Caring For An Old Labrador

sweet old chocolate labrador with grey muzzle

Old Labrador Retrievers will typically be slowing down and looking gray around the muzzle. Senior Labradors can stay fit and healthy into their teenage years, but they still show signs of aging. Old Labs often experience hearing and vision loss. Eventually arthritis and even incontinence occurs. And then inevitable questions about pain relief and quality of life rear their ugly heads.

Getting old isn’t always fun for dogs, but fortunately there is plenty you can do to keep your older Labrador happy for as long as possible. Adapting your home and vehicle, your dog’s bed, diet and exercise routines can all help.

Is My Labrador Old?

It may surprise you as it did me, to find out that the pet food companies classify a dog in their seventh year as ‘senior’. Elderly Labrador Retrievers as a breed usually pass away at around a decade, or a little longer. So it is a little sad to think that when they reach their eighth year with you, they are already considered to be entering the winter of their lives.

Happily though, we can take solace in the fact that with a little extra care and attention, these retirement years can be not only plentiful, but fun filled and healthy too. In this article, we look at how you can help your older Labrador enjoy life, and have a long and healthy old age.

Old Labrador Health Problems

Sometimes the changes that come with age must be accepted,  but often there is much that can be done. Common health problems in old Labradors can include:

  • Hearing loss
  • Vision impairment
  • Incontinence
  • Arthritis

Vision Loss In Old Labradors

Hearing loss and vision impairment might seen like inevitable parts of aging, but not all sight and hearing difficulties are untreatable. For example, cataracts can be removed giving dogs a new  lease of life.

Fortunately, failing sight does not seem to bother dogs that much,  provided you don’t keep moving the furniture or changing their routines around. Less happily though,  failing hearing can be more of a problem when managing your dog.

old yellow lab

Hearing Loss In Old Labs

Around the house you are normally fairly close to your dog, but the scenario changes rather rapidly when you venture outdoors. When you go for a walk, recall commands are very important and you do rely on your dog being able to hear you or your whistle at all times. This is not only an inconvenience but a potential safety issue.

Luckily there are measures we can take to reduce the problems that arise from loss of hearing. Build associative large, clear hand signals for his commands.

Labrador Incontinence & Arthritis

Incontinence is also common in old Labs, especially spayed females. However, some forms of incontinence can be treated with medication. Giving both you and your senior Labrador improved quality of life.

Arthritis is a common condition amongst elderly Labradors, but it can be helped with the right pain medication and on occasions surgical intervention. There are also various ways you can make your arthritic Lab more comfortable at home, which we will look at a little later on. It is always worth having a chat with your vet to find out what can be done before you accept the new situation as a definite part of life for your Labrador senior.

Sudden Changes in Old Dogs

If a previously active or greedy dog suddenly starts to slow down or  go off his food,  don’t just put it down to old age. Sudden changes can be a warning that something is wrong. Other signs that a visit to the vets is in order include persistent coughs, reluctance to walk, unexplained whining or barking, and reduced apetite. Remember that many dogs give only very subtle signs that they are in pain, and a trip to the vet may be in order.

Lumps and Bumps In Old Dogs

Older dogs are more likely to suffer from some serious health concerns, so it’s good to know what to look out for. You may notice your older Lab start to get a bit lumpy in his old age! Harmless fatty lumps are very common in older dogs, but you should still get new ones checked over by your vet just in case.

They might not always be immediately visible. Routinely give him a good rub along his flanks, belly, neck, shoulders and legs. Checking for anything new.

old yellow labrador

Best Dog Food For Senior Labradors

Senior dog foods are often designed for dogs with reduced calorie needs. Just like older people, dogs that are getting on in years do not require as much energy in their diet. However, be cautious when picking a new food straight off the shelf purely based on his age. If your dog is working or exercised hard he will probably benefit from staying on his current feeding regime.

Some of the ‘light’  or ‘low calorie’ foods for older dogs are simply padded out with fillers. The best dog food for senior Labradors is often simply his usual food in a smaller quantity.

Obesity In Old Labradors

One of the best things you can do for your older  dog is keep him slim. Any vet will tell you that most of the dogs they see are overweight, especially notorious food enthusiasts like Labradors. Carrying extra pounds is especially harmful to older dogs, as it puts a strain on their joints and exacerbates problems such as arthritis. Keeping your dog slim can buy him months and even years of extra happy life.

Helping Old Labs Slim Down

Don’t forget, even if he is not as active as he used to be, there is no reason for your senior Labrador to get fat. You control the food, so if he is piling on the pounds, give him less of it.

old chocolate lab

Senior Dog Supplements

Glucosamine and chondroitin are popular senior dog supplements. There is some good evidence that they may delay the joint problems associated with old age. Namely slowing down the progression of arthritis.

Old Labrador Training

As perhaps you would expect, elderly dogs are less inclined to race around and leave you behind when you are out and about. This assists us in dealing with the potential problems of hearing loss, as the closer he is to you the more likely he is to pick up your command.

A word of warning though – don’t be too quick though to put a failed recall down to hearing. It is always worth doing a bit of top up recall training every so often, as many dogs get ‘sloppy’ on the recall in later years.

Old Dog Recall Problems

A common cause of recall problems is that we tend to take obedience for granted in older dogs and fail to reward the recall any more. So keep those rewards coming from time to time and don’t forget to give your dog a nice ‘jackpot’ reward occasionally to keep his recall nice and sharp.

Exercising Your Senior Lab

Dogs will generally let you know when they are wanting to ‘slow down’. If your older dog is really finding an hour’s walk a bit much, then its ok to cut down a little. Breaking his exercise into two or three smaller walks may be just what he needs. If he is reluctant to go on longer walks, it could be that he is suffering from aches and pains.

Old Lab Pain Relief

A lot of people are understandably reluctant to give their dogs daily pain medication. However, this can drastically improve some Labradors’ quality of life. It is therefore worth talking to your vet about this option.

Never give dogs human pain analgesics like aspirin or paracetamol, they are not safe for canine use. Remember, dogs can’t tell us when they are in pain or discomfort. It’s our job to read their signs through changes in their behavior. And to make these important  decisions on their behalf.

Senior Dog Care

Older dogs are more likely to need some extra creature comforts to keep them happy at home. Senior dog care starts at home. Additional padding on an elderly dog’s bed, or a thicker mattress could give them a much better rest. Raised feeders can make it easier for your dog to eat his dinner, although you will need to chat with your vet before using one if your dog is a fast eater.

Your aging Labrador might also benefit for some help getting about. For example, if you have any high steps up to your front door or he is showing signs of struggling to get in the car. Ramps can be a handy addition, and you can make or buy removable ramp for his use.

Geriatric dog care can extend to changing your home routine a little too. If his bladder is not what it used to be, you might have to wake up and let him outside a little earlier than you used to. But these small adjustments are a tiny price to pay for the years of companionship he

Does My Lab Look Old?

It is curious how differently some dogs visibly age.

Some dogs have barely changed since they were puppies, so it is very hard for anyone that does not know them to guess exactly how old they are. Apart from the tiniest hint of grey under the chin, some dogs of eight or nine look identical to how they did five or six years ago.

On the other hand others of a  similar age are almost unrecognisable from photos of them aged two or three. We had a female Labrador whose fox red coat was ticked all over with silver hairs and her face was almost entirely white by the time she was six. Whilst she was still very fit, her premature greying made her look like a little old lady.

The Labrador Handbook by Pippa Mattinson(paid link)

Regardless of how your Lab looks, when they get older they will probably need a little more care and attention from you.

Caring For Your Old Labrador

Getting old is an unavoidably part of life, and most Labradors stay fit and active for most of their days. However, they will inevitably become a bit less mobile, have more aches and pains, and be less resilient in the face of illnesses.

As loyal and devoted members of our families, we owe it to them to ensure that they are well cared for and comfortable in their old age. Fortunately, there is a lot we can do to support them at this time. And in turn, they will continue to give us the companionship and love that we have so treasured throughout their time with us.

old black lab

The Labrador Site Founder

Pippa Mattinson is the best selling author of The Happy Puppy Handbook, the Labrador Handbook, Choosing The Perfect Puppy, and Total Recall.

She is also the founder of the Gundog Trust and the Dogsnet Online Training Program 

Pippa's online training courses were launched in 2019 and you can find the latest course dates on the Dogsnet website


  1. This has been a terrible week for me and my family. We lost our Coco (chocolate lab) on Monday. She was 15. My heart hurts so bad. I will never have that perfect of a dog again. She had the best personality. She loved us big and we loved her. Over the last year I noticed she was breaking down in her hips. Couldn’t hardly climb steps. Took her a couple of tries getting up from laying down. She had lost so much weight. You could see her rib cage and her hip bones. If someone didn’t know, they would have thought we were starving her. She had a good appetite though and still loved her treats. I even treated her to a few bites of pizza on Sunday night. She was so restless on Sunday night before bed. She passed peacefully Monday morning.
    Thanks for listening,
    Patricia Robertson

  2. Hi my lab max is 13 and showing bad signs of arthritis and also his throat closing over, skin conditions and cysts and also fur falling out and scaly skin. We are reluctant to say goodbye as he is still able to toilet and go short walks. Don’t know if Iam being cruel as he shows no signs of pain and still wants to go for walks any advice would be much appreciated

    • Have you tried CBD oil? The vets can’t recommend it, but I have a 13 year old lab and it was life changing. Any CBD oil shop will have oil for dogs and can recommend dosage. You can also get it at half the price on Amazon.

  3. I have a wonderful blond girl. She is 8. She is a big dog. About 80 lbs. I.have had four labs over the past 30 years, all rescus. All were wonderful and all were different in their own special way. The other three were black. The oldest lived to 15 or 16. As rescues our vet was only able to estimate their age. Losing each one was heart breaking.. I am aging too. I am 82 and i can honestly say she is my best friend. I understand how hard it is for others. I have had other breeds, but there is nothing like the heart of a lab.
    Give your dog lots of hugs and rubs, good food, hide the chocolate well,
    And be thankful a lab chose you to love. And to those who recently lost a friend , how hard it is on you, just hold the memories and smile knowing you had a lab you back.

  4. How would an 8 year old golden Labrador behave after being spayed?
    My Labrador is still seeming to be having a fantasy pregnancy by almost crying; and playing with her squeaky toy all the time. She was spayed ten days ago.
    Please can anyone assist me with any advice.

    Kind regards and thank you

    Craig Norris

  5. My lab female (candy) will be turning 15 in Apr 20 she can barely walk and shows all symptoms of old age associated with labs about 2 years back we reduced her diet and this has gone long way in keeping her healthy. Another important thing we did was to never feed her sugar or salt and spicy food . It is painfull seeing her nearing her end

  6. I can only recommend what I give my 13 yr old black lab is a product called Recovery SA extra strength in powder form every morning for his hips started 4 yrs ago when he showed problems walking never showed any decline he is slowing down as he gets older never in pain u should inform yourself about the product which was originally developed for horses and now for smaller animals and humans works wanders to keep the animals healthy for as long as possible he is a happy dog also I feed him only lamb and rice kibble less processed more natural

  7. We were blessed 17 years ago now, when extended family members brought home a little black puppy they’d found in a ditch along the road. Their father’s suggestion was to drown her in a nearby creek. My brother’s wife intervened, and Gabby came home with them. From that instant she was my brother’s dog–and, according to her, his woman. She actually pushed his now-ex-wife out of bed!!! The only time she was ever intentionally destructive after they separated was when they tried to get back together briefly. Gabby ate the carpet!!! The two of them==Doug and Gabby–have been sharing the house with me (another female-type person) and our father for over 10 years now. Until she was about 15 1/2, her favorite game was “football,” and she would run like the wind to catch it. But the last couple years have seen her slow. We know we won’t have her much longer. We help her up the ramp (built originally for my Mom) when the stairs are too hard. Doug gets her softer beds. She has trouble getting up from a sitting position now, so we help her. She has little accidents in the house, but we clean them up, and tell her we’re not mad, and that we love her. I think she lives on love–and the really good dog food my brother buys her. I’ve told her that when she goes to sleep forever, we’re going to keep her ashes, and I will see to it that she is put in the same urn with her special boy, Doug. I intend to keep that promise for both of them. We have been so blessed by this special friend and family member. Every doggie-smile she still gives us is a special blessing.

  8. I have a nearly 14yr old black labrador,named Zeus,he is my best +loyal companion you could ever want. I love him more than life it’s self. Unfortunately 2yrs ago he showed signs of Arthritis in his back legs. Taken him to the vets on numerous occaisions diagnosed arthritis. Meds given started a become a little better,then more or less over night he became really unsteady on his back legs. More meds but didn’t really get any better,really healthy dog apart from the arthritis,also he wasn’t showing any signs of pain. I know this cos for 14yrs he has been my best friend+we both understood each other. He always knew a way to show me wen he had pain. One week ago today his right front leg became artritic,he was finding difficulty weight bearing on it. The vet has given him more meds+has told me if no improvement within a wk,it will be my decision to put him to sleep. This will be the hardest thing to say good bye to my best friend,I.m crying my eyes out typing this. I.m trying to make everything has comfortable for him has I possibly can,cos he deserve it. Never find another one like you Zeus my boy the bestest dog in the world,I.m going to miss you so much. I can’t leave you suffer I know it’s getting painful for you,I see it in your eyes. Love you Zeusxxx

    • I give my 10 year old flexadin advanced glucosamine conjointin for older dogs with arthritiswhen my dog was 3 he couldn’t lift his rear end off the floor and I started giving him flexadin advance he was able to get up and run and play I still give it to him today and he still likes to run and play ball I have been Amazed by this stuff I get it from my vet.

    • Has me in tears. I feel so bad, such a tough decision to make and I admire your strength. I have an old white lab of 14 years old, can still see and hear very well, but about once a month all of a sudden he is panting and shaking, trying to get me to help him… I feel bad.. On pills from the vet, but I dread the day that is coming that you have faced.
      I have seizures occasionally, both times when I was with my dog, I woke up to him licking my face on top of me, and very concerned. When I got back from the hospital, he ignored my parents that walked thru the door first (never does that), and all of a sudden was so happy to see me. I never had a best friend in life even close to the loyalty in my dog. The memories will last the rest of my life, as I am sure with you.
      One day, you will be with Zeus again!

  9. I have a 14 year old yellow lab who I am having a very hard time watching decline. She has bad arthritis as well in her hips and the once 75 lb beauty is down to 57 pounds but still eats twice a day. I have in her the vet more frequently and just recently had a full blood draw and everything came out good. She has been on pain meds for her hips for a while now. She is full of lumps and bumps and now is having issues with stability, I know the end is near yet it is so hard to make that decision when I look into those big brown eyes. I so wish they could talk:(

  10. Our best friend Lucie is 14 years young a female black lab adopted her when she was 8 weeks old playful strong heart shiny coat,but has arthritis real bad ,hip displasha, partially deaf and blind, fatty lumps on her skin and for about the last couple of months started having accidents in the house I know she is in pain. But it is so hard to do in envidible she is our youngest but oldest daughter have taken her to her vet multiple times.

  11. I have a 10 year old female who has not changed at all since she was a puppy She has endless energy. We walk 7 miles a day and she probably runs (chasing tennis ball) another 5 miles a day. She is completely insane with energy. I suppose someday…when she slows down (that will happen?) i will be sad. Maybe…

    • I also have an 11 year old boy. He is on the other end of the spectrum. He’s diabetic, had cataracts but had surgery to correct. He still goes on long walks and is my best friend…but i have to motivate to get going.

  12. PSA: please come home from your vet’s office with all blood/chemistry tests performed on your Labradors. Do not rely on your vet’s verbal summary/interpretation of the results to you. Bring home the actual numbers so you can catch and track things your vet “overlooks.” Our very beloved 14yo yellow Labrador had numerous evidence of early kidney disease back in February 2018 when he went to the vet for pancreatitis. When we put together his new symptoms on our own in April 2018, he had developed full-blown Stage IV kidney disease and died a week later. This could’ve been avoided and managed at the Stage I level had our vet disclosed his elevated Creatinine, BUN, and most importantly his SDMA (the earliest predictor of kidney disease). We’re heartbroken and angry we were robbed of precious time with our best friend.

    • Can totally relate. I was done the same way by my vet. My sweet white lab Sugarpoos was put down for hepatic encephalopathy due to liver failure, at 9.3 years old. If you live in a one party state, record the liar vet.

  13. My 15 year old chocolate lab woke up one morning and could barely walk. Mind you, the day before she was running after tennis balls. Took her to the vet. X-rays showed spurs and arthritis. She also started peeing and pooping. Vet said Kaopectate,WORKED GREAT.

    • I think the answer is a good quality dog food (you need to check what is available in your area/country), but don’t overfeed him! Don’t feed him sweets or anything silly like that. Let him have treats, by all means, but make them dog treats, not chocolate cake! Fresh or cooked vegetables are OK, but check that whatever you’re giving is OK (for example, onion is potentially posisonosu for dogs.) Labs will commonly eat anything put in front of them, so they can be prone to putting on weight. But in reality if your dog gets fat it is only your fault as the owner – you control how much he eats and how much exercise he gets; if he’s overweight he needs less food and/or more exercise. Fat dogs are NOT happy dogs and being overweight can cause serious medical problems. So, you should be able to feel his ribs but not see them – that’s a good way to measure most breeds of dogs. If you’re still unsure, ask your vet.

    • I feed my 14 year old lab with arthritis and joint issues Signiture brand Kangaroo with a vet ordered tramadol low dose for her pain, a multivitamin, and a glucosamine, 2x daily, with her meal. She’s doing Great and aging gracefully ??. Good luck to All.

  14. Mine is a 11 years old lab. I feed him twice. Give him 5 indian bread with 2 cups of classic chicken dog food. And sometimes add milk or curd to it

  15. Our labrador is 13 years old although he doesn’t look it. He is having the classic signs of ageing: arthritis and some loss of hearing, a new symptom appeared recently. Some nights after we go to sleep he seems to get a bit agitated and disoriented, he paces the floor going back and forth, I’ve tried talking to him and rubbing him gently on his back but it doesn’t help. The Vet gave us a medication for anxiety Alprazolam 1 mg and it does work. I’m reluctant to give it to him regularly so I only use it when he begins to get agitated. We also give him Gloucosamine. I’ll be grateful if you have any comments to share.

    • We faced a similar situation with our 12 year old female chocolate lab. The issue presented itself with increased panting which we initially thought was an indication of pain. However, overtime, we realized that some portion of the panting appeared to be anxiety related. Our vet recommended that we consider using medical grade hemp oil. It was designed to assist with both inflammation and anxiety. When we started this treatment, we started on the lowest dosage for her weight. It has had an immediate and sustained positive impact. I recommend you discuss this option with your vet.

  16. We have an 11 yr old black female. Wondering if any one has some advise. The older our girl gets the more needy she is becoming. She injured a hip, & is no longer able to play fetch or run around which always kept her happy. We’ve tried kong toys with treats etc. Any ideas how to keep her more engaged & self assured?

  17. Our 16 year old black lab has dwindled from 65-70 lbs down to barely 30lbs and has switched to grazing instead of gobbling his bowl. His eyes and ears are overly productive requiring cleaning every 2 days. I know it’s irritating him because he shakes his head a lot, however because of his decreased muscles he falls down when he shakes his head, as well as randomly when walking. He can’t fetch his ball anymore without falling. He’s blind in one eye, and definitely going deaf. His gas smells of death, his breath horrible. He holds his bm until he has an accident inside. All this and his mind is still that of a pup. He’s been my friend for 12 years and I think we are saying goodbye this week.

  18. Our retired guide dog is a 19 yr old black Labrador retriever, although well trained she is now pooping and peeing in the house. We tried all the usual things but nothing works. The vets also say there is nothing left for them to do. She has outlived all her litter mates by eight years.
    She is getting to be to much for us, as we are up in years also, and my wife is totally blind.
    The guide dog school will not take the dog, as she is partially blind and does not hear well. We have steps and the dog needs help getting up them or into the van.
    We have gotten in to a lot of arguments lately, i want the dog put down, but my wife refuses.
    The dog had cancer twice already, and drags one foot and leg. I have made an ultimatum that the dog stay outside in the daytime. So most pooping has stopped, but she still poops in her sleep.
    Don’t know what to do, the dog is in obvious pain. But my wife is stubborn as hell.

    • We have an 18 yr old female lab who also lost control over her bladder & bowels. We switched her to boiled chicken & rice (about 60% rice) and she is doing much better. She may have an accident maybe 1 time a week now. We changed her eating schedule as well, she gets 1 1/2 cups of boiled chicken & rice in the morning and 3/4 cup in the evening. Making sure she has plenty of time to go outside & do her business before we leave for work in the morning or before going to bed at night. We also give her Cosequin twice a day (one in the morning & one at night) to help with aches & pains, but please check with your vet before giving your dog any supplements.

      • do you give her white rice? and just boil the chicken in water and like shred it? mine is almost 16 year old lab also pooping/peeing all through the days…

    • I realise that this is an old thread but I just wanted to share my experience just incase someone finds the thread and takes some comfort just as I did.

      I lost my 8 (nearly 9) year old yellow lab 4 weeks ago, she was full of life and showing no signs of slowing at all, she still bounced up and down to greet me home from work, she still chased balls at speed when out on walks, she looked and acted half her age.

      One day she started shaking, went to vets the next day and they gave me pain relief (loxicom) for a swollen knee, shaking continued so went back to the vet couple of days later and they then gave her Gabapentin, this medication stopped the shaking but two days later she was vomiting blood, back to emergency vet in the middle of the night where she was hospitalised for 4 days on an IV fluids and antibiotics, her temp was extremely high and they couldn’t find why, she had scans, tests and xrays – nothing could be found.

      In the end I made the decision to put her to sleep, she hated being away from home and when I went to see her on her last day she looked miserable and Ill, she could barley stand and her behind was soaked with urine and her paws were stained with vomit, I let her go, I broke down when I realised I had silently made that decision In my head,

      The heart wrenching thing is that my girl used what little energy she had to get onto her feet to come and comfort me by putting her head in my lap. I was too overwhelmed with grief to even realise that I should have went to her. I cannot believe the unconditional love and affection that dogs give us throughout their short lives.

      My girl went from a very heathy dog to getting out to sleep within 2 weeks. I’m racked with guilt over the life I provided for her, I worked every day and she spent most days alone and bored, all she had for me was love and I know I should have given her so much more than I did.

      Please cherish your dog because when they are gone the realisation of how much they actually mean to you hits you like a sledge hammer.

  19. We had our Bubba for 13 wonderful years he was a true blessing to our family. I had to help him cross the rainbow bridge on the 28th of July. I felt as though he was not having the life he deserved with the arthritis it was really bad he needed help getting up,going out side pretty much anything. I gave him meds for pain,but being able to move was the problem from his chest up he was very strong the rear end was another story.