Are Labradors prone to being overweight?

If you are lucky enough to share your life with a Labrador Retriever you can help notice that as a rule they love their food and for some keeping them at healthy weight can be a challenge. Now a study from a group of scientists based at The University of Cambridge have uncovered some interesting findings which may help explain why for some Labs food can be a real obsession.

In May 2016 a team of scientist lead by veterinarian and geneticist Eleanor Raffan published a paper titled “A Deletion in the Canine POMC Gene Is Associated with Weight and Appetite in Obesity-Prone Labrador Retriever Dogs” in Cell Metabolism. Due to the rise in obesity amongst pet companion dogs and the reported prevalence of this amongst Labradors, the researchers had set out to discover if a genetic reason for these dogs being overweight could be found as a significant number of dog remain overweight despite their owners carefully manage their diet and exercise regime. What they discovered was that in a significant number of obese Labs a gene which is associated with producing substances that essentially turn off hunger known as POMC had become mutated with a deletion being found.

The study started by recruiting 310 Labradors made up of a combination of companion dogs and assistance dogs then independently weighed and body scored each of them to determine their condition. From the initial sample 15 dogs who were classed as obese and 18 classed as lean were then looked at further and it was discovered that 10 of the obese dogs had a deletion mutation in the POMC gene while this only occurred in 2 of the lean dogs. With this information the scientists then looked at the remaining dogs with similar results being found. In addition to these 310 Labradors 38 other breeds were also tested with only Flat Coat Retrievers showing the same deletion of the POMC gene.

From their study the researchers concluded that Labradors with this faulty gene would likely hungry more often, essentially not knowing when they are full. This results in a dog who is more interested in food and as a consequence they are more likely to beg or scavenge. However they are also more likely to be food motivated which can be an advantage when training and interestingly the assistance dogs who were tested as part of this study showed a higher than average occurrence of the gene deletion.

Not only does the study give some explanation to why Labs love their food so much but it also has implications for human health as we also have the same gene and in some cases of childhood obesity a similar issue has been seen.

You can read the full study here