New Research Reveals Labradors May Be Hardwired for Obesity

Happy couple play with their Labrador

If you have a Labrador who is always looking for food, then you’ll want to pay attention. A new study found that about a quarter of Labrador Retrievers are hardwired for obesity. These dogs feel hungry all the time and burn fewer calories due to a genetic mutation, researchers from the University of Cambridge revealed (1). 

According to the findings, around 25 percent of Labradors and 66 percent of Flat-Coated Retriever dogs have the mutation in a gene called POMC (pro-opiomelanocortin). Dogs with this mutation also use around 25 percent less energy at rest than dogs without it, the study found. This means they require fewer calories to maintain a healthy body weight than other dogs. 

“All owners of Labradors and Flat-Coated Retrievers need to watch what they’re feeding these highly food-motivated dogs, to keep them a healthy weight,” stated Dr. Eleanor Raffan, the lead researcher of the study, in a University of Cambridge news post. “But dogs with this genetic mutation face a double whammy: they not only want to eat more, but also need fewer calories because they’re not burning them off as fast.” 

So what does this mean for pet parents of Labradors and Flat-Coated Retrievers?  

The dangers of dog obesity

“Obesity is a big problem in pets, and especially dogs, for many reasons,” says Dr. Grant Little, a veterinarian expert for JustAnswer, who is not associated with the Cambridge study. 

Excess weight puts added stress and strain on a dog’s joints. “They are more likely to develop arthritis over time, which can exacerbate previous injuries, as well,” Dr. Little says. In addition, dogs who weigh too much are at risk of torn cruciate ligaments (ACL) and other sports injuries. Labradors are also prone to hip dysplasia, which is an abnormal formation of the hip joint. Weight loss can help obese dogs with hip dysplasia ease pressure on painful joints. 

“Keeping a dog at a healthy weight is key to a dog’s mobility long term,” Dr. Little says. “And once they have a hard time moving around, it can be more difficult for them to lose weight in the future.” 

Obesity can also exacerbate endocrine diseases, affect the respiratory/circulatory system, and increase a dog’s risk of inflammatory diseases, such as pancreatitis, Dr. Little says.

How to keep dogs at a healthy weight

So what can pet parents, especially those with hungry Labradors, do if they are concerned about their dog’s weight? Here are some tips to consider:

Assess portion sizes. “All dog foods have a recommended amount that it says to feed; however, not all dogs metabolize the same,” says Dr. Little. Review the serving suggestion with your veterinarian to make sure it’s the right amount for your dog. 

Feed smaller, frequent meals. If your hungry dog is always looking for food and needs a distraction, University of Cambridge researchers suggest spreading out their daily food ration. You can achieve this by using puzzle feeders so it takes longer for your dog to eat. 

Avoid free feeding. “Try to lay the food out at specific times, and if they don’t eat it, don’t add more to the diet,” Dr. Little explains, “as they may be full at that time.” 

Consider a prescription diet. “If you notice they are having a hard time losing weight,” Dr. Little says, “then they may need a prescription diet that is lower in calories, higher in fiber, and gives the feeling of fullness.”

Factor in treats. Though you love giving your dog treats—what pet parent doesn’t?—Dr. Little stresses the importance of not feeding too many in between mealtimes. You should also skip the table scraps, which are often high in calories and fat. Treats should not make up more than 10 percent of a dog’s daily calories, veterinarians advise. 

Ensure regular appropriate exercise. “Small dogs need to walk once daily, and this may be for quarter to half a mile at least, but big dogs require a lot more and can [walk] upward of over a mile or multiple walks a day, especially for the athletic breeds,” Dr. Little explains. You can mix up daily walks with fun activities such as playing fetch or hide-and-seek.

Still worried about your pet’s weight? Check out GPC’s Pet Obesity and Weight Management Guide for more tips.


  1. Dittmann, Marie T et al. “Low resting metabolic rate and increased hunger due to β-MSH and β-endorphin deletion in a canine model.” Science advances vol. 10,10 (2024): eadj3823. doi:10.1126/sciadv.adj3823

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