For These Dogs, a 'Double Whammy' on Chonking Out

Labradors, other flat-coated retrievers have genetic mutation that predisposes them to obesity
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 23, 2024 5:30 AM CDT
Think Your Lab Is Too Chunky? There's a Reason
On the hunt for more food?   (Getty Images/lizcen)

Every pet owner has to take care to keep their furry friends happy, healthy, and at a safe weight. For those who have a Labrador or flat-coated retriever in their charge, however, that last task might prove a bit more difficult. That's due to a "double whammy" with those specific breeds: They're often hungry in between regular meals, and they have a hard time burning excess calories, all due to a common genetic mutation, according to new research out of the UK's University of Cambridge.

  • Hunger: For the first part of the study published this month in the journal Science Advances, which involved nearly 80 dogs, the researchers took a look at 36 adult Labs that had one or two copies of a mutation of the pro-opiomelanocortin (POMC) gene, or no mutations at all. They found that the dogs with the POMC mutation spent more time than the other dogs trying to get a sausage out of a box, suggesting they were experiencing stronger hunger pangs, per the Guardian.
  • Calorie burning: For another part of the experiment, the scientists put nearly 20 flat-coated retrievers in a sleeping chamber that could measure the gases they emitted, which enabled them to estimate energy expended. They found that the dogs with the POMC mutation burned about 25% fewer calories than the dogs with no mutation.
The mutation was found in 25% of the Labs and in two-thirds of the flat-coated retrievers. The Labrador is also said to have the highest obesity levels of any other type of dog. "If we get dealt a genetic hand of cards that makes us feel hungry or always want to eat, it takes greater effort to stay slim," study co-author Dr. Eleanor Raffan tells the BBC. She adds that although humans weren't tested here, a similar message applies. "Obesity isn't a choice," she tells the Guardian. "It's a reflection of a background drive to eat, which is driven by a combination of your genes and your environment." (More discoveries stories.)

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