Why Labrador Retrievers Often Get Fat

For a quarter of a century, the Labrador retriever has claimed the title of most popular breed of dog in the United States, according to the American Kennel Club.

And if you have a Lab, you might wonder: Why is my dog getting so fat?

There's a reason. Blame it on your pup's genetics.

Labrador retrievers have a genetic variant that seems to make them more likely to gain weight, according to researchers from the University of Cambridge in England.

One reason we love our Labs is they are not only loyal, intelligent and eager to please, but also relatively easy to train. And we humans tend to use food treats as training rewards. Combine the frequent training treats with this genetic variant toward weight gain and the result is dogs who are more motivated to work for that tidbit.

"But it's a double-edged sword," the study's senior co-author Giles Yeo Yeo said in a news release. "Carrying the variant may make them more trainable, but it also makes them susceptible to obesity. This is something owners will need to be aware of so they can actively manage their dog's weight."

Obesity in dogs is not all that different than obesity in humans. Fat dogs live shorter lives and have a harder time getting around. Excess weight increases their risk for diabetes, cancer and other chronic diseases.

The study: Veterinarians weighed more than 300 Labradors and assessed their health. Then the Cambridge researchers examined the dogs' DNA, looking for variants in three obesity-related genes. The dogs' owners also completed a questionnaire about their pet's food-related behavior.

The results: At least one copy of the gene variant, known as POMC, was carried by 23 percent of the Labradors. The dogs tended to be four pounds heavier than they should be for each copy of the gene they carried.

"People who live with Labradors often say they are obsessed by food, and that would fit with what we know about this genetic change," said the study's first author, Dr. Eleanor Raffan, from the University of Cambridge.

The takeaway: You control how much food and exercise your Lab receives. Now that you know this tendency toward unhealthy weight gain, you can decrease the food and treats and increase the exercise.

The study findings were published in the journal Cell Metabolism.

--From the Editors at Netscape

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