How to care for an older Labrador

As far as pedigree dogs go, year after year the Labrador retriever is voted one of the nation’s most popular breeds of dog. However, as they get older even this high-spirited sporting breed will start to slow down and grow a little greyer around the muzzle. When this inevitably happens to your precious canine, you’ll need to adapt their routine a little in order to cope with the changes.

If you’re wondering how you’ll care for your older Labrador then look no further than this Petwise guide. It looks at some of the common problems you and your faithful friend might encounter. And, most importantly, how you can help them to still enjoy later life.

Whether they need more frequent vet visits or changes to their diet, having specialist senior dog insurance in place is an important part of providing that extra support for your faithful friend.

Labrador Retriever

All about the Labrador retriever

According to the experts at the Kennel Club, Labrador retrievers are a member of the ‘Gundog’ breed group. These dogs were originally bred to find and retrieve game shot by human hunters. The group is divided into four categories: Retrievers, Spaniels, Pointers and Setters.

Labradors are incredibly versatile and are popular as a family pet, service dog, guide dog, as well as a working gundog. They’re renowned for being loyal and loving dogs who will happily get along with anyone. Their even-temper and patient nature makes them ideal for children. They’re also a very dutiful dog that learns quickly, so training is fairly straightforward at any age.

Be aware that if you’re looking for someone to guard your home, Labradors don’t have the most fearsome reputation. Although that could change if a would-be burglar tried to make off with the treats jar!

With a short coat, grooming is pretty simple, with a weekly brush usually enough to keep them in tip-top condition. As a large and energetic breed, they need lots of indoor and outdoor space and at least two hours of exercise a day. The average Labrador lifespan is between 10 and 12 years.

The Labrador retriever is very similar to the Golden retriever, with folded ears, webbed feet, long tails, an affinity for water, and a friendly disposition. Although you can usually tell them apart by the longer coat and snout of the Golden retriever. Neither like being left alone for long periods of time, so be warned if you don’t like finding your shoes chewed by a furry but frustrated friend.

Labrador health problems

As dogs get older you can expect they will develop health problems connected with their age. However, loving owners are understandably upset when they find out that their beloved pet has developed a health problem linked to its breed.

Knowing what problems the breed is prone to is an important part of making an informed choice when it comes to buying or adopting any dog. A recent study by the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) revealed a number of particular health concerns for the breed. The potential health problems that Labradors are particularly prone to include:

  • Arthritis – Unfortunately as a large dog that’s prone to obesity, this painful inflammation of the joints is common among Labs.
  • Lipoma – Any breed can develop these benign fatty tissue tumours but Labradors are particularly susceptible.
  • Osteochondritis dissecans – This is an abnormality in the development of bone from cartilage. As a result, within joints such as the shoulder, elbow, knee, and ankle, a flap of cartilage can develop making your dog lame.
  • Skin cancer – Dogs can get skin cancer just like we can. Dogs with comparatively short coats like the Labrador are more likely to suffer from this disease. The Blue Cross animal charity has more information on what to look out for and how to protect your dog.
  • Obesity – If some estimates are to be believed, nearly 60% of all Labradors are overweight or obese. Indeed, researchers have found that unlike almost all other breeds, many Labradors are missing part of a gene which is known to regulate appetite.
  • Hip and elbow dysplasia – These painful conditions refer to the abnormal growth of the hip and elbow joints.
  • Progressive retinal atrophy – This inherited disease causes a gradual deterioration of the retina of the eye. Symptoms can start with night blindness and progress to complete blindness.
  • Entropion – An abnormality particularly affecting the lower eyelids of dogs such as the Labrador. The eyelid rolls inward, causing the eyelashes to constantly rub against the eye causing irritation and eventually blindness.
  • Laryngeal paralysis – An illness affecting older Labs that partially paralyses the larynx, resulting in a muffled bark and difficulty breathing. If left untreated, the disease can cause life-threatening breathing obstruction.

But it’s not all bad news. Apparently, Labrador’s have a reduced risk of several conditions such as patellar luxation, heart murmur, dental disease and anal gland blockages. Good news for anyone who dislikes performing unpleasant tasks!

How to care for an older Lab

Along with these conditions, you also have to add old age issues that can affect any dog, no matter what breed. Such conditions include:

  • Incontinence
  • Hearing and vision loss
  • Weak back legs
  • Tiredness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Cancer
  • Kidney disease
  • Heart disease
  • Dementia

To give your aging Labrador the best chance of a happy life you need to keep on top of these conditions. Here are some top tips from Petwise on caring for your older Lab.

  1. Make frequent vet visits

As your Labrador enters the sunset years, it’s important to keep up your relationship with your vet. Reporting even minor changes in your older Lab is vital as it enables your vet to discover problems before they get any worse. By seeing your vet frequently you’ll save a lot of heartache and money in the long run.

Arranging senior dog insurance is the perfect way to keep your faithful friend as fit and healthy as possible. After all, you don’t want financial concerns to get in the way of older pet care. By having appropriate insurance cover, if you notice even minor changes in your dog’s health or behaviour, you can just nip them to your vet for a check-up.

  1. Tweak your grooming regime

As Labradors get older, you’ll probably need to groom them in a slightly different way compared to when they were a puppy. Think about the following when grooming a senior Lab:

  • Skin and coat
    As your Lab ages their beautiful coat may become thinner and appear duller than it used to do. A regular brushing with a soft bristle brush can help, as can using specialist shampoos. While you’re at it look out for any suspicious skin lumps or bumps and check for ticks, fleas, and other parasites.
  • Ears
    With their lovable, floppy ears, Labs can be prone to ear infections. If you notice constant head shaking, scratching at the ears, or a discharge then get them looked at by a professional. Always dry your Lab’s ears if they’ve been in water.
  • Nails
    As older dogs move less than younger ones, their nails can become too long. Manage the length of your dog’s nails by clipping weekly.
  1. Taking care of those aches and pains

We all know that as we age, aches and pains can become more frequent. But that doesn’t mean they should be ignored. Your old Labrador could have sustained an injury or be suffering from arthritis or another treatable pain-related issue. Consult your vet to give you the right pain medication for your aging dog. A warming pad in their bed could also give welcome relief for old joints. Or maybe a relaxing doggy massage? Read our recent article for more on how to massage an older dog – they’ll love it!

Chocolate lab

  1. Making bedtime as restful as possible

Despite the energetic nature of the breed, you’ll no doubt notice your older Labrador sleeping more. To help them enjoy this new found pastime invest in a well-padded dog bed or orthopaedic bed to up the comfort levels for your pooch.

  1. Keep up the exercise

While your previously bouncy pup may have slowed down somewhat,  that doesn’t mean you can hang up the lead and your walking boots. Exercise is just as important for the older version of your doggy. While you might not go for the lengthy long-distance walks as you used to there’s still plenty you can do. Why not try out our top tips for walking an older dog  and see if something works for you?

By keeping to a consistent exercise routine as your dog ages you’ll help keep their weight down, their muscles strong and hopefully ensure a longer life. If your older dog is wobbly on their back legs then consider moving from a lead to a harness for more stability.

From dog lift harnesses for back legs and hip support to traction socks for slippery floors, there are plenty of gadgets and accessories on the market perfect for older Labradors.

Be aware that if you’re making any changes to your older Labrador’s exercise routine then it’s important to discuss these with your vet. After all, you’ll want to make sure that the exercise they’re doing is helpful rather than harmful.

  1. Helping them get around

It can be difficult for an older, larger dog like a Labrador to get around. But there are things you can do to help. Perhaps provide a ramp or step for them to climb on so they can get in and out of your car. Or remove clutter from around your house to help them navigate when their eyesight is failing. Try to see things from their point of view and make changes if you can. Even small changes can make a big difference to an old dog’s quality of life.

  1. Watch their weight and consider supplements

As we’ve already discussed, Labradors can be prone to weight gain. And as they age this can become even more of a concern. Have a frank discussion with your vet to discuss a suitable diet for your senior Labrador to help prevent weight gain becoming an issue. There are lots of foods on the market targeted at the specific needs of senior dogs. And with senior dog insurance from Petwise there’s a senior food contribution to help you with this. What a great benefit!

To complement any changes in diet it might also be worth discussing with your vet any supplements they would recommend for an older Labrador. Fish oil, glucosamine, and chondroitin are all popular senior dog supplements, but you’ll want to speak with your vet before using them. After all, you don’t want to be giving your dog the wrong medications.

Also, consider buying a raised bowl for your dog to take the strain out of eating.

  1. Don’t forget the snuggles

Loading your old dog with love and affection is sure to help get them through their twilight years. Getting older can be painful, tiring and emotionally difficult for both you and them. However, snuggling up on the sofa and spending quality time together are what makes it all worth it.


  1. Get senior dog insurance from Petwise

You don’t want unexpected medical bills to stop you from providing your beloved companion with a happy and comfortable life. Especially for breeds like Labradors that are more prone to certain medical conditions.

Here at Petwise, we want all older dogs to enjoy a fulfilling and pain-free life. No matter what breed, older pets should still be able to enjoy a good quality of life, walking, running and interacting with you just like they’ve always done.

You shouldn’t let the financial worry of vets bills stop you from giving your older pet the senior life they deserve.

That's why we're proud to offer various levels of senior dog insurance. Benefits can include:

  • 24-Hour Vet Helpline
  • Farewell cover included
  • Dental cover as standard
  • Bereavement helpline

Remember, there’s no upper age limit when joining, so even if your dog is getting on in years, we can still provide the cover they need.

Get in touch with us to find out more about senior dog insurance today.