Why Labrador retrievers are obsessed with food

labrador looking at a treat

A gene variant associated with increased body weight and eating behavior is more common in Labrador retrievers than in other breeds, a new study finds. 

Jane Goodall

Labrador retrievers tend to be more overweight and keen to scarf down their kibble than other dog breeds. Eleanor Raffan of the University of Cambridge and her colleagues chalk this trend up — least in part — to a suspect gene. 

The team found that, among a small group of assistance dogs, a form of a gene called POMC that was missing a chunk of DNA was more common in obese Labs than in lean ones. This held true on a larger scale, too: Out of 411 Labs in the United Kingdom and United States, 22 percent carried the deletion mutation. Looking across other breeds, only Labradors and flat coat retrievers, a close relative, carried the gene variant, which also correlated with greater weight and food begging tendencies, the team reports May 3 in Cell Metabolism.

POMC plays a role in a metabolism pathway, and the deletion may inhibit the production of proteins that regulate hunger, the researchers suspect. (That might explain why the variant turned up in about 75 percent of assistance dogs, which are trained using food motivation.) 

Helen Thompson

Helen Thompson is the associate digital editor. She has undergraduate degrees in biology and English from Trinity University and a master’s degree in science writing from Johns Hopkins University.

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