One in four labradors is genetically wired to be fat, study shows

One in four labradors is genetically wired to be fat, study shows

Around a quarter of labradors are wired towards obesity by a genetic mutation that leaves them constantly hungry yet burning fewer calories, new research suggests.

Scientists say this combination means owners should be particularly strict with feeding and exercising their dogs to keep them slim.

The POMC gene mutation, which has also been associated with extreme hunger in humans, alters a pathway in the brain linked to body weight regulation, creating unnecessary starvation signals for the rest of the body to increase food consumption and conserve energy.

“People are often rude about the owners of fat dogs, blaming them for not properly managing their dogs’ diet and exercise,” said University of Cambridge researcher and study leader Eleanor Raffan. “But we’ve shown that labradors with this genetic mutation are looking for food all the time, trying to increase their energy intake.”

 (Getty Images/500px Plus)
(Getty Images/500px Plus)

In the study, funded by the Dogs Trust and the Wellcome Trust and published in Science Advances, 87 adult pet labradors took part in several tests.

The dogs were first handed food every 20 minutes until they decided not to eat any more. Although all the dogs ate lots of food, those with the POMC mutation did not eat more than those without it, which shows they felt full by eating a similar amount of food.

On a different day, and after a standard breakfast, the dogs were offered a sausage in a clear plastic box that they could not enter. The study found that those with the POMC mutation persevered significantly longer to get the sausage compared to those without the mutation, demonstrating more hunger.

While sleeping in a chamber that measures exhaled gases, those with the mutation burnt around 25 per cent fewer calories than those without it.

Regarding the management of dogs with the POMC mutation, the researchers suggested that owners keep their labradors distracted from hunger by spreading out food intervals, using puzzle feeders or scattering food around the garden so that it takes longer to eat.

Dr Raffan said: “It’s very difficult to keep these dogs slim, but it can be done.”