A News Flash: Labs Eat a Lot (But There’s Scientific Evidence Why!)

Labrador retrievers.  They are playful, active and energetic dogs for sure.  If their owners claim that they beg for food a lot, well, they must be quite astute.  Researchers in the U.K. and England have linked a gene alteration specific to these dogs that proves that they possess food-motivated behavior.  The variation occurs frequently in Labradors chosen as assistance dogs.

This study was published in the May 3 issue of Cell Metabolism, and reported by the E-newsletter Newstat.

Starting with an initial group of 15 obese and 18 lean Labrador retrievers, the researchers selected three obesity-related genes to examine, all of which are known to affect weight in humans.  The first analysis turned up a variation in a gene called POMC.

In more of the obese dogs, a section od DNA was scrambled at the end of the gene.  This deletion was predicted to hinder the ability to predict a dog’s ability to produce neuropeptides B-MSH and B-Endorphin, which are usually involved in switching off hunger after a meal.

In a larger sample of 310 Labrador retrievers, the researchers discovered a host of canine behaviors associated with the POMC deletion.  Not all labs with the DNA variation were obese (as some were obese without the having the mutation), but in general the deletion was associated with greater weight.

Additionally, according to an owner survey, affected dogs were more food-motivated: they begged their owners for more food more frequently, and paid more attention at human mealtimes, and scavenged for scraps more often.

On average, the POMC deletion was associated with a 4.6 pound weight increase in the affected dogs.

“We’ve found something in about a quarter of pet Labradors that fits with the hardwired biological reason for the food-obsessed behavior reported by pet owners”, said Eleanor Raffan, PhD, from the University of Cambridge and one of the study’s authors.  Yet, the POMC deletion was present in 76 % of assistance dogs.  “We had no reason to believe that assistance dogs would be a different cohort”, says Raffan.  “It was surprising.  It’s possible that these dogs are more food-motivated and therefore are more likely to be selected for assistance-dog breeding programs, which historically train using food rewards”.

So there you have it.  As an owner of two labs that are not service dogs, I can tell you that I highly suspect the gene variation in Jake and Flo.  Those two will knock the doors down twice daily when they think the grub is overdue.  Food-motivated?  That’s an understatement!

Dr. Chris Duke

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