The chubby Labrador.

I have owned two Labradors in my lifetime and both of them were obsessed with food! – known as much for their love of food as their wonderful ability to fit many roles from family pet to guide dog, Labradors are one of the most popular breeds worldwide.

Jet, my black lab, I took on as ‘second hand’ dog from a lovely lady, who’s husband had recently died, meaning she had to move to a small bungalow and re-home several family dogs.  Jet was six years old when she came to me and rather tubby – like many Labradors she always had an insatiable appetite and she was so driven to finding anything edible, she once stole a whole cooked Christmas turkey which had been cooling, (and lightly covered) far back on the kitchen worktop, (we thought out of dog reach!). While we nipped round to the pub for a pre-dinner yuletide beverage, she ate the lot!  There wasn’t even a tiny smear of grease left and we were lucky that she didn’t become sick from eating all those cooked bones!

Jasper, my yellow Labrador boy we had from a puppy and he was equally as keen on food of any kind – he spent much of his time leaning on the cupboard where his food was kept, just in case it might be dinner time again – he was always an optimistic soul, especially with anything food related!

His favorite thing was sandwiches and he especially enjoyed picnics and family buffets – scouring the floor for crumbs and persuading people to part with quiche crusts.  Thankfully, he was never a fat boy – I know that it is important to keep any dog lean and particularly Labradors who seem prone to putting on a lot of weight, so his diet was monitored carefully and he was always well exercised.

However, it turns out that having a reputation for a voracious appetite is not just a comical trait in Labradors; their tendency to be greedier than other breeds has actually been studied by the University of Cambridge who discovered that there is a gene associated with appetite and obesity in one of the world’s most loved breed of dog.

The study involved 310 pet assistance dogs and each dog was weighed and scored for body condition.  The research team also conducted a questionnaire about each dog’s food motivation traits, i.e. reports from owners regarding the behaviour of their dogs around food.

The scientists were searching for obesity related genes and discovered that one gene in particular – Pro-ipiomelancortin (or POMC) was significantly associated with appetite and obesity in Labradors, and also in flat coated retrievers.  In both of these breeds, dogs carrying a copy of the POMC gene were on average 1.9kg heavier than ‘normal’ dogs.

The gene in question is already known to be an important factor with regard to how the brain interprets feelings of hunger as well as the feeling of being full once a meal has been consumed.

While food is a much bigger motivation for dogs carrying the POMC variant and therefore makes these dogs easier to train, there is also the problem that these dogs in particular need to be fed and exercised accordingly to avoid them becoming obese and developing obesity related diseases, such as joint problems and diabetes.

Interestingly, the POMC gene is also the cause of childhood obesity and weight gain in adults, so there may be some important lessons to learn from this research on Labradors since it could lead to a better understanding of the biology of obesity, which appears to be becoming an epidemic in canine and human western society.

Is your Labrador obsessed with food?  Does it make him easier to train?  Is he overweight?  Holidays4Dogs would be interested to hear about your experience with your Labrador and his behaviour towards food.