How To Care for Your Senior Golden Retriever

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It seems like just yesterday that your golden Max was a bouncing puppy. 

But 10 years have passed and you see him slowing down. He still loves to play. But he isn’t so driven any more.

Not just slowing down, but the Golden face is turning white, his eyes are cloudy, and you now call him lumpy. Yep, these are sure signs that Max is now a senior golden retriever.

Senior Golden Retriever lying under a bush

Modern advances in veterinary care and canine nutrition have led to many dogs living longer, healthier lives. But it’s still up to us to provide the best golden years for our beloved geriatric dogs.

In this article, I’ll discuss some things to look for to determine whether your dog is slowing down. And what you can do to properly care for your golden and make his senior years happy and healthy.

How Long Do Goldens Live?

Compared to our lifespan, our dog’s lifespan is short. According to the American Kennel Club, golden retrievers have a life expectancy of 10 to 12 years of age.

Years ago, in the 1970s, golden retrievers often lived to be 16 or 17 years old.  

Unfortunately, many vets today call golden retrievers “cancer retrievers” because of the high incidence of various forms of cancer in the breed.

The Morris Foundation is even conducting a study of over 3,000 goldens to determine why they are dying so young.

Years ago, people believed that a dog aged seven years to every human year. The comparison is more complex than that. 

Of course, smaller dogs generally live longer than larger dogs do. Larger dogs age at a quicker rate.

A 10-year-old golden is about the equivalent of a 66-year-old human. And a 12-year-old golden is the equivalent of a 77-year-old person.

Of course, a dog’s lifespan is also dependent on his genetics, environment, nutrition, exercise, and care.

So don’t despair that your still playful 10-year-old golden is nearing the end. With great care, he may see many more happy, healthy years.

Augie, the oldest known golden retriever, passed away one month short of her twenty-first birthday!

Signs That Your Golden Is Getting Old

There are many behavioral and health signs that you’ll see as your beloved golden ages.

Around eight years old, your golden is entering his senior years.

Just like most of us, he’ll start to slow down. He’ll participate in fewer activities and will sleep more.

Many of these are just normal aging processes. Others will require additional care on our part, including taking our dog for veterinary care. 

If in doubt, especially for sudden changes in behavior or health, a vet visit is in order

These include the following:

  • Slowing down: Your golden may start to be more fatigued during or after participating in activities.  
  • Stiff joints, arthritis, or difficulty getting around: Your dog may be slower when he does normal activities such as getting up from sleeping, walking, or playing. If he seems lame, it’s a health concern.
  • Cloudy eyes: His formerly bright amber-colored eyes may seem to have a haze over them.
  • Loss of hearing or sight: Your golden may start bumping into things or not listen to known commands–and not come running anymore when you open a crinkly bag of treats. He may have cataracts or lenticular sclerosis (a hardening of the lens).
  • Weight gain: Some older goldens put on weight because their metabolisms are slowing down and because they’re less active than they used to be.
  • Skin and coat issues: As they enter their geriatric years, many goldens’ formerly glorious coat no longer has its former luster. And their skin may become dry too. Wounds that won’t heal may be malignant.
  • Lumps and bumps: Older goldens can develop various issues. Some may be benign fatty tumors, cysts, warts, or other benign masses; others may be malignant, including some masses that won’t heal.
  • Bad breath: Because of various health issues, including dental problems, a senior dog may have bad breath.
  • Senility: A dog may suffer from dementia or canine cognitive dysfunction in which he may forget known things, appear lost, or become unaware of his surroundings.
  • Anxiety: An older golden may become anxious in normal situations where he was fine before.
  • Less tolerance: A senior golden retriever may become less tolerant of things he enjoyed before, such as petting or attention.
  • Graying face and muzzle: That handsome reddish golden hue may start, little by little, to take on a whiter color.
  • Loss of bladder control and incontinence: Some older goldens start having urine or feces accidents. Bladder muscles weaken as dogs age. Spayed females are more prone to urinary incontinence as they age. But this may also mean a health problem to be checked out.
  • Drinking more than usual: This may be a sign of an illness such as diabetes or kidney disease.
  • Muscle wasting: Older goldens may start to lose muscle mass.

Wait a second…many of these describe me too! I guess at almost 50 years old I must be entering my senior years too 🙁

Ways To Keep Your Senior Golden Retriever Healthy and Happy

There are many steps you can take to help your golden live a great as he ages. It’s incumbent upon us to take all the necessary steps to ensure his happiness and well-being.

Increased Veterinary Care

Adult goldens should receive at least yearly veterinary visits. But our senior companions should have visits at least every six months so that your vet can catch any problem before it becomes life-threatening.

A geriatric visit may include: a thorough physical exam; blood work; urinalysis; a thyroid profile; and an EKG.

Of course, whenever you see any major change in your golden, you should take your dog to the vet to be sure it’s nothing serious.

Weight Control

It’s important to keep our goldens at a good weight. They should have a defined waist and ribs that you can feel but not see.

Too much weight can be a factor contributing to joint and hip problems, diabetes, and some believe even some types of cancer. Obesity strains the body’s systems.

There are diets created for senior dogs that help keep their weight in check.

Nutrition

You want to make sure that you provide the best nutrition for his life stage

You may want to switch him to a senior diet. A senior diet may have fewer calories so that he won’t put on excess weight.

Your golden may need nutritional supplements such as glucosamine and chondroitin for joint health or fatty acids for skin and coat health. 

He may also need a special diet for any health issues he may have such as kidney or liver dysfunction.

Always check with your vet regarding any diet or supplement changes.

Dental Care

Dental care is important throughout a dog’s life. Eighty-five percent of dogs over the age of six have periodontal disease.

Dental health starts at the gumline. Gums that are loaded with tartar and plaque can easily become infected. 

Left untreated, bacteria can enter the blood system and attack a dog’s vital organs, leading to heart, kidney, liver, or respiratory infections.

These potentially can become life-threatening, especially in older dogs with weakened immune systems. 

Brushing your dog’s teeth daily can help prevent these problems. 

Vet checks will also determine whether your golden needs to have his teeth professionally cleaned or any teeth pulled.

Exercise His Body

Just as we need exercise to help maintain good health, so too do our dogs. And it will help keep our senior canine companions fit and happy.

Of course, before beginning a new exercise program, your dog should have a veterinary check-up. And you can ask your vet what type of activities your dog can safely engage in.

He may have been a jogging partner in his youth, but that may be too much for his older arthritic joints and bones.

Look into a good walking program and even swimming, which can be easier on his body. 

Play with him. If he can still fetch, play that game.

Going places to exercise can also help stimulate his mind and keep him from being bored.

Exercise His Mind

For your golden to have a happy, healthy life, you have to stimulate his mind.

Keep doing obedience exercises he’s physically able to do. Teach him new ones and tricks.

Give him puzzle toys.

Socialize Him

As long as he’s able and has the golden temperament of loving people, keep taking him places. 

He may love going to shopping centers, parks, and pet shops to be petted by new friends. 

Make sure that your vet approves of him going to places other dogs are known to frequent such as pet shops. He may have a compromised immune system as a senior and would be exposed to potential diseases. 

You want him to have a great quality of life. 

When my golden Spencer was a senior, he still loved going places and getting a lot of attention. He just beamed when he was petted and told what a handsome boy he was.

Groom Him

Regular grooming will help keep his coat and skin in good shape. Brushing will also help remove dead hair. 

Brushing with an appropriate tool can also stimulate your dog’s skin and give him a massage.

A bath as needed is also an important component of his overall care.

You can also check for lumps, bumps, and skin problems.

Grooming includes doing his nails so that he doesn’t incur muscle strain or balance issues. 

Some dogs wear their nails down naturally. Taking a small tip off weekly can do the trick if they need to be clipped.

Checking and cleaning a golden’s ears is important to their overall health too. They can tend to get dirty, waxy ears.

You can always have him professionally groomed too if you need to.

Parasite and Pest Control

As part of his overall health, check for fleas and ticks daily. Use products your vet approves to help your golden remain free of them.

Help With His Mobility

Use harnesses with handles or mobility slings if needed. He may need some help in getting up and in walking.

Use a ramp for him to get into your vehicle. SUVs, trucks, and minivans may pose the most problems.

When my golden Spencer entered his senior years, I used a ramp for him to get into and out of my minivan. He loved going places and the ramp made it possible for him to continue to take road trips. 

You also want to make sure that he doesn’t slide on smooth surfaces in your house, such as tile, linoleum, or wood. 

Trim the hair between his pads so that he has traction. You can also use nonslip products on his pads or dog boots to help him have traction.

Make Your Home Senior-Friendly

Orthopedic dog beds can be soothing to older bodies and joints. They even make warming pads for beds. 

Make sure your dog stays warm and away from drafts. If you live in a cooler climate, your golden may even need a coat or sweater when winter comes.

Your golden may need to remain on one level of your house if he can no longer use steps.

Raise your dog’s water and food bowls. You can place his current ones on blocks or purchase some that are elevated. This will make eating easier on his neck and spine.

The Last Journey

Unfortunately, our adventures with our beloved goldens never last long enough. Their lifespans are so short compared to ours.

If you’re reading this article, you obviously deeply care about your beloved golden. So you want the best for your dog. And will give him a happy, healthy life.

Eventually we must all face the final journey. Your dog may pass peacefully at home or you may require veterinary assistance to help end his journey. This article may help you in making such crucial decisions.

Your bond with your beloved companion and your memories will remain. Cherish the great times you had with him.

Final Thoughts

We are our dog’s caretakers. There are many steps we can–and should–take to ensure that his last years are happy, healthy, fulfilling ones.

Do you have a senior golden retriever?

Please tell us about him in the comment section below.

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How To Care For Your Senior Golden Retriever - senior golden resting underneath a bush

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