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New research into why your ‘greedy’ Labrador can eat non-stop

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Posted on May 22, 2016: Why does one’s Labrador Retriever lick the dog bowl clean and then follow you around relentlessly for more food? This dog will fly into the air even if the tiniest morsel of food is thrown into it. This dog may keep piling on the kilos. Why then, does another Labrador Retriever have trouble in cleaning out a plate of food? This dog is always lean. What may be the root cause of this? Genetics, claims a study on Labrador Retrievers.

Cell Metabolism in Labrador Retrievers

Labrador Retrievers, are known as a breed that has complicated food related issues. Some of them suffer from a behavioral oddity which makes them overeat and obese. The findings as to why this happens gave insights which could impact the manner in which human obesity is treated.

The majority of Labrador Retrievers have been found to be interested in eating. Eleanor Raffan, geneticist and vet, from the University of Cambridge, carried out a genetic research on the breed. Her research has been documented in Cell Metabolism.  

“This is a common genetic variant in Labradors and has a significant effect on those dogs that carry it, so it is likely that this helps explain why Labradors are more prone to being overweight in comparison to other breeds,” Dr Eleanor Raffan explained in a release from the University of Cambridge, “However, it’s not a straightforward picture as the variant is even more common among flat coat retrievers, a breed not previously flagged as being prone to obesity


In the initial part of the study, Eleanor and her research team studied the genetic profiles of 18 thin and 15 fat Labrador Retrievers. They inspected three obesity genes. Of them, one gene called the POMC gene stood out. This gene causes some drawbacks in the way to weight loss in Labrador Retrievers. It is because of this gene that they’re unable to produce neuropeptides which are appetite suppressants. These protein like molecules help to deaden hunger pangs after a meal. This is why these dogs yearn for more food even after having a bellyful of a meal.

Eleanor’s team studied 310 Labradors. They detected many kinds of dog behaviour associated with the faulty POMC gene. Not all Labradors with this gene variation were fat. The mutation was however surely linked with higher weight. Dogs with this impaired gene displayed more food motivated mannerisms like bestowing greater attention to meals, begging more often for food and hunting more frequently for food. The deletion of the POMC in canines was linked with an addition of 2 kilos of weight in dogs.

Eleanor revealed that around one-fourth of the Labradors match with a specific biological cause for the food obsessive behaviour as reported by pet parents. There are many dogs who don’t possess the mutation.

Only 25% of these Labradors have this mutation (this is the same for Labradors with flat coat), so other factors may come into the purview. Nevertheless, this mutation was found to prevail in three quarters of working dogs. It’s probable that these dogs have more propensity of being chosen for assistance dog breeding programmes as they have a voracious appetite which makes them more prone to being trained.


The research findings may have potential effects on therapy of human obesity. The dog POMC gene operates in a way similar to the way it works in humans. In the human body the POMC gene doesn’t work in the way that it works in mice and rats. Stephen O'Rahilly, a senior author remarked on the study that further research on these fat Labradors may not just help pets but be conducive to human health as well.

Eleanor says that it’s still possible to have a dog with this mutation, yet keep him/ her in shape. All one needs to do is control food portions and not give in when they look at their pet parents with pleading eyes.

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