New Study Finds That 1 In 4 Labs Have A High Genetic Risk For Obesity


Overweight White Labrador retriever in a park.
Image credit score: McCann Michelle, Shutterstock

Are you combating a pup who has a seemingly insatiable urge for food? Or maybe your canine has an issue gaining weight regardless of not overeating. It turns on the market’s a genetic motive for these points. New analysis finds {that a} genetic mutation placing pups at excessive threat for weight problems is present in 25% of Labrador Retrievers and 66% of Flat-Coated Retrievers.

The mutation happens within the POMC (pro-opiomelanocortin) gene, which performs a vital position in regulating urge for food and metabolism. Essentially the genetic variant alters regular signaling to the mind. It’s a double sucker punch for affected pups, making them really feel continually hungry whereas burning fewer energy. And this mutation can result in severe weight administration issues for pup homeowners.

I interviewed the lead researcher of this examine, Dr. Eleanor Raffan, a former working towards veterinarian, for added insights into her analysis and her skilled recommendation for pup homeowners. It’s a much-needed subject of analysis, which not solely can make clear our canine but in addition the genetics behind human weight problems.

Research Highlights

Researchers revealed their most up-to-date findings within the journal Science Advances in March 2024. Led by Eleanor Raffan, Ph.D., assistant professor on the University of Cambridge, the staff first reported their discovery of the genetic mutation in canine a number of years in the past. Key findings from their ground-breaking research embody:

  • A mutation of the POMC gene is related to elevated physique weight, physique fats, and meals motivation in canine.
  • Out of 35 breeds examined, solely Labradors and FCRs had this genetic variant. However, combined breeds may also inherit this genetic mutation.
  • The POMC mutation impacts an estimated 25% of Labradors and 66% of Flat-Coated Retrievers (FCRs).
  • Dogs with the POMC mutation expend 25% much less power at relaxation versus these with out it.
  • Low resting metabolic price and elevated starvation are on account of β-MSH and β-endorphin deletion within the POMC gene.


Dr. Eleanor Raffan and her staff on the University of Cambridge found the POMC genetic variant in canine in a 2016 examine. After sequencing three candidate genes for weight problems in Labrador Retrievers, they recognized a deletion (mutation) within the POMC gene. This deletion disrupts the physique from correct mind signaling leading to larger physique weight and fats and elevated meals motivation. 

They examined 35 totally different breeds, and the mutation was solely present in Labradors and Flat-Coated Retrievers. Nearly 25% of Labradors studied had not less than one copy of this variant. “In that examine, homeowners informed us it made their canine extra extremely food-motivated round the home. We concluded that this genetic deletion predisposed affected canine to weight problems, “says Dr. Raffan.

A former working towards veterinarian, Dr. Raffan explains why she pursued this line of analysis. “I was concerned by the number of overweight dogs I saw whose quality of life was being affected by excess weight. But I was a bit judge-y back in my clinical days. Now I really understand the challenges owners of highly food-motivated dogs face to keep them slim.”

2024 Study Details

Building on her earlier findings, Dr. Raffan launched into her newest revealed examine. “We have now gone on to look at different parts of what makes up food motivation and the energy expenditure side of things, too,” she says.

The examine concerned 87 grownup pet Labrador Retrievers, all of whom have been at a wholesome weight or reasonably obese. Canine topics included each those that carry the POMC mutation and people who don’t. Researchers performed a collection of exams to measure power expenditure and a “sausage in a box” check to judge meals motivation.

First, after a 14-hour quick, scientists fed the canine a can of pet food each 20 minutes till they selected to cease consuming. While all 87 ate huge quantities of meals, the canine with the POMC mutation didn’t eat greater than these with out it. This informed researchers that all of them felt full with an analogous quantity of meals.

On a special day, scientists fed the canine a typical quantity of breakfast. Exactly three hours later, they have been provided a sausage in a field which allowed the pups to see and scent the sausage however not eat it. Researchers discovered that canine with the POMC mutation tried considerably tougher to get the sausage from the field than canine with out it, indicating larger starvation.

In one other check, the canine slept in a particular chamber that measured the gases they breathed out. This revealed that canine with the POMC mutation burn round 25% fewer energy at relaxation than canine with out it. See the “sausage in a box” check in motion on this temporary video under produced by researchers.

Study Implications Moving Forward

How does this physique of analysis have an effect on our understanding of the genetics behind weight problems in canine and people? The new findings are according to experiences of utmost starvation in people with POMC mutations, who are likely to turn out to be overweight at an early age and develop a number of scientific issues consequently.

Dr. Raffan weighs in. “Our work has some quite niche interest to people studying this gene and how it works, which are important at a time when drugs that mimic POMC are increasingly used in the clinic to treat obesity. But the major relevance is to illustrate the power of our genes to alter our sensation of hunger, appetite, and energy expenditure.”

In addition, Dr. Raffan hopes her analysis may help alter society’s notion of weight problems. “This should start to lift some of the negative talk about human obesity (or dog obesity) being a ‘lifestyle disease’ and open people’s eyes to the fact that our genes can make it much harder for some people to keep themselves or their dogs slim.”

What’s On The Horizon?

A pacesetter within the subject of canine genetic weight problems analysis, Dr. Raffan continues to construct upon her findings. “We are now looking into Labradors and many other breeds and non-breed dogs for other genetic changes associated with increased foodiness and weight gain,” she says.

How To Help Minimize Your Dog’s Hunger & Retain A Healthy Weight

Some canine expertise starvation extra acutely than others. Even with out that mutation, many extremely food-motivated canine appear to consider meals all day lengthy and the calorie restriction that’s vital for weight reduction makes starvation worse. Dr. Raffan believes canine on a weight loss plan ought to be managed to reduce their starvation.

“I really hope people will take from our work that some dogs are hard-wired to overeat and will become overweight if we give them half a chance – but that you can keep them slim.”

Eleanor Raffan, Ph.D., assistant professor on the University of Cambridge

Tips For Food-Obsessed Dogs

Here’s Dr. Raffan and her staff’s recommendation for homeowners of obesity-prone pets, knowledgeable by their analysis.

Feed For Fullness 

Some diets generate a larger feeling of fullness (satiety) for longer after a meal—commercially ready “diet foods” have been proven to do that efficiently. Using a satiety-promoting weight loss plan is straightforward and we suggest it.

Provide An Outlet For Food-Seeking Behavior

Food-obsessed canine will be stored entertained throughout meals restriction utilizing puzzle toys, providing meals stuffed into toys, or extra complicated canine toys that get them to ‘work’ for meals. You may even feed their whole weight loss plan like this.

Distract Your Dog From Thoughts Of Food

We know pets have to slot in with busy human lives. But assume creatively about how one can maintain your canine busy so her ideas don’t flip to meals. When you might be out of the home, what’s your canine doing? Can you enhance their exercise and curiosity ranges by offering interactive toys? There are numerous helpful concepts on the market on the web to encourage you.

Make Your Relationship With Your Dog About Play, Not Food

In our busy lives, it’s usually best to cross off an attention-seeking canine with a tasty deal with. Food-obsessed canine will at all times be food-obsessed, however keep away from reinforcing that. Remember that canine can usually be as glad with optimistic consideration or a recreation as with a biscuit. Try it subsequent time your canine comes begging.

Want To Find Out If Your Pup Has The POMC Mutation?

Whether you could have a Labrador, a Flat-Coated Retriever, or a combined breed, you will discover out in case your pup has this genetic variant by doing a easy at-home canine DNA check. Two of my top-rated canine DNA exams, Embark and Wisdom Panel, can inform you in case your canine has inherited this genetic mutation. Knowing that your pup has this variant may help you perceive why your pup is extremely food-driven and/or good points extreme weight simply.

Why Trust Canine Journal?

Sally has over 20 years of expertise in human well being sciences communications, together with 10 years as an skilled on pet well being situations and therapy. She’s an avid fanatic and researcher of the most recent scientific research on all issues canine. Sally is a part of a staff of canine professionals and long-time canine homeowners, who keep on high of essentially the most useful analysis, greatest merchandise, and extra for our personal pups and people of all of our readers.

Tagged With: Obesity


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