Science Reveals Why Your Labrador Is So Obsessed With Food

© Emma Wood / Alamy Stock Photo

By Gillie Houston Posted May 04, 2016

A new finding could help to curb the issue of canine obesity—and possibly obesity in humans, as well.

It's no secret that all dogs love food—especially scraps of people food snuck to them under the table. However, a new study has found that Labradors are more interested in food than any other breed.

After frequently hearing from Lab owners who wondered why their dogs were so obsessed with food, veterinary surgeon and geneticist Eleanor Raffan delved into the genetics of the breed to search for an answer. The results of the study, which were published in Cell Metabolism, found that there's a basic genetic reason for your dog's food-induced frenzy.

Raffan and her colleagues at the University of Cambridge initially analyzed the genetic makeup—focusing on three obesisty-related genes—of 18 lean and 15 obese Labrador retrievers. They found that an imbalance of one gene in particular, the POMC gene, had surprising consequences in the obese animals. Among the overweight pups, impaired levels of the POMC made them unable to produce the appetite-suppressing molecules that are involved in letting the body know its full after eating a meal.

In a study of a larger group of dogs, the scientists also found that Labs with an impaired POMC gene exhibited more obsessive behaviors around food, including frequent begging and constantly scavenging for scraps. In other breeds the scientists studied, this particular mutation appeared absent.

While only about one in four Labradors showed signs of having this genetic imbalance, the scientists behind the study say the findings could help to curb the issue of canine obesity—and possibly obesity in humans, as well. Variants in the POMC gene have been linked with differences in human body weight, and a rare group of obese people lack a similar part of the POMC that is missing in the dogs studied. "Further research in these obese Labradors may not only help the well-being of companion animals, but also carry important lessons for human health," said Stephen O'Rahilly, a senior author on the study.

So, the next time your dog begs at the dinner table, remember—they might be responding to something in their genes.

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