Why are Labradors always hungry?
A 2016 study at the University of Cambridge found that Labradors’ insatiable appetite might be due to changes in a specific gene, called the POMC gene.
When the POMC gene is changed, the chemical messages which tell a Lab when he’s full don’t work properly.
About a quarter of Labradors have this genetic change, but there are other reasons why other Labs might have an insatiable appetite too!
Do You Have A Hungry Lab?
If you own America’s favorite dog breed, this probably isn’t the first time you’ve asked this question.
Sure almost all dogs love food and some will do just about anything to get an extra treat or some table scraps.
But Labrador Retrievers are known for being bottomless pits.
Unfortunately, this insatiable love of food makes the breed very prone to obesity.
Is there an underlying reason why the Labrador is more food obsessed than other breeds?
In this article we’ll discover how science answers the question: Why are Labradors always hungry?
Why Are Labradors Always Hungry?
Frustrated Labrador owners, take heart.
The reason you have an overly hungry Labrador could have nothing to do with how much or how little he eats, or even the kind of food you’re feeding him.
Instead, your pet’s inability to feel full could actually be biological.
What Science Says
A 2016 study from the University of Cambridge found that a specific gene mutation may be the cause of the Lab’s voracious appetite and susceptibility to canine obesity.
Initially, the coding sequence of three obesity genes was examined in 15 obese and 18 lean Labrador Retrievers.
It was discovered that 14 DNA building blocks from the pro-opiomelanocortin gene (POMC) were differently arranged in the lean and obese groups.
What This Study Tells Us About Why Labradors Are Always Hungry
The POMC gene forms two neuropeptides (chemical compounds which relay messages between the body and brain), which control food intake.
The first, β-MSH, is concerned with weight control. The second, β-endorphin, is believed to connect food with reward pathways in the brain.
What this basically means, is that the affected dogs are incapable of feeling full.
When a wider cohort of 310 Labrador Retrievers, which included both pets and assistance animals was tested, the flawed POMC gene was found in approximately 23% of the dogs.
This means about one in every four Labradors has this gene alteration.
Interestingly, this mutation was found only in the Labrador Retriever and the Flat-Coat Retriever.
Both of these dogs originated in the 19th century and share the now extinct, St. John’s water dog as an ancestor.
This gene is also found in humans, and although rare, some obese people have a similar gene deficiency.
What Having the POMC Gene Mutation Means for My Labrador
Dogs who possess the POMC gene mutation typically weigh more and have higher body fat composition.
The study also found that the more copies of this gene mutation a dog had, the more overweight and food-motivated they were.
For each copy of the gene the dog carried, they were found to be approximately 4.2 pounds heavier on average.
The POMC gene mutation may explain why America’s most beloved dog breed is also the most prone to obesity.
Since there is no specific treatment available for the POMC gene mutation, it means Labrador owners must be vigilant when it comes to monitoring their dog’s weight.
Careful calorie regulation, portion control, and adequate exercise are the best ways to keep your best friend as healthy as possible.
If you suspect that your Lab has the POMC gene mutation, work with your veterinarian to create a diet and exercise program that keeps your dog at an appropriate weight.
Why Are Labradors Always Hungry and the Obesity Problem
Obesity is the most common nutritional disorder in companion animals.
A 2017 survey done by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP) found 56% of dogs surveyed in the U.S. were classified as being clinically overweight.
While this study of obesity in dogs in the UK, found Labradors be the most likely breed to become obese.
Just as with humans, being overweight can have harmful effects on an animal’s health and longevity.
Problems associated with excess weight include:
- orthopedic disease
- diabetes mellitus
- cardiorespiratory disease
- urinary disorders
- reproductive disorders
- dermatological diseases
- and anesthetic complications.
Why Are Labradors Always Hungry During Training?
According to the American Kennel Club (AKC), Labrador Retrievers have been the most popular breed for the last 28 years.
It’s a run that no other breed has come close to matching.
Not only do Labs reign supreme as pets, they also dominate canine service industries.
From guide and therapy dogs, to search and rescue and military work, Labradors are well-suited to do a myriad of jobs.
Labs are also known to be exceptionally trainable. This is in part due to their intelligence and cooperative nature.
Although there are a number of factors that determine a dog’s ability to be trained, motivation tops the list.
As we know, Labrador Retrievers are highly motivated by food, and treats are commonly used as rewards in dog training.
Interestingly, the University of Cambridge study found that the POMC gene mutation is significantly more common in Labrador Retrievers who are selected to become assistance dogs.
An astonishing 76% of service dogs tested were found to be affected.
It’s possible that carrying this gene mutation may make these dogs more trainable and therefore more capable of working in service roles.
Why Are Labradors Always Hungry – Other Causes
Since the POMC gene mutation doesn’t affect all Labradors, there could be other reasons for your dog’s fixation with food.
Unfortunately, an underlying medical problem is another reason why Labs always feel hungry. If your dog has suddenly developed an increased appetite, then a visit to the vet is definitely in order.
They will perform a full examination and possibly do diagnostic testing to determine if there’s a medical cause.
Cushing’s disease, or hyperadrenocorticism, is a condition in which a dog’s adrenal glands secrete too much of the steroid hormone cortisol.
Hunger is a side effect, and affected dog’s often experience weight gain, as well as excessive thirst and urination.
Canine diabetes can also make a dog feel hungry all the time. This metabolic disorder means the glucose-insulin connection isn’t working properly.
Your dog’s diet could also be the source of their excessive eating problem.
If they’re not getting enough protein or an imbalance of other nutrients, this could explain why your Labrador is always hungry.
Talk to your veterinarian about which dog foods would best meet your Lab’s nutritional needs.
How to Control Your Labrador’s Appetite
It’s possible that your Lab doesn’t possess the POMC gene mutation or have any health problems, but is simply eating too many calories.
If this is the problem there are some ways to fix it.
Between meal snacks should be the first thing you remove or change. This includes those used for training purposes
Commercial snacks pack a lot of calories, often without any nutritional value.
Consider vegetables, fruit, and other healthier alternatives.
Table scraps should also be eliminated from an overweight Lab’s diet.
Knowing how much food to give your Labrador is not always as easy as reading the label. Although this should give you some guidelines.
How much food a Lab needs will differ from dog to dog and brand to brand.
After cutting back treats and table scraps you might not notice a difference in your dog’s weight. If so, you may need to reduce the amount of food he gets at mealtimes.
Start by giving him a third less food than normal.
For example, if he’s been getting one and a half cups of food twice a day, start giving him one cup per meal.
However, it’s recommended to check with your vet before drastically changing your Lab’s diet.
This article offers more tips on feeding a Labrador.
How Do I Know If My Labrador is Overweight?
On average a male Labrador should weigh between 65 and 80 pounds. A female should weigh from 55 to 70 pounds.
But, there are better ways to assess your pet’s weight than putting them on the scale.
This is because, like people, pets have different bone structures. They can be outside the average weight range and still be at their optimal weight.
Look at your dog from different angles. Also, you should feel for his ribs. These are good ways to tell if they need to lose weight.
You should be able to detect a waistline when looking at your dog from above. There should also be a slight tuck up behind the ribs.
When lightly running your hands along the sides of the dog you should be able to feel their ribs.
Why Are Labradors Always Hungry? – Summary
As we’ve seen there can be a number of different reasons why a Labrador is always hungry.
Does this describe your pet? If so, it’s possible that they have the flawed POMC gene. This means they’re biologically unable to determine when they’re full.
Regardless of why your Lab is always hungry, it’s your responsibility as a pet owner to ensure your dog stays fit.
One of the best ways to do that is to ensure they maintain a healthy weight throughout their life.
Do you suspect your Labrador has the POMC gene deletion? Let us know in the comments below.
References and resources
- American Kennel Club (AKC)
- Association for Pet Obesity Prevention
- Raffan, E., et al., “A Deletion in the Canine POMC Gene Is Associated with Weight and Appetite in Obesity-Prone Labrador Retriever Dogs,” Cell Metabolism, 2016
- Dum, J. et al., “Activation of hypothalamic β-endorphin pools by reward induced by highly palatable food,” Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior, 1983
- German, AJ, “The Growing Problem of Obesity in Dogs and Cats,” The Journal of Nutrition, 2006
- Edney, AT, et al., “Study of obesity in dogs visiting veterinary practices in the United Kingdom,” Vet Rec. 1986
- de Bruin, C., et al., “Expression and Functional Analysis of Dopamine Receptor Subtype 2 and Somatostatin Receptor Subtypes in Canine Cushing’s Disease,” Endocrinology, 2008
- Catchpole, B., et al., “Canine diabetes mellitus: from phenotype to genotype,” The Journal of Small Animal Practice, 2007
The Labrador Site Founder
Pippa Mattinson is the best selling author of The Happy Puppy Handbook, the Labrador Handbook, Choosing The Perfect Puppy, and Total Recall.
She is also the founder of the Gundog Trust and the Dogsnet Online Training Program
Pippa's online training courses were launched in 2019 and you can find the latest course dates on the Dogsnet website