Why Labradors are So Greedy

Most Labradors have an irrepressible appetite. Part of the reason for this is a gene mutation that constantly flips the switch to starvation. This is a challenge for holders. Alternative rewards and early food training can help.

It has long been known in Labrador owner circles: When it comes to food, the dogs pull out all the stops. In search of possible causes for this almost irrepressible appetite, Eleanor Raffan, a small animal specialist and researcher at Cambridge University in England, struck gold in the genes. “A variation in the so-called POMC gene is associated with weight, obesity, and appetite in Labradors and Flatcoated Retrievers.”

The gene is responsible for the formation of the protein POMC (Proopiomelanocortin), which plays a role in the fat metabolism of dogs and humans and regulates the perception of hunger and satiety. “Usually this reduces the need for food once weight gain has occurred. However, the mutated gene interrupts this mechanism,” explains Raffan. Dogs’ thoughts are literally constantly revolving around food, as they don’t feel a long-lasting feeling of satiety. They pick up everything edible like a four-legged vacuum cleaner. “That explains why Labradors tend to be more overweight than other breeds.”

Where Gluttony Makes Sense

This is important because another study showed that overweight Labradors had a shorter lifespan of up to two years. According to Raffan, the mutation occurs in around a quarter of all Labradors in England. “So it’s a common gene variant in Labradors.” The veterinary scientist does not know how many animals are affected worldwide. She suspects the first mutation in the origin of the races. Because none of the other 38 dog breeds tested, including four other retriever breeds, was affected. St. John’s water dog from Newfoundland helped fishermen to drive in their nets in the freezing water. A bone-hard job that could only be carried out with a sufficiently large feed intake. Great gluttony made sense for this work. It probably only became a problem when genes collided with the modern lifestyle.

For Thomas Schär, Head of the Breeding Commission at the Swiss Retriever Club RCS, such a gene mutation is no longer appropriate from today’s perspective. “An overweight dog absolutely does not fit into the image of a high-performance athlete.” Like all retriever breeds, the Labrador is a hunting dog. “The will to please is what drives him to carry out the desired work,” explains Schär. “The Labrador, in particular, is very easy to motivate with food.”

Due to its loyalty, intelligence, and need to please, it is often used as an assistance dog. In particular, strongly food-motivated animals seem to be preferentially selected. Raffan was able to detect the mutation in two-thirds of all Labrador assistance dogs tested. A double-edged sword: The genetically determined appetite makes the animals easier to train – but also more prone to obesity.

Include Treats

Nevertheless, Thomas Schär and Eleanor Raffen consider it wrong to label the breed as greedy. Not only genetics is to blame for a glutton. “Even if Labradors are the breed with the greatest food motivation, there are sometimes major differences within the breed,” Raffan admits. Many animals – a striking number of brown Labradors – are overweight and gluttonous even without a mutation. Just as there are dogs that are slim despite the mutation, says the researcher. “Affected Labradors just look for food more often than their peers. If their owners are vigilant, the dogs won’t gain weight either.”

Thomas Schär recommends adapting the feeding to the age, needs, and ideal weight of the dog and ensuring sufficient exercise and activity. “However, many dog ​​owners forget that they must also factor in the rewards given at work into the daily food ratio. The extra calories then accumulate as fat in the body.” Luckily, according to the breed expert, the Labrador is just as happy
as alternate rewards. “Words of praise, pats, or games can also be used well.”

In order to prevent a four-legged insatiable from eating uncontrollably, the expert advises early food training. Especially with the Labrador, any training is easy according to his nature. “It is best to start with this when you are a puppy. The most important thing here is that all family members use the same commands and follow them consistently.”

Mary Allen

Written by Mary Allen

Hello, I'm Mary! I've cared for many pet species including dogs, cats, guinea pigs, fish, and bearded dragons. I also have ten pets of my own currently. I've written many topics in this space including how-tos, informational articles, care guides, breed guides, and more.

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