Like owner, like dog? Almost two-thirds of dogs in developed countries are overweight, with Labradors having the highest rate of canine obesity. Now we know the secret to their insatiable appetite: mutations in a gene that has been linked to hunger in humans! This is a post about why so many Labradors are fat, visit the Labrador Retriever breed page for in depth information about this wonderful dog breed.
Researchers at the University of Cambridge found the genetic variant by studying 310 Labrador retrievers, assessing both their weight and their desire for food.
They found that 23 per cent of the dogs carried at least one copy of a mutant form of a gene called POMC, which encodes proteins that help switch off hunger after a meal. For each copy of the mutant gene, a dog was on average 1.9 kilograms heavier than Labradors with no copies of the variant.
Problems with POMC also affect humans. Babies with compromised POMC function are constantly hungry, and become obese at a very early age.
But research into this gene’s role in obesity has been hindered by the fact that the version of it that rats and mice have is very different from ours. The latest study shows that POMC in Labradors is more similar to ours, meaning these dogs may help us to better understand the importance of this gene in human weight gain.
Fit Labrador puppies
The Labrador Retrievers genetic affliction could be fault of humans. The team found that the mutant form is particularly common in Labradors that have been bred as assistance dogs, for example to guide people with sight problems. Because food is often used as a reward during training, we may have been inadvertently selecting and breeding Labradors that have this gene variant, which makes them especially interested in food.
Food is often used as a reward during training, and carrying this variant may make dogs more motivated to work for a titbit.
Now that the gene variant has been discovered, it opens the possibility to breeding the mutation out of Labradors, to produce leaner dogs. It is reasonable to predict people will control dog breeding to improve the health of future dog generations.
The Labrador is a family favourite all over the world, which is no surprise when you consider their happy-go-lucky nature, strong intelligence and ability to bond well with children.
But while Labradors are renowned for their energetic streak, they are also notorious for their hearty appetites. These eating habits can lead to Labradors gaining more weight than is healthy for them, so it’s important for owners to keep an eye on their dog’s food intake and body shape.
Why are labradors prone to gain weight?
One of the reasons Labradors are more prone to weight gain than other dogs is that they find it hard to satisfy their hunger cravings. Owners that give their dogs the odd extra treat or scraps from the dinner table end up supporting these cravings, making their Labrador much more likely to pack on the pounds. Limiting their treats and scraps is a good way to cut down food intake, but diets that are high in both fibre and protein can also help give your Labrador a feeling of fullness, which helps reduce their begging behaviour in-between meals.
Do Labradors eat a lot?
The Labrador is also a breed with a tendency to eat a lot and eat very quickly – if you watch them, you’ll most likely see them gulp their food down, rather than chew it first. This rapid food intake adds to their risk of obesity. Finding a pet food that encourages proper chewing behaviour can be a great way to make sure your dog is eating at a slower pace.
Some ways you can take control of your Labrador’s eating habits are to monitor your pet’s weight and make sure they are sitting in the healthiest weight range for them. Sticking to a strict feeding schedule and limiting treats is another good way to take control of your dog’s weight gain, along with regular exercise.
If you’re not sure how healthy your Labrador’s weight is, take a look at their body shape. From above and from the side, they should have a neatly defined waist. A Labrador’s ribs should also be easily felt through the skin without putting too much pressure on their frame.