrador puppy and you’ll know why it’s America’s favorite dog. But their size and their exercise requirements make them not so suitable for very busy lives and smaller dwellings.

Is a pint-sized version of the beloved breed the answer to our prayers? Are miniature labs considered purebred? Find out more about the breed in this article.

What Is a Miniature Labrador?

You might have seen ads saying they breed and sell miniature labradors, toy lab, or even teacup lab pups. While they may seem smaller than your average lab puppies, these pups are not true mini versions of the breed, as a purebred mini labrador simply does not exist in the sense that no dog can be registered as a “mini labrador retriever” or “miniature lab”.

There could be a number of reasons why a so-called mini lab is smaller than average. However, the American Kennel Club (AKC), Canadian Kennel Club (CKC), and other renowned international purebred dog registries do not recognize any other size variants of the labrador retriever as purebred. 

Unlike the beagle dog breed which has two varieties (13 inches and under; 13-15 inches), and the poodle which has three (standard, miniature, and toy poodle), the labrador retriever breed standard does not list other size varieties. 

However, there exist labs that may appear shorter than others. The so-called English labradors are known to be shorter and stockier than their slimmer, longer-muzzled American counterparts.

While purebred labs vary a little bit in size, they should not be so small that they can be considered miniature labradors or as small as small breed dogs.

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Labrador Retriever Breed Overview

  • Pedigree: Labrador Retriever
  • Breed Group: Sporting 
  • Breed size: Large breed dog
  • Height: 22.5-24.5 inches (male) ; 21.5-23.5 inches (female)
  • Weight: 65-80 pounds (male) ; 55-70 pounds (female)
  • Energy level: Active
  • Lifespan: 11-13 years

Also read: Best Dog Food Brands for Labrador Retrievers

The Labrador Retriever’s Size

According to the AKC, the official labrador breed standard states that “The height at the withers for a dog is 22½ to 24½ inches; for a bitch is 21½ to 23½ inches.” Any size difference of at least half an inch greater or less than these heights is disqualified. These height measurements apply only to labradors that are at least 12 months of age.

Labs called “miniature labradors”, “mini labs”, or “dwarf labrador” would be much smaller in size than the standard labrador. 

Do Mini Labs or Miniature Labradors Exist?

No international dog registry such as the AKC recognizes mini labrador retrievers or miniature labradors as a separate breed from the standard lab, nor as a variety of the this time. However, you may find sellers and dog breeders claiming to sell mini labs.

Then why are there labs that are much smaller in size compared to others? There are several factors that can affect a labrador puppy’s growth. A breeder claiming to sell mini labradors or miniature lab puppies could be selling dogs that are much smaller in size due to either of the following or a combination of different factors. 


Many breeders have attempted to create very small or teacup versions of various dog breeds by breeding runts or undersized dogs to produce smaller offspring. A dog marketed as a miniature labrador is likely a product of such breeding practices. 

Breeding dogs whose growths have been stunted for the purpose of producing miniature breeds like mini labradors is highly questionable. This is due to the likelihood that the stunted growth of the parents could be caused by health issues, parasites, or genetic diseases. 

A breeder that purposefully breeds unhealthy dogs is not ethically responsible. It could greatly affect not just the puppies’ health but also their quality of life.


The runt of the litter may appear much smaller than the rest of its siblings. These smaller puppies are sometimes marketed as miniature versions of the breed. However, not all runts stay small forever. Many of them are able to catch up to their siblings in terms of growth when given the appropriate diet.

It is not uncommon for pet owners to be told by breeders and sellers that the puppy will only grow up to a certain size, only to find later on that their dog has grown larger than expected. A mini labrador puppy may grow up to meet the standard for a full-sized labrador.


Purebred or standard labrador retrievers can produce significantly smaller puppies when bred with a smaller dog breed. The puppy may inherit many of the labrador’s physical traits and the other breed’s height and build. 

This scenario is likely to produce dogs that are significantly smaller than standard labrador retrievers. Such puppies can be passed off as toy labs or miniature labrador retrievers. 

Over time, it is possible that the physical traits of the smaller dog breed may start to show. In the same way, a seemingly smaller purebred labrador puppy may grow to reach the size of an average adult labrador. 


Labrador retrievers and German Shepherd dogs are two dog breeds that have a higher risk than most to have this condition. That being said, the condition is rare even among the two breeds.

Different types of dwarfism can affect dogs. In labradors, skeletal dwarfism is the most common.

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When a puppy has dwarfism, it grows abnormally and does not reach the size according to its breed and age. The condition can be passed down from parents to puppies under an autosomal recessive inheritance pattern.

Depending on the type of dwarfism a dog has, the condition may present in a wide range of severity and symptoms. Some may have shorter limbs that are not in proportion to the length of their bodies, others may have deformed limbs that can affect how they stand and walk. 

There are also cases of severe debilitation or hormone deficiencies that lead to various disorders such as hypothyroidism and reproductive disorders.

In both types, the dogs are at a much higher risk of developing other health problems such as arthritis, joint pain, or even a reduced lifespan.

A labrador with skeletal dwarfism may appear like a “miniature labrador” or “mini lab” as its short limbs make it look smaller than a standard lab.


One of the most common reasons for stunted growth in puppies is intestinal parasites. Instead of the puppy getting the calories they need to grow healthy and strong from their food, an infestation of hookworms and roundworms can end up consuming most of the calories. This causes a young puppy’s growth to slow down and get stunted.

Young puppies get worms from their mother as well as their environment. De-worming them according to the schedule given by the breeder or vet is very important in ensuring that their growth is not affected by intestinal worms. 

Regular de-worming also helps a puppy grow to be a healthy labrador that is free from diseases caused by parasites.

Lab pups whose growth has been stunted may appear smaller and possibly be labeled as miniature labrador or mini labs. 

Miniature Labrador Retriever: What You Need to Know Before Getting One 2
Image from: Pet Time

What is a Dwarf Labrador/ Dwarf Labs?

Dwarf labradors or dwarf labs are dogs born with dwarfism. This gives them shorter legs than regular-sized labs among other signs. Labradors with dwarfism are sometimes sold as miniature labs or mini labrador puppies due to their smaller size. 

There are a few different types of dwarfism among dogs. A type of osteochondrodysplasia (OCD) affects labradors more compared to most other breeds.

Osteochondrodysplasia – Skeletal Dwarfism

The Canine Inherited Disorders Database (CIDD) of the University of Prince Edward Island in Canada states that osteochondrodysplasia (OCD) describes a range of disorders that are characterized by abnormal growth of cartilage and bone. These disorders typically result in skeletal dwarfism, with the limbs of an animal being disproportionately short, as in the case of some miniature labs.

Skeletal dwarfism, also known as skeletal dysplasia 2 (SD2) is the most common type of dwarfism among labradors. This genetic disorder affects the bones of the limbs in a dwarf lab. It causes the limbs to be disproportionately short compared to the length of the body. Certain breeds such as dachshunds and basset hounds have been selectively bred to have this trait. 

Because labradors are not particularly bred to have this type of dwarfism, labs that have this condition may have mild disproportionate dwarfism or more severe symptoms that can range from bowed limbs; enlarged and deformed joints to severe debilitation. These dogs are also prone to developing arthritis and joint pain.

It is reported that the “working” line of labradors is more commonly affected by this disorder compared to labradors from “show” lines.

Causes of Skeletal Dwarfism 

According to the Veterinary Genetics Laboratory of the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of California, Davis, SD2 in labrador retrievers is caused by a single nucleotide mutation (c.143G>C) on the collagen alpha-2(XI) chain (COL11A2) gene. 

The mode of inheritance for this disease is autosomal recessive. This means that both males and females are equally affected and that two copies of the mutation are needed to cause the defect. 

Breeding two labrador parents that carry the genetic mutation will produce puppies that will also carry the same genes and pass them on to their puppies when bred. However, not all dogs who have this mutation will show symptoms or physical characteristics of SD2 or will be a mini lab or mini labradors. 

The good news is that having dogs tested for such genetic mutations can help prevent them from passing it to their pups. Reputable breeders will not breed dogs that have been tested to have genetic disorders or other health issues, most especially for the purpose of producing dwarf labrador or mini labrador puppies.

Signs for Skeletal Dwarfism or Skeletal Dysplasia (SD2)

  • Abnormally short limbs compared to the length of the body
  • Bent legs/ bowed limbs or limbs angled to the side
  • Deformed joints
  • Enlarged joints
  • Joint looseness
  • Lameness or limping in front and/or rear legs
  • Decreased ability to exercise
  • Severe debilitation

How is SD2 Diagnosed?

A vet may make a diagnosis based on the physical appearance of the dog. X-rays and other tests may also be taken depending on the severity.

Is there a Treatment for SD2?

Unfortunately, there is no known treatment or cure for this condition. Pain medication or anti-inflammatory medicine may be prescribed by vets to manage pain. In some cases, corrective bone surgery may be attempted.

Miniature Labrador Retriever: What You Need to Know Before Getting One 3
Image from: Pawsome Advice

Pituitary Dwarfism

Hospital Veterinari Glories in Barcelona, Spain defines canine pituitary dwarfism as “an endocrine disease in which a deficiency of growth hormone occurs and sometimes appears together with other deficiencies of hormones generated in the hypothalamus, such as TSH and prolactin”. 

This condition is most common in German shepherds but has also been seen in the Finnish Spitz, Miniature Pinscher, and Karelian bear dogs.

Signs of Pituitary Dwarfism in Dogs

Hospital Veterinari Glories lists the following as signs of possible dwarfism in dogs:

  • Lengthening at the closure of the epiphyses of the long bones
  • Secondary bacterial infections of the skin or respiratory system
  • Fontanelles stay open longer than in a normal puppy
  • Comedones and papules on the skin
  • Calcification of the penile bone
  • Late appearance of all teeth
  • Hyperpigmentation
  • Thin and hypotonic skin
  • Progressive skin peeling
  • Hypothyroidism at 2 or 3 years of life
  • Reproductive disorders: such as anestrus (lack of heat) in female dogs and testicular atrophy in dogs.

These health problems reduce a dog’s life expectancy significantly. A labrador has an average life expectancy of 11-13 years. Dwarfism can cause a dog’s life expectancy to be reduced to less than 10 years.

If you adopted or purchased a puppy and it is showing some of the signs mentioned above, consult a veterinarian for a proper diagnosis.

How is Pituitary Dwarfism Diagnosed?

The above-mentioned signs of pituitary dwarfism can start showing at the age of 2-3 months. When the puppies are born, they usually appear like other puppies that do not have this condition until they reach around 2-3 months of age.

Vets may diagnose the condition based on clinical signs and laboratory analysis. A blood test with measurement of certain hormones and other factors is likely to be ordered by the vet.

Is There a Treatment for Pituitary Dwarfism?

There is no cure for pituitary dwarfism. However, therapeutic treatment is important if they are to survive past adolescence. Growth hormone and thyroid hormone therapies are commonly administered to dogs living with this condition, along with treatments for concurrent diseases or other health issues related to the condition such as Addison’s disease and hypothyroidism. 

Are There Small Labrador Retrievers?

You’ll find that purebred labradors come in a certain range of sizes. Some may look shorter, while others may appear taller yet thinner. A purebred lab’s average size ranges from 21.5 inches up to 24.5 inches. You can find ones that are on the lower end of this size range. However, they should not be so small that they appear miniature in size and look like mini labs.

The variations in size and body types have evolved to suit the preferences of breeders or the purpose/ use of the dog. A highly trainable and intelligent breed, labradors are one of the most commonly used working dogs in a wide variety of industries. 

Certain fields may require specific traits from their working dogs and some breeders specialize in providing dogs that meet such criteria. The Labrador Site lists two distinct shapes of the typical labrador.

Shorter, stockier labradors as are often called “English” or “show” line labs, while the taller, slimmer, and more athletic ones have been called “American” or “working” line labs.

Several factors can affect a labrador puppy’s growth. A good indication of what their size will be is their parents’ sizes. Talk to your breeder about any size or body style concerns that you may have. 

Canoe Labs

Canoe labs are labradors that have been selectively bred to be smaller than standard labradors. They weigh about 35 to 50 lbs. The purpose of breeding canoe dogs or small labradors is to make them small enough to jump out of a canoe without capsizing it. Being smaller, they also bring less water back into the canoe on their return.

Despite being smaller dogs than standard labradors, canoe labs have the qualities of an English labrador. They are highly trainable, calm, and excellent at retrieving game. There may be only a select few dog breeders that specialize in canoe dogs.

Miniature Labrador Retriever
Image from: Labrador Time

My Labrador Puppy Is Small. Do I Have a Mini Lab?

If you think that your puppy’s growth is quite slow, take her to the vet for a proper diagnosis. If the puppy is registered as a purebred lab and seems much smaller than average, reach out to your breeder regarding your concerns.

It could be harder to explain why a lab may be smaller or look like a mini lab if it is not purebred or registered, as there is a chance that the dog may have inherited genes from a smaller dog. What’s important is that the puppy is healthy and free from medical issues, which is something that the vet can determine.

Getting a puppy checked by a veterinarian can help rule out any underlying health complications, as well as educate dog owners on how to raise a healthy lab or any puppy for that matter. Vets can guide pet parents on the right nutrition, grooming, exercise, and even interactive puzzle toys that bring out the best in a dog.

A seemingly miniature labrador or mini lab does not necessarily have skeletal dwarfism or other forms of dwarfism. They could be a labrador mix or have just not had their growth spurt yet.

Does Malnutrition Cause Stunting?

Malnutrition in extreme cases may cause stunting, especially in situations where the puppies are starving. Situations like these are usually seen in homeless puppies who do not have regular access to food and water. 

Pets who are in a loving home where they are regularly fed meals are not likely to have stunted growths due to malnutrition. That said, it is ideal for them to be fed a complete and balanced diet that is appropriate for their age and breed size.

Portion size is also very important in raising healthy dogs. Overfeeding puppies can make them gain excess weight, which may put unnecessary strain on their young joints. 

Lifetime studies conducted by Purina on labs found that dogs will live on average two years longer and have much less chronic disease if you keep them slim from puppyhood up to adulthood.


There are many reasons why anyone would prefer to have a miniature lab. No matter the size, labradors are incredibly cute, loving, and just a delight to have in your home. 

If a mini labrador is preferred over large dog breeds due to space limitations, there are many other dog breeds in various sizes that are more compact than a lab. Opting for a smaller breed as opposed to getting a lab that has been deliberately bred to have stunted growth will work out better for both the dog owners and the dog for several reasons. 

For one, the puppy has a greater chance of growing up to be healthy and happy with proper care and love. A mini lab puppy with genetic defects is at a high risk of developing health problems even with proper care. They are likely to have arthritis and joint pain when they become adults and as a result, greatly reduce their comfort, quality of life, and happiness.

We highly recommend visiting shelters or even reaching out to them if you are looking for dogs or puppies with specific qualities. With the number of dogs needing adoption at the moment, there’s a good chance you can find one that is in the size perfect for your home. You can even find shelter dogs with minimal grooming requirements just like the Labrador.

A lab crossed with a miniature breed such as a miniature poodle would produce a smaller type of labradoodle. Because labradoodles have grown in popularity over the years, it is quite easy to find one looking for a forever home in both large breed and smaller varieties.

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