I once had a dog who would bolt into the kitchen every time he heard the toaster (he loved bread). A friend’s dog once thought the chicken she was preparing for dinner looked mighty tasty and swallowed four pieces whole. And raw. No matter whom you ask, if they have a dog, chances are they have a story about that dog and food it wasn’t supposed to eat. Oftentimes we struggled to get our dogs to stop counter surfing. This struggle is even more real if your dog is a Labrador Retriever.
Scientists from the University of Cambridge recently conducted a study to find out why Labrador Retrievers have a stronger desire for food than most dogs and are more likely to be obese than other breeds. The study — which was funded by the Wellcome Trust, the Medical Research Council and the Dogs Trust and published in the journal “Cell Metabolism” — looked at 310 pet and assistance Labradors. The study attests that part of the reason for this breed’s food cravings and obesity is due to a mutation of a certain gene, BBC reports.
“About a quarter of pet Labradors carry this gene [difference],” lead researcher Dr. Eleanor Raffan told BBC. “Although obesity is the consequence of eating more than you need and more than you burn off in exercise, actually there’s some real hard-wired biology behind our drive to eat.”
Specially, the team found that the obese dogs were more likely to carry a variation of the POMC gene, which controls how the brain recognizes the feelings of hunger and of fullness.
The dogs who were studied that had a change in their POMC genes were, on average, 4.4 pounds heavier than the dogs that did not. The study also revealed that this gene change was more prevalent in the assistance dogs, likely because dogs with this gene change can be easily trained with food motivation, BBC reports.
“What we have found is that some Labradors get fat because they have a deletion in a gene within their brain,” Dr. Giles Yeo, a human geneticist who also worked on the study, told BBC. “And this particular gene plays a role in sensing how much fat they have in their body — and so some Labradors don’t know how much fat they have and so keep eating to try to get fatter.”
According to BBC, canine obesity mirrors human obesity, citing lifestyle factors and genetics as causes of the epidemic. This lends itself to the possibility that this research not only could help understand canine obesity, but human obesity as well.
While childhood obesity is rarely caused by the POMC gene, BBC reports that research suggests several other genes influence a human’s weight and many of those genes function in the brain and behave in much the same way that the POMC gene does in Labradors.
“Common genetic variants affecting the POMC gene are associated with human body weight and there are even some rare obese people who lack a very similar part of the POMC gene to the one that is missing in the dogs,” Professor Stephen O’Rahilly, another scientist who worked on the study, told BBC. “So, further research in these obese Labradors may not only help the wellbeing of companion animals but also have important lessons for human health.”
Well, it wouldn’t be the first time dog research has helped out humans.