Researchers have found that a variant of the gene known as POMC is strongly associated with Labradors' food obsession and heavy weight.
Scientists have confirmed what many dog owners have long suspected. The Labrador retrievers, one of the most popular dogs in US and UK, are actually more obsessed about food than other breeds and as a result, they often get fat. The most important thing is that the researchers have been able to figure out the reason of their food obsession - it is in their genetics.
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Researchers have found that obese dogs carry a gene called POMC, which causes disturbance in the brain process related to switching off hunger after a meal and leads to greater food motivated behavior, making it the first gene ever associated with canine obesity.
For the study, researchers first looked at 15 obese and 18 lean Labradors. The found a variation of a gene POMC that was scrambled in one spot. Those who carried the gene were more interested in food than other and had a tendency to become fat. Though all the dogs were not exactly declaired obese but they begged their owners for food more frequently.
“We’ve found something in about a quarter of pet Labradors that fits with a hardwired biological reason for the food-obsessed behavior reported by owners,” said Eleanor Raffan, a veterinary surgeon and geneticist at the University of Cambridge.
“There are plenty of food motivated dogs in the cohort who don’t have the mutation, but there’s still quite a striking effect.”
When researchers examined a larger sample of 310 Labradors, they found that POMC was more common in the heavier dogs. Additional studies on a sample of 411 dogs from UK and US also confirmed that POMC is strongly associated with weight, obesity and appetite of the dogs. Of 38 other breeds tested, gene variation is only shown up in Labradors and flat coat retrievers- the dogs closely related to Labradors. Around one in four Labradors (23%) is thought to carry at least one copy of the variant.
“This is a common genetic variant in Labradors and has a significant effect on those dogs that carry it, so it is likely that this helps explain why Labradors are more prone to overweight in comparison to other breeds,” said Raffan. “However, it’s not a straightforward picture as the variant is even more common among flat coat retrievers, a breed not previously flagged as being prone to obesity.
Labradors are UK and US’s favorite dog breed which is known for its loyalty, intelligence and friendly behavior. These dogs are also easy to train and food is often used as a reward during their training.
“But it’s a double-edged sword – carrying the variant may make them more trainable, but it also makes them susceptible to obesity. This is something owners need to be aware of so they can actively manage their dog’s weight.”Co-author Dr Giles Yeo said.
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Researchers suggest that further studies are needed to provide a strong link between the variant and obesity and also to find the solution for this problem.