The Labrador Retriever is one of the most popular dogs in the United States.
Thousands are born and adopted around the world each year.
They are known for their playful and laid-back temperaments.
Their delightful personalities make them very suitable as both family and working dogs.
They are some of the most popular guide and service dogs.
But everything is not sunshine and rainbows with these canines.
Their lifespans are sadly very short.
The average Labrador barely makes it to double digits.
This sad reality means that any Labrador owner will have to care for an elderly dog sooner rather than later.
Luckily, there are quite a few things you can do to help your old Labrador age gracefully and live their golden years in comfort.
When Is a Labrador Officially Elderly?
There is not one specific guideline that lays out when a Labrador is considered elderly.
Just like people, some dogs are going to show signs of aging earlier than others.
A dog’s age status depends mainly on their genetics and health.
A dog that develops arthritis at an early age is likely to be considered elderly before a completely healthy dog, for example.
Senior Age Versus Lifespan
Generally, though, Labradors only live to about ten or twelve years of age.
Because of this lifespan, most Labradors are considered elderly around seven years of age.
However, like we previously discussed, this can vary.
Some Labs won’t act elderly at all by seven, while others will begin slowing down long before that.
We recommend keeping an eye on your dog and their behavior to determine whether or not it is time to consider them elderly.
Behavior Can Help You Gauge Life Stage
Often, your dog’s behavior is a better indicator than any predefined age.
Whenever your dog reaches their elder years, you will notice that they will begin moving slower.
It will be harder for them to get up after napping, and they will often start sleeping more throughout the day.
Your dog might be unable to go on the long walks they once did.
And they will likely have to use the bathroom more as their bladder control weakens.
Their slower metabolism might cause them to gain weight.
But it is also not uncommon for Labs to lose weight as they age, especially if they have dental problems.
Luckily, there is quite a lot you can do to ease your dog’s transition to elderhood.
Caring for an Old Labrador
As soon as your dog begins showing signs of aging, you should take steps to ensure their well-being.
Your first step should be to prepare your home for an elderly dog.
As your Lab ages, they will likely experience limited mobility.
Their limbs will become stiff, and their balance will not be as good as it once was.
To prevent unnecessary injuries, we recommend skid-proofing areas your dog spends time in.
Add towels or carpets to hardwood floors.
And be sure your pooch can safely travel to their water and food bowls without slipping.
If your older dog suffers from joint problems, upgrade their leash to a harness.
You might also want to consider investing in a ramp to help them reach higher places.
This type of bed can prevent unnecessary joint pain and make cleaning up possible bladder leaks much more accessible.
If you haven’t already, you should raise your dog’s bowls off the ground.
Raising their bowls will take the pressure of your dog’s spinal column and help them keep their balance while eating.
Your aging Labrador might have difficulty regulating his or her body temperature.
You should move their sleeping area away from drafts and invest in a dog blanket or two for the winter.
Come up with a plan to keep your dog active.
Your old Labrador will not be able to exercise as rigorously as they once did.
But it is still essential for them to be active regularly.
Short exercise sessions will keep your canine healthy and prevent them from gaining too much weight.
Look Out for Changes in Health
On top of general accommodations, you should also keep an eye out for any specific health problems.
Labradors are particularly prone to bone, joint, and eye problems, which can strike as they age.
Kidney disease, heart problems, and cancer are also common.
If your dog begins to show any strange symptoms, it is important to contact your vet.
Even if you think your canine is only experiencing normal aging, it is always better to be safe rather than sorry.
Lethargy, vomiting, frequent urination attempts, incontinence, weight change, wounds that won’t heal, and bad breath are all signs of potential health problems.
Old Labrador Diets
On top of these accommodations, you should consider changing your canine’s diet.
Not all aging Labradors will need to switch to a senior diet when they hit the age of seven.
If your canine is still active and playful, there is no need to change their food.
However, many elderly pets will need to switch to a special diet eventually.
What diet they need to be switched to depends on a lot of variables, however.
Elder dogs do not need different nutrients than adult dogs.
And senior dog foods do not have to follow any specific guidelines to use the label “senior.”
So senior dog foods tend to vary quite a bit. Not every senior dog food is made the same.
For example, some senior dog foods have a decreased calorie count to prevent weight gain, which Labs are prone to.
But this will not be suitable for dogs who are already on the small side.
Sodium and Phosphorus
Many senior dog foods also have lower phosphorus content.
High amounts of phosphorous are linked with kidney disease.
However, if your dog needs a specific diet to avoid kidney disease, it is almost always better to choose a prescription diet for the kidneys instead.
Similarly, many senior dog foods are also low in sodium.
But this sort of restriction is not necessary unless your dog has specific medical conditions.
In which case, it is better to choose a dog food formulated for their particular situation.
Supplements are not necessary unless specified by your veterinarian.
Some supplements can even be harmful to older animals and interact with medications.
Instead of switching your canine to a senior diet only because of their age, we recommend working closely with your vet to choose a diet suitable for your dog.
Your vet might recommend a prescription diet geared towards your pet’s specific medical problems.
Or they might recommend staying with their current dog food.
In some cases, your vet might recommend a specific senior dog food that meets your dog’s requirements.
Your Aging Labrador
In most cases, the first sign of aging is a general decrease in activity.
Your Labrador might not play as much and might sleep for more extended periods.
They could also begin to display signs of muscle stiffness or pain.
Arthritis is common in older dogs and might affect your canine when they get older.
Almost every senior dog will experience a health problem or two when they get older.
Keeping your older dog comfortable requires you to work with this health condition.
At the age of ten, your Lab will begin showing sure signs of slowing down if they haven’t already.
You should make proper accommodations to your home to allow your pooch to get around easier.
Ramps and carpets are particularly helpful.
You should also keep a close eye on your pooch to catch any potential health problems early.
While most dogs experience health problems eventually, finding them quickly is essential for treatment.
Remember to keep your dog on an exercise plan, and pay careful attention to their weight.
A yearly check-up with your vet is essential to keep your canine health in check.
It is not odd to see a Lab live until 11.
But they are often obviously elderly at this point.
Their mobility will be hugely diminished, and they might even begin to have obvious joint pain at this point.
Their eyes could begin to be affected if they haven’t been already.
Accommodations are even more critical at this age as your canine shows clear signs of aging.
An orthopedic dog bed is a must, and a ramp should be considered for any high area.
Many Labradors begin slowing down profusely at this age.
They might not move much at all.
This is also the age that many Lab owners begin considering euthanasia.
While this is never an easy decision, it is essential to consider your dog’s quality of life.
Some dogs at this age cannot do much besides lay around at this point, while others aren’t nearly as bad off.
This is usually the maximum age of a Labrador Retriever, though some do live longer.
Labs at this age can go downhill very quickly.
Many animals will lose their mobility within weeks, if they haven’t already, and develop most of the symptoms of aging.
Any illness your pooch contracts will often have a significant impact on their health.
Their body just cannot bounce back like it once did.
Even a small cold can have a month-long impact.
While younger dogs can quickly bounce back from many diseases, this is sometimes just not possible for aged dogs.
We recommend feeding your dog healthy food if you have not done so already.
Doing this may help prevent illness from occurring or help speed up the recovery from illness.
If nothing else, it may be wise to consider preparing for your dog’s passing if you see rapid declines in health.
Unfortunately, percentages of Labs living past 12 begin to decline sharply.
Hitting the 13-year mark is an accomplishment for a Labrador.
As your dog’s age begins to extend beyond their breed’s life expectancy, more rapid declines in health may be observed, and more extreme cases of illness are possible.
It is very likely that your dog is lying around most of the time at this age, and eats very little.
Other common symptoms are deafness or blindness and lack of interest in some of their favorite activities and people.
Accommodations will be necessary at this point.
Your canine will likely not be able to jump at all and will have severe difficulties using stairs.
It is highly unlikely for a Labrador to live until this age.
However, it is not impossible
A 14-year-old Lab will likely experience significant symptoms of aging.
Their limbs will not work as they once did, and they will have weakened bladder control.
They will likely not be able to see as they once did.
And their mental health might begin to slip as well.
You should not expect your dog to move much at this age.
But you should attempt to get them moving if possible.
Even just a walk around the house for their health can be enjoyable.
A comfortable bed is necessary to prevent aching joints and bed sores.
A 15-year-old Labrador is a rare sight.
But there are a few reports of Labs living to this age.
By this point, a Labrador will likely be experiencing at least one significant medical condition.
Much of their care will revolve around keeping their last days comfortable.
You should carefully follow any instructions your vet gives you.
However, you should also begin thinking about the end of life circumstances for your dog.
Even the slightest sickness can take a toll on these elderly Labs.
Once sick, many will not recover at this age.
Euthanasia is on most owners’ minds at this point.
Your Old Labrador
Labradors typically live to around 10–12 years old.
But many will begin showing signs of aging around seven or so.
Luckily, there are a lot of steps you can take to keep your pet comfortable in their elder years.
References and Resources
Finco. “Effects of dietary phosphorus and protein in dogs with chronic renal failure.” American Journal of Veterinary Research. 1992.
Raffan, Eleanor. “A Deletion in the Canine POMC Gene Is Associated with Weight and Appetite in Obesity-Prone Labrador Retriever Dogs.” Cell Metabolism. 2016.
Morgan. “Bone dysplasias in the Labrador retriever: a radiographic study.” Journal of the American Animal Hospital. 1999.
“Summary results of the Purebred Dog Health Survey for Labrador Retrievers.” The Kennel Club.
Barnett. “Hereditary retinal dysplasia in the Labrador Retriever in England and Sweden.” Journal of Small Animal Practice. 1970.