Caring For An Old Labrador

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Puppies grow up all too soon and eventually senior dogs sometimes need a little special care and love

Do you have an old Labrador? Is your lively friend starting to slow down and look a little grey around the chin?

In this article we’re going to take a look at some of the challenges your senior Lab could face.

Giving you the best ways to keep your aging Labrador Retriever fit, comfortable and happy.

If you are looking for information on how long Labradors live for, read our in-depth article on Labrador Life Span here.

Is My Labrador Old?

It may surprise you as it did me, to find out that the pet food companies classify a dog as young as seven years as ‘senior’.

Labrador Retrievers as a breed have a life expectancy of around ten to twelve years.

So it is a little sad to think that when they reach age seven, they are already considered to be entering the winter of their lives.

[wp_ad_camp_5]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.

old yellow lab

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.

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.

[wp_ad_camp_2]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

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.

old yellow labrador

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.

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.[wp_ad_camp_4]

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

If you suspect your dog is already overweight and are struggling to cut down his food,  check out are tips and advice in this article: Fat Labrador!

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.

Check out our recall training centre for recall tips and advice.

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 behaviour.  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.

old black lab

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.

The Labrador Handbook by Pippa Mattinson

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.

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.

[wp_ad_camp_1]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.

Don’t forget to read our in-depth article on Life Expectancy in Labradors

This article has been extensively revised and updated for 2016.

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142 COMMENTS

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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:(

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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

  9. 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.

  10. 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?

  11. 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.

  12. 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…

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