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Why are labradors so greedy

Why Are Labradors So Greedy Compared to Other Dogs?

Why are labradors so greedy? A new study claims to finally have the answer! The study, supported by the Wellcome Trust, Medical Research Council Metabolic Diseases Unit, found genetic links between labrador retrievers and their motivation for food. These findings are one of the first to directly link a gene to canine obesity.

There is no doubt that labradors tend to be more obese than other breeds. Multiple studies have confirmed this is true, regardless of the dog’s owner 1. Labradors are also more food-motivated than other breeds, as revealed by a questionnaire completed by 213 dog owners 2. As to why labradors are so greedy has been a difficult question to answer, until now.

Investigating a Genetic Cause of Greediness

Eleanor Raffan, a veterinary surgeon and geneticist at the University of Cambridge began her investigation by selecting three obesity-related genes. Each of the selected genes were known to affect weight in humans.

Analysis found a mutation in a gene known as POMC which was predicted to interfere with the body’s appetite. The same POMC gene is already associated with differences in body weight in humans.

There are a number of ways a gene can become mutated. In this case, a section of the gene has been deleted. This is known as a deletion mutation. This deleted section is also missing in a number of human obesity cases.

The mutation was expected to hinder a dog’s ability to produce the neuropeptides β-MSH and β-Endorphin, which are usually involved in switching off hunger after a meal.

“There are even some rare obese people who lack a very similar part of the POMC gene to that which is missing in the dogs”
Stephen O’Rahilly – Co-director, Wellcome Trust-Medical Research Council

POMC Gene Affects Behaviour and Weight Gain

After the initial findings, the researchers studied a larger sample of 310 labrador retrievers. In this investigation a number of food-related behaviours were found to be linked to the POMC mutation.

Owner’s recorded more ‘food-motivated’ behaviours in labradors with the POMC mutation. These dogs were especially attentive at meal times, begging for food and searching for scraps more frequently. On average, POMC deletion was found to be associated with a 1.9kg increase in body weight 3.

If you’re trying to keep a labrador slim, unfortunately the odds are stacked against you. Evidence suggests dogs can influence the quantity of food offered to them by their owners 4 and labradors are particularly good at it.

The POMC mutation makes labradors more likely to increase food intake by scavenging or begging. In turn, this is going to cause weight gain.

Although the deletion mutation of the POMC gene is linked with an increased weight, not all dogs were overweight. In fact, owners of dogs that are highly food-motivated are more likely to limit their pet’s food portions.

labrador waiting for food
Waiting by the dinner table for some lunchtime scraps? Image: Daphné

Guide Dogs More Likely to Have POMC Mutation

The POMC mutation linked to increased weight was detected in 23% of the dogs included in the study. Of the 81 assistance labradors included in this cohort, 76% carried the mutation.

Eleanor Raffan, a veterinary surgeon and geneticist at the University of Cambridge suggests the selection of the dogs could be responsible. Assistance dog training typically involves lots of food rewards. Increased ‘greediness’ associated with POMC favours dogs with the mutation when selecting guide dogs.

How Greedy is Your Labrador?

Labradors are by far the most common dog in the UK and US, so many of you can relate to their obsession with food! How much does your labrador eat? What is the weirdest thing they have eaten? Let us know in the comments below.

If you’re a Labrador owner wondering if your lab is overweight, try body condition scoring. If you want to get your pooch back to a healthy weight, you could also try our new calorie monitoring tool, HealthTrak. HealthTrak helps you log weights, meals and overall progress as well as earning some achievements along the way!

Summary: Why are Labradors so greedy?

  • New study finds genetic links between labradors and their obsession for food.
  • Labradors shown to have higher rate of obesity than other breeds.
  • A mutation in the gene, POMC affects appetite.
  • POMC mutation found in 23% of Labradors.
  • POMC deletion was found to be associated with a 1.9kg increase in body weight.

Featured Image: Peter Voerman


References:

  1. O′Neill, D., Church, D., McGreevy, P., Thomson, P. and Brodbelt, D. (2014). Prevalence of Disorders Recorded in Dogs Attending Primary-Care Veterinary Practices in England. PLoS ONE, 9(3), p.e90501.
  2. Raffan, E., Smith, S., O’Rahilly, S. and Wardle, J. (2015). Development, factor structure and application of the Dog Obesity Risk and Appetite (DORA) questionnaire. PeerJ, 3, p.e1278.
  3. Raffan, E., Dennis, R., O’Donovan, C., Becker, J., Scott, R., Smith, S., Withers, D., Wood, C., Conci, E., Clements, D., Summers, K., German, A., Mellersh, C., Arendt, M., Iyemere, V., Withers, E., Söder, J., Wernersson, S., Andersson, G., Lindblad-Toh, K., Yeo, G. and O’Rahilly, S. (2016). A Deletion in the Canine POMC Gene Is Associated with Weight and Appetite in Obesity-Prone Labrador Retriever Dogs. Cell Metabolism, 23(5), pp.893-900.
  4. Day, J. (2009). Do pets influence the quantity and choice of food offered to them by their owners: lessons from other animals and the pre-verbal human infant?. CAB Reviews: Perspectives in Agriculture, Veterinary Science, Nutrition and Natural Resources, 4(042).

About James Watts

BSc Bioveterinary Science. Editor of PetSci. When I'm not writing, learning, discussing, or reading about animals, you know it's the weekend! Currently developing PetSci HealthTrak, the fast and easy way to monitor your pet's weight and calorie intake. HealthTrak offers a simple way to track your pet's progress, helping them achieve a healthy weight and a long, happy life.

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