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Why Are Labradors Prone to Obesity?

According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, 53% of adult dogs in the United States are either obese or overweight. Unfortunately, most dog owners are unaware that their pets are actually overweight and have normalized the fact that dogs get fat when in a loving home. But did you know that Labradors are more prone to get obese than any other breed?

According to research done at the University of Cambridge, a genetic variant explains why Labradors are prone to obesity. Around one out of four Labradors have a gene that leaves them constantly feeling hungry with no “off-switch,” telling them that they are full.

The Cambridge Research

Scientists from the University of Cambridge identified that a genetic variation associated with obesity and appetite could be found in Labrador retrievers. This explains why they are more likely to be overweight or obese compared to other dog breeds.

According to statistics, between one out of three dogs are overweight in developed countries. This condition is often associated with a shorter lifespan, mobility problems, diabetes, cancer, and heart disease. Similar to how it also affects humans. One thing researchers have noticed is the fact that the levels of obesity in dogs mirror those in humans. Thus implying that the lifestyle choice of the pet owner influences their preferences on how they care for their dogs.

However, despite making better lifestyle choices, there are times where it is out of anyone’s control. There are just some breeds that are most likely to be obese than others.

In a study published in Cell Metabolism, a team led by researchers from the Wellcome Trust-Medical Research Council Institute of Metabolic Science at the University of Cambridge conducted a study on 310 pet and assistant Labradors. The veterinary professionals involved in the study weighed the dos and assessed their body condition scores. The scientists then searched for variants of obesity-related genes. The researchers also evaluated the level of food motivation the dogs had by using a questionnaire the owners had to accomplish. (Source: The University of Cambridge)

The Results of the Study

The researchers discovered that a variant of POMC was common in Labradors. Around 23% of Labradors is said to carry at least one copy of the gene variant. POMC or Proopiomelanocortin is strongly linked with weight, obesity, and appetite in Labradors and other flat coat retrievers.

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. 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. People who live with Labradors often say they are obsessed by food, and that would fit with what we know about this genetic change.

Dr. Eleanor Raffan, University of Cambridge

The researchers believe that having a better understanding of the POMC gene, which is also found in humans, might solve the problems associated with obesity.

Common genetic variants affecting the POMC gene are associated with human body weight and there are even some rare obese people who lack a very similar part of the POMC gene to the one that is missing in the dogs. So further research in these obese Labradors may not only help the wellbeing of companion animals but also have important lessons for human health.

Stephen O’Rahilly, Co-Director of the Wellcome Trust-Medical Research Counce Institute of Metabolic Science

(Source: The University of Cambridge)

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