Genetic Mutation Common in Labradors Makes Them Hungrier, But Also Gives Them Slower Metabolism

Labrador retrievers are a very popular breed, serving as devoted family members in homes across the world. Unfortunately, they’re known to be susceptible to a genetic mutation that makes them a little food-obsessed, which leads many of these affectionate pups to put on weight. A new study investigated this further, with some sausage science.

Researchers at the University of Cambridge recently delved further into the impacts of a mutation in the pro-opiomelanocortin gene (POMC), found in 25% of Labrador retrievers. This mutation has been linked with a higher risk of obesity and stronger interest in food. Essentially, these pups want to eat more and tend to be heavier.

Closeup of Labrador eating a carrot

To better understand this problem, the team set out to measure the Lab’s metabolism, how much food they needed to eat to feel full, and how they’d act around a tempting sausage treat. This research involved 87 adult Labs that were either at a healthy weight or moderately overweight. The findings were published in the journal Science Advances.

To see how many calories the dogs burned, the team placed them in a chamber that measured the gases they breathed out. In so doing, the researchers found that dogs impacted by the POMC mutation burned 25% fewer calories at rest. Additionally, when presented with cans of food that they could eat until they were full every 20 minutes, the dogs tended to eat the same amount, regardless of whether or not they had a mutation. This shows that the Labs with the mutation didn’t need to eat any more than other dogs, but, as the findings of a third experiment show, they may still think they do.

Labrador holds empty food bowl in mouth

The researchers had dogs eat a standard-sized breakfast before being presented with a sausage in a clear box three hours later. They couldn’t open the box, only observe it. The dogs with the mutation were much more interested in trying to get to the sausage. This indicates that they became hungry between meals sooner than other dogs, which may be due to the impacts of the genetic mutation on their brains. A portion of the brain linked with body weight regulation sends a starvation signal telling the dogs they need to eat more and conserve energy, when neither is the case.

Dr. Eleanor Raffan, the study’s lead author and researcher in the University of Cambridge’s Department of Physiology, Development and Neuroscience, says, “All owners of Labradors… need to watch what they’re feeding these highly food-motivated dogs, to keep them a healthy weight. But dogs with this genetic mutation face a double whammy: they not only want to eat more, but also need fewer calories because they’re not burning them off as fast.”

Labrador looks at full food bowl

There are humans who suffer from the same genetic mutation, so the findings aren’t just applicable to dogs. People with this issue also face hunger issues and often, earlier obesity.

When it comes to Labs, though, what can you try? The team says spreading out your dog’s daily allotment of food may help, utilizing things like a puzzle feeder or putting the food in hidden places like a scavenger hunt.

Dr. Raffan says, “People are often rude about the owners of fat dogs, blaming them for not properly managing their dogs’ diet and exercise. But we’ve shown that Labradors with this genetic mutation are looking for food all the time, trying to increase their energy intake. It’s very difficult to keep these dogs slim, but it can be done.”

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