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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Glucosamine and chondroitin are popular senior dog supplements.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Regardless of how your Lab looks, when they get older they will probably need a little more care and attention from you.
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.