Source: (Extract)
Posted: March 6, 2024

Approximately a quarter of Labrador Retriever dogs, and two-thirds of flat-coated retrievers, along with many other dog breeds and possibly humans, carry a mutation in a gene known as POMC. This mutation significantly impacts hunger levels and metabolic rates in dogs, often leading to obesity.

According to a recent study led by Dr. Eleanor Raffan from the University of Cambridge’s Department of Physiology, Development and Neuroscience (UC-PDN), this genetic alteration not only makes these dogs feel perpetually hungry, but also reduces their caloric burn by about 25% compared to dogs without the mutation. This deadly and unfortunate combination predisposes Labrador Retriever dogs to obesity.

Dogs, the POMC gene, and obesity

The POMC gene is instrumental in controlling hunger and energy expenditure. The mutation in question disrupts normal feeding behavior, causing affected dogs to experience constant hunger despite consuming adequate food amounts.

They feel hungrier sooner after meals and have a reduced need for calories due to their lower resting energy expenditure.

“We found that a mutation in the POMC gene seems to make dogs hungrier. Affected dogs tend to overeat because they get hungry between meals more quickly than dogs without the mutation,” said Dr Raffan.

She emphasized the need for owners of these breeds to be particularly vigilant in managing their pets’ diets and exercise routines to maintain a healthy weight, considering the unique challenges posed by this genetic predisposition.

“All owners of Labradors and flat-coated retrievers 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,” Dr. Raffan explained.

Decoding canine hunger through science

The study, published in the journal Science Advances, also explored the behavioral implications of the POMC mutation.

Labrador Retriever dogs, and other breeds carrying this mutation, exhibited a more pronounced interest in food, which often led them to obesity. This predisposition was demonstrated in the ‘sausage in a box’ test.

In this experiment, the test subjects made significantly more attempts to access a visible, but inaccessible, sausage compared to their non-mutant counterparts. This behavior underscores the intense food motivation driven by the mutation.

How POMC causes obesity in dogs and possibly humans

Interestingly, the POMC gene and its pathways are similar in dogs and humans, with previous research indicating that humans with POMC mutations also suffer from extreme hunger and early-onset obesity.

This similarity points to the potential broader implications of the study’s findings, especially in the context of developing treatments for obesity and related conditions in humans.

Dr. Raffan’s work challenges prior assumptions about the role of chemical messengers like beta-melanocyte stimulating hormone (β-MSH) and beta-endorphin in hunger and energy use.

Her findings suggest that these factors play a significant role independently of alpha-melanocyte stimulating hormone (α-MSH). This revelation contradicts earlier beliefs based on rat models, highlighting the importance of these hormones in both humans and dogs.

Practical advice for battling the bulge in dogs

The research team suggests practical measures for owners to help manage their pets’ insatiable hunger, such as spreading daily food rations using puzzle feeders or scattering food to prolong eating time.

These strategies can help mitigate the constant hunger driven by the POMC mutation, although Dr. Raffan acknowledges the difficulty in keeping Labrador Retriever dogs at a healthy weight, staving off obesity.

She advocates for a compassionate understanding of the challenges faced by owners of dogs with this genetic condition, highlighting that the propensity for obesity in these animals is not merely a result of negligent care but a complex interplay of genetics and behavior.

“People are often rude about the owners of fat dogs, blaming them for not properly managing their dogs’ diet and exercise,” Dr. Raffan lamented.

“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,” she concluded.

Dogs need empathy as they fight obesity

In summary, the discovery of the POMC genetic mutation in Labrador and flat-coated retrievers spotlights the significant challenges these dogs face in managing their weight due to an insatiable hunger and a decreased ability to burn calories.

Dr. Eleanor Raffan and her team’s research underscores the importance of understanding the genetic factors influencing pet health while offering practical strategies for owners to help their furry friends maintain a healthy lifestyle.

By recognizing the role genetics play in our pets’ behavior and metabolic health, we can approach their care with more empathy and insight, ensuring they lead happier, healthier lives.

This study urges further genetic research to inform better practices in pet care and opens doors for similar discoveries in human health, emphasizing the interconnectedness of life on a genetic level.

More about Labrador retriever dogs and obesity

As discussed above, Labrador Retrievers hold the crown as America’s favorite dog breed, a title they’ve proudly maintained for years. Known for their friendly nature, intelligence, and versatility, Labradors shine in various roles, from loyal family pets to skilled service dogs.

Origins and history

Originating from Newfoundland, Canada, Labrador Retrievers were initially used by fishermen to retrieve fishing nets and fish that escaped from hooks. In the early 19th century, English nobles visiting Canada spotted the breed and brought them back to England. There, they refined the breed into the Labrador we know and love today.

Personality and temperament

Labradors are beloved for their friendly and outgoing temperament. They are known to be great with children and other animals, making them ideal family pets. Their eagerness to please and high intelligence make them highly trainable for various tasks beyond companionship, including search and rescue, therapy work, and assistance for people with disabilities.

Physical characteristics

Labradors are medium to large dogs, with males typically weighing between 65 to 80 pounds and females 55 to 70 pounds. They have a short, dense coat that comes in three colors: black, yellow, and chocolate. Their double coat helps them stay waterproof and insulated, a trait tracing back to their origins as fishermen’s helpers.

Labrador Retriever dogs’ health and obesity care

Labradors are generally healthy, but they can be prone to certain genetic conditions, such as hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, and eye conditions. Regular exercise is crucial for Labradors, as they have a lot of energy and enjoy being active.

As discussed above, Labrador retriever dogs have a love for food and propensity for obesity caused by a mutation in a gene known as POMC. Because of this, their diet needs to be carefully managed to maintain proper health.

In summary, Labrador Retrievers continue to win hearts worldwide with their affectionate nature, intelligence, and versatility. Whether as a family pet, a working dog, or a loyal companion, the Labrador’s enduring popularity is a testament to their wonderful characteristics. With proper care and training, Labradors can truly be a human’s best friend.