Advertisement

Tackling the canine obesity crisis

From BBC - September 9, 2017

When it comes to man's best friend, science may finally have solved the mystery of their gluttony - some Labradors, it seems, are genetically predisposed to being hungry.

That's according to scientists who were discussing their ongoing mission to improve our favourite pets' health at the British Science Association Festival in Brighton.

Several research teams in the UK are on a mission to improve canine health.

Researchers at the University of Cambridge have studied the appetite of Britain's favourite dog breed, and suggest Labradors are genetically at risk of becoming overweight.

Roughly a quarter of British households own a pet dog, and Labrador retrievers remain our most popular canine companion.

However, this stereotypically "greedy" breed often suffers size-related health problems.

Blame the owners?

"Obesity is a serious issue for our dog population," says Dr Eleanor Raffan from the Wellcome Trust-MRC Institute of Metabolic Science.

"It has the potential to have a massive impact on pet welfare."

In research supported by the Dogs Trust, Dr Raffan and her colleagues have analysed DNA from the saliva of Labradors across the UK. They found that particularly greedy individuals possess a gene mutation responsible for increasing their appetite.

"We found around a quarter of pet Labradors have at least one copy of this mutation in the gene," Dr Raffan explains. Their increased appetite manifests itself as a "food obsession", familiar to dog-owners as begging or scavenging for food.

In the past, the onus has been on owners to restrict the diet of their pets to prevent excessive weight gain.

But Dr Raffan's research suggests the propensity for large appetites, and hence potential obesity, is hardwired into some individuals.

"We hope to shift the paradigm away from owner-blaming" says Dr Raffan. "It's a bit more nuanced than just owners needing to be careful."

Freedom from hunger

Dr Raffan cautions against any attempt to breed this "greedy mutation" out of Labrador lines. While it might predispose the dogs to obesity, a strong focus on food may also explain why Labradors are so easy to train and are such loyal human companions.

"If we try to get rid of the mutation, we might find we change the personality of the breed, and that would be a real shame," she explains.

Bearing the weight

Advertisement

Continue reading at BBC »