Why Your Labrador Is Always Hungry

Do you have a Labrador who is always hungry? We do…and this may explain why! It could be in their genes!

Veterinarian and geneticist Eleanor Raffin of the University of Cambridge has recently discovered that certain dogs, Labradors in particular, have a genetic mutation of the pro-opiomelanocortin (POMC) gene that is a cause of obesity.

Raffin's study shows that one in four labs has this genetic mutation. Her research proved that dogs with this mutation burn calories much slower and are hungry much sooner after eating than dogs without the mutation. These two factors lead to obesity. 

How did they test for this mutation? With sausage, of course! In a test called “the sausage box” (sign me up please!), researchers placed a sausage in the box, where the Labs could see but not smell the sausage. They brought each dog to the sausage box three hours after feeding and Labradors with mutation focused twice as long on the box, interacting with it or trying to open it.

In another experiment, the dogs were allowed a food free-for-all to eat as much as they possibly could. Labradors with and without the mutation ate roughly the same enormous amount of food (about 4 lbs.) but Labs with the mutation were more likely to keep eating if more food was placed in front of them.

Researchers concluded that dogs with the POMC gene get a double whammy with increased hunger and low metabolism = obesity. Interestingly, this gene mutation likely occurred with an ancestor of the Labrador – an extinct breed, St. John’s water dog. These ancestors helped fishermen in Canada, where the water remains frigid year-round. Labradors were used to retrieve fish and a nice coat of blubbery fat would have helped to keep the dogs warm in the water. Over time, their genes may have adapted for this sole purpose.

So what if you suspect your dog has the POMC gene? Just knowing this condition exists can be enough. Make sure your dog is getting lots of exercise (to help take their mind off of eating) and any snacks should be healthy (see our video 5 Fruits for Dogs.

If you want to read more about the study you can find it here at Scientific America



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