Are Labradors At Risk At Becoming Obese?

Why are some dog`s appetite insatiable? Could it be because of a genetic mutation?

Dogs have always been man`s best friend but don`t you notice that they seem to be always hungry?  Well, science may have finally discovered the reason why – some Labradors seem to have a genetic disposition to being hungry.

This is according to scientists who attended the British Science Association Festival in Brighton to discuss their ongoing mission to improve canine health.

There are actually several research teams in the UK  who make it their mission to improve the health of our furry friends.

University of Cambridge researchers did a study on the appetite of Labradors who are Britain’s favourite dog breed. About a quarter of British households have a  dog and Labs are the most popular among the various dog breeds.

The University of Cambridge study suggests that Labs are genetically at risk of becoming overweight. They are prone to suffer weight-related problems.


According to Dr. Eleanor Raffan from the Wellcome Trust-MRC Institute of Metabolic Science, “Obesity is a serious issue for our dog population. It has the potential to have a massive impact on pet welfare”.

In research supported by the Dogs Trust, Dr. Raffan and her colleagues conducted a research study supported by Dogs Trust which involved labradors.  In the study, they analysed DNA from the saliva of Labradors across the UK.  What they found out is that  the Labs have a gene mutation which appears to be responsible for their increased appetite.

Dr. Raffan said “We found around a quarter of pet Labradors have at least copy of this mutation in the gene”.  So this  increase in appetite shows itself as a “food obsession”, and this obsession is exhibited by begging or scavenging for food.

There are some dog owners who  restrict the diet of their pets to prevent obesity but research results point to the propensity for the Labradors to have large appetites which may lead to obesity.

Dr. Raffan further said: “We hope to shift the paradigm away from owner-blaming. It’s a bit more nuanced than just owners needing to be careful.”


Dr.  Raffan warns against any attempt to breed this “greedy mutation” out of Labrador lines. Although it might predispose the Labs to becoming overweight, it is quite easy to train them and they are so loyal to their families probably because of a strong focus on food.

She further explains: “If we try to get rid of the mutation, we might find we change the personality of the breed, and that would be a real shame”.

Research results raise an ethical issue.  It is clear that dog owners and vets are responsible for making available to animals five core so-called freedoms, including freedom from pain and disease, and freedom from hunger.

While we recognize obesity as a disease which negatively affects a dog`s quality of life, Dr. Raffan states: “But equally, being hungry is a welfare issue, and these dogs are genetically hungry.”

She is  hoping research studies in the future will find ways and means to satisfy the dog`s hunger by allowing a feeling of ‘fullness’ without becoming obese.


There is no doubt that being obese impacts a dog’s quality of life, as well as their ability to cope joint disorders such as arthritis.

University of Liverpool scientists are conducting studies on diseases affecting the Labradors` knee joints by using state-of-the-art imaging technology.

The most common orthopedic problems especially in heavier dog breeds are injuries of the knee ligaments.   This, by the way, is also commonly experienced by professional athletes.

Prof. Eithne Comerford, a specialist in musculoskeletal biology said: “We’re trying to understand how the shape of the Labrador body and the way they walk might contribute to knee problems”.

By using high-speed x-ray cameras, the researchers are able to film in real time how their canine patients walk through the lab. They are able to watch their knee bones slide and twist.

Their intention is to understand how walking contributes to the risk of injuring the ligaments in Labradors.  Their goal is to reduce lameness and suffering among Labs.

University of Liverpool biomechanist Dr. Karl Bates explains: “This data will also help veterinary surgeons and engineers design better treatments for ligament damage in Labradors, like customised knee implants”.

Thanks to willing Labrador owners, the research groups can collect samples and conduct experiments.

Solving health issues isn`t the only goal that researchers are aiming for.  They also hope to change the public’s perception of what “desirable” traits should our favourite breeds have.

Dr. Raffan has a point when she said: “There is a real danger when we breed dogs to be cuddlier and cuter. I think people have seen so many overweight Labradors, they start to assume it’s normal”.

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