Linda Crampton is a writer and former science teacher with an honors degree
in biology. She enjoys writing about science and nature.

A yellow Labrador Retriever and a fox red Retriever; the fox red form is a
variation of the yellow form and isn't officially recognized as a distinct

A yellow Labrador Retriever and a fox red Retriever; the fox red form is a
variation of the yellow form and isn’t officially recognized as a distinct

sgilsdorf, via flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0 License

Weight Gain in Labrador Retrievers

Labrador Retrievers are usually affectionate dogs that make wonderful pets.

Unfortunately, some have a tendency to gain weight. In fact, pet experts often
mention the breed as the one that is most likely to become obese. In some
dogs, the weight gain is probably caused by high-calorie intake and
insufficient exercise. There may be another factor at work, however.
Researchers have discovered that a significant percentage of Labs have a gene
mutation linked to increased weight. The mutation may prevent their hunger
from being satisfied and increase their obsession with food.

Misha was one of my Labrador Retrievers. Like most Labs, he loved to eat. We
mustn’t assume that a dog who eats a lot has a genetic problem that increases
its hunger. Even if a dog has the mutation, the steps for keeping him or her
at a healthy weight are the same. The task may be harder in an animal with the
mutated gene, though.

Misha, my black Lab.

Misha, my black Lab.

Linda Crampton

Dog Obesity Statistics

The research into the gene mutation in Labrador Retrievers was carried out by
a group of 22 scientists. Most of them are associated with the University of
Cambridge Metabolic Research Laboratories. Based on a survey of the scientific
literature, the researchers have discovered the following facts.

  • In developed countries, between 34% and 59% of dogs are obese.
  • Recent increases in canine obesity and in diseases linked to obesity mirror changes seen in humans.
  • Despite the above facts, obesity is more common in some dog breeds than others, suggesting that genetics plays a role.

Of all dog breeds for which data have been reported, Labrador retrievers
have the greatest documented obesity prevalence …. and have been shown to
be more food motivated than other breeds.

— Cell Metabolism Journal Article

A Gene Mutation That May Affect Hunger and Appetite

The gene that is linked to a Labrador Retriever’s weight gain and obesity is
known as the POMC or pro-opiomelanocortin gene. (There may be other genes that
can also cause Lab obesity.) The mutation consists of the deletion of a
section of DNA from the gene. DNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid, is the chemical
that makes up genes. Genes contain coded instructions for making proteins. If
a section of DNA is missing, so is part of the instructions.

The POMC gene codes for a protein that splits up to form two neuropeptides:
beta-MSH (melanocyte-stimulating hormone) and beta-endorphin. As a result of
the mutation, the production of the neuropeptides is assumed to be disrupted.
This assumption wasn’t tested in the research, however. The chemicals are
thought to play an important role in ending the sensation of hunger once a dog
eats, although there are other chemicals and brain pathways involved in ending

When the dog experiences a weaker signal “telling” it that it’s no longer
hungry, its appetite may not be completely satisfied even after it has eaten
what should be a sufficient amount of food. This may be the reason for the
increased food searching behaviours and increased weight observed in many dogs
with the mutation.

These Labs look like good friends.

These Labs look like good friends., via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 2.0 License

Prevalence of the Mutated Gene

The mutated gene was found in about a quarter of the 310 Labrador Retrievers
involved in one trial carried out by the researchers. In another trial
involving a total of 411 dogs from the United States and the UK, researchers
found that 23% of the Labrador Retrievers had the mutated gene. The dogs
included both companion and assistance animals. Interestingly, the gene was
discovered in 76% of the 81 assistance dogs that were checked. The greatly
increased percentage in assistance dogs was surprising to the researchers.

Genes give dogs and humans many of their characteristics. A gene exists in
slightly different variations called alleles. The combination of alleles that
an animal possesses for a certain characteristic is known as a genotype. The
mutated POMC allele in dogs was apparently able to exert its effect whether it
was present in a heterozygous genotype (one normal version of the gene and one
mutated form) or in a homozygous genotype (two mutated forms of the gene).
Dogs with both of these genotypes were often overweight or obese.

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Effects of the Mutation

According to owner reports, dogs with the mutation are more motivated to find
food than those without it, and exhibit behaviour such as food scavenging and
begging more often. In addition, most of the dogs in the experiment who had
the mutation were significantly heavier than their counterparts without the
mutated gene. Many were overweight or obese. This wasn’t true for all of the
dogs with the mutation, however. This may have been due to diligent food and
portion control by the owners.

The researchers discovered that some dogs without the mutation were obese,
which shows that there are additional factors—genetic or otherwise—that
control body weight in Labs.

The mutated gene has been found in flat-coat retrievers and has been linked to
obesity in that breed. Flat-coated retrievers are close relatives of Labs.
Some mice, rats, and humans also have POMC genes associated with obesity. The
mutated dog gene is most similar to the one in humans, which means that
research in dogs may be helpful for us as well as our canine companions.

Owen, my family's chocolate Lab.

Owen, my family’s chocolate Lab.

Linda Crampton

Assistance dogs are trained to help people with a disability. Some examples of
disabilities that can be helped by a well-trained assistance dog are
blindness, hearing loss, and paralysis.

Assistance Dogs and a POMC Gene Mutation

The researchers have an interesting hypothesis for the greatly increased
prevalence of the mutation in assistance dogs. They emphasize that their
hypothesis is only a possibility and needs to be tested. Assistance dogs are
generally given food rewards when they perform a desired behaviour, at least
in the first stage of their training. Therefore all other things being equal,
a dog that is more strongly motivated by food could be easier to train and
make a better assistance dog. Adult dogs who possess the POMC mutation and
pass it to their offspring might be seen as producers of the best puppies and
favoured as parents. The mutation would therefore become more common in the
assistance dog population.

The hypothesis sounds quite plausible, although I do wonder whether an
assistance dog with the POMC mutation could become so distracted by the
presence of nearby food that they no longer do their job properly. Ignoring
temptation would have to be a major part of their training.

I got Misha from a lady who breeds her dogs to produce puppies for the Pacific
Assistance Dogs Society (PADS). The plan was to train some of Misha’s litter
for PADS. Misha had an unusually strong interest in finding food compared to
my other Labs. The combination of these factors makes me wonder if Misha had
the POMC mutation. Identifying the presence of the gene would have certainly
made me feel sorry for him but wouldn’t have changed the steps that I needed
to follow in order to keep him at a healthy weight.

Bess, my yellow Lab.

Bess, my yellow Lab.

Linda Crampton

If your dog needs to lose a significant amount of weight, it’s important to
consult a vet. Intensity and frequency of exercise and the introduction of an
effective but safe diet are important considerations.

How to Keep a Dog at a Healthy Weight

The following steps should enable a dog to maintain a healthy weight. They are
especially important for a Labrador Retriever that may have a gene that
contributes to weight gain and obesity. If your dog gains weight even after
the steps are being followed, it’s a good idea to see a vet. The dog may have
a medical problem that causes weight gain, such as hypothyroidism.

  • Feed your dog an adequate amount of food at mealtimes and make sure that the food is healthy and nutritious.
  • Check with a vet or your breeder if you have any doubts that your dog is being given enough (or too much) food. Labels on dog food packages may be a useful guide but may not be completely reliable.
  • Check your dog’s weight frequently. Ask your vet whether the dog is at a suitable weight and check whether any adjustments to diet or exercise are needed.
  • Consider the use of treats very carefully. Multiple people in a family giving high calorie treats to a pet at different times of the day can cause weight gain. If you want to give treats, examine their nutrition and calorie content and decide when and how often the dog will be given the treat.
  • Don’t give your dog food from your meal while you’re eating. Even as a puppy, a dog should be trained not to beg at the table. If human food is given to a dog, it should be part of their regular meal. (Be very careful if you do this. Some human foods are dangerous for dogs.)
  • Some dogs can be very cute and persuasive when they beg for food. They quickly discover behaviour that their owner finds hard to resist. Harden your heart and don’t succumb if your dog begs. That being said, if a dog repeatedly asks for food even when you don’t capitulate, you should consider why they are behaving in this way.
  • Give your dog regular and sufficient exercise. The type of exercise is also important to consider. Some dogs require a more vigorous workout than others.

Any dog with a problem involving food intake should be checked by a vet. It
shouldn’t be assumed that the condition must be a behavioural or genetic
problem. There may be a medical reason for the situation.

Food Stealing and Scavenging in Dogs

Food stealing and scavenging can not only cause a dog to gain weight but can
also be dangerous if the dog eats certain foods. It can also be bad for oral
health. Misha was a lovely dog and was generally well behaved, but he did
steal food occasionally. I made sure that I kept most food out of his reach
once I discovered his fondness for it. Training and discipline definitely
improved his behaviour, and he did leave food alone when I told him to. Food
was always a big temptation for him, though. It wasn’t his only interest in
life, but it was a major one.

Of course, training and discipline mustn’t hurt a dog either physically or
psychologically. Every prospective dog owner should do some research to
discover safe and effective ways to train and discipline a puppy or a dog
before they bring him or her into their home.

There are at least two important reasons for hiding certain foods from all
dogs. One is that some foods commonly eaten by humans are unsafe for dogs and
should never be eaten by them. Another is that eating a large amount of food
very quickly has been associated with bloat, a potentially deadly condition in
dogs. Raiding a large bag of dry dog food is especially dangerous in this

Some yellow Labs are so pale in colour that they look almost

Some yellow Labs are so pale in colour that they look almost white.

Photo by Bogdan Todoran on Unsplash

Like humans, an overweight or obese dog has an increased risk of developing a
variety of diseases, including cardiovascular problems, breathing difficulty,
diabetes, joint disorders, and cancer. The dog is also at risk for a reduced

Tips for Preventing a Dog From Stealing Food

There are two ways to prevent a dog from stealing food: train them to leave
food alone or hide it from them. I use a combination of both methods. Training
is especially important when a dog scavenges outside the home where food can’t
be hidden. It’s possible that they may pick up something dangerous while doing

Here are some tips for hiding or removing food so that a dog can’t get to it.
I follow many of them myself.

  • Make sure that all food is put out of a dog’s reach as soon as it’s brought into the home. An enclosed area such as a high cupboard or a refrigerator is best.
  • Don’t leave food on a table, countertop, or other exposed surface in your home.
  • If you’re in the middle of making a meal in the kitchen and need to leave the room with food exposed, the kitchen door should be closed. If this isn’t possible and your dog likes to counter-surf, the dog should be supervised by someone else or placed in a secure and comfortable area such as their crate.
  • If you have to leave a meal before finishing it and your dog isn’t trustworthy when food is temporarily unattended, ask someone else to watch the meal, take the meal with you, or place it in an inaccessible place.
  • Store unused pet food in a secure area.
  • If your dog steals another pet’s food as soon as your back is turned, supervise the other pet as it’s eating or feed it in an area that is inaccessible to your dog.
  • Remove food left or dropped by other pets to prevent your dog from scavenging.
  • Place food scraps, empty food containers, and garbage in a secure container or a place that your dog can’t reach.
  • Don’t leave your dog alone in a car with either human or pet food.

A chocolate Lab puppy.

A chocolate Lab puppy.

Unsplash, via, CC0 public domain license

Learning More About the POMC gene

Hopefully, researchers will learn more about the mutated POMC gene and the way
in which it affects both dogs and humans. I would also be interested in
research that compares the frequency of the mutation in show line and field
line Labrador Retrievers. Show line dogs are generally stockier animals than
field line ones.

It would be wonderful if researchers found a way to safely compensate for the
effect of the mutated gene by biological or chemical means. Until then, dog
lovers should try to keep their Labrador Retrievers at a healthy weight to
reduce the chance of disease and to help them enjoy life more.


  • Why Labrador Retrievers are more interested in food than other breeds: a news release for the general public from the Cell Metabolism Journal
  • A Deletion in the Canine POMC Gene: the research report from the Cell Metabolism Journal
  • Weight problem in Labradors from New Scientist
  • Obesity in dogs from PetMD

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It
is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription,
or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional.
Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a
veterinarian immediately.

© 2016 Linda Crampton


Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on June 03, 2020:

So do I, Siva. The Labrador retriever is a lovely breed.

Siva arun on June 03, 2020:

I love the Labrador dog very much

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on March 19, 2018:

Having a dog who takes toast out of the toaster would be interesting! It can
be a challenge to keep some dogs at a healthy weight. I’m glad yours got back
into shape.

Melody Lassalle from California on March 19, 2018:

I had a Lab/Golden mix who was the worst thief. Perhaps she had this mutation.
She was tall enough to take toast out of the toaster, food off a plate on the
table. Once she stole a whole loaf of fresh made bread off the counter. Our
Vet called Labs Trash Can Dogs bēcause they’d eat anything.

At 5 years old, she was 10 lbs overweight and had to go on a diet. Worst
couple of months in my household! Eventually, switching her food, giving her
more nutritious treats, and skipping the people food got her back into shape.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on October 18,

Thanks for sharing the story of your cat and for rescuing him, Nancy. One of
my cats is big, too, but the vet says that he isn’t overweight. He’s just a
big boy!

Nancy Owens from USA on October 18, 2017:

I think my cat has this disease, Lol! He was an orphan baby whose mother was
taken by a wave of distemper in Montana. There was a very long line of feral
cats living on a large wheat ranch where I lived. His eyes weren’t open yet,
so I bottle fed and then started him on baked chicken drippings for his first
solid food. Now he weighs in at about 25 pounds. He is very large and I joke
that he is a Viking kitty. Mostly he is bone and muscle, but every winter he
gets too fat. Right now he probably needs to lose a full pound. Not sure about
his current weight. He will go in for his checkup soon, so we will find out.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on October 29,

She sounds like an energetic dog! Labs do love their food, even when they’re
not obese. I hope your dog continues to stay in good shape.

Pau on October 29, 2016:

My 9 month old female lab has a very huge appetite, more than other breeds I
have. Every morning I have to feed her 2x because she will keep on bugging me
If I don’t feed her. However shes not obese, she has many playmates. She gets
a lot of exercise everyday.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on July 29, 2016:

Thanks for passing the article on to your neighbor, Dianna. I love Labrador
retrievers. In my experience, they are very friendly animals, like the ones
that live near you.

teaches12345 on July 28, 2016:

My neighbor has two labradors and they are so friendly. I will have to pass on
this information to her so she can keep an eye on their eating habits.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on May 30, 2016:

Hi, Bill. Thanks for the comment about the article and my dogs. I think all
dogs are beautiful! I hope the week ahead is a great one for you.

Bill De Giulio from Massachusetts on May 30, 2016:

Hi Linda. Your labs are beautiful. Great information as always. I was not
aware of the POMC gene, very interesting. Have a wonderful,day.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on May 29, 2016:

Thank you very much for commenting, Larry. I hope your dog stays healthy and
happy for a long time to come. I’ve never owned a Jack Russell, but I think
it’s an interesting breed.

Larry Rankin on May 29, 2016:

Very interesting stuff. I have a Jack Russell that is 11. It seems as the
years go by keeping her slim is more difficult, but I wouldn’t say she has a
tendency towards obesity.

Great read!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on May 24, 2016:

Hi, Audrey. I love big dogs, too – as well as small and medium-sized ones!
There may not be a gene mutation involved in all cases of Lab obesity, but a
genetic problem may be responsible for more cases than we realize. It’s an
interesting thought.

Audrey Howitt from California on May 24, 2016:

I love bigger dogs, labs included and it can be hard not to overfeed them–
such an interesting article–I didn’t realize there was a gene mutation

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on May 23, 2016:

Hi, Deb. Yes, there could be more than one reason for weight gain in Labs. I
hope researchers explore the possible reasons thoroughly. We need to fight
obesity in both dogs and humans.

Deb Hirt on May 23, 2016:

I found this of great interest, as I have known many people with overweight
labs, ad these were dogs that were very active under normal circumstances.
This gene could be much more prevalent, or human food could be a bigger

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on May 13, 2016:

Thanks for the visit, Martie. I hope that in the future there will be a way to
solve genetic problems in both dogs and humans. It would be wonderful to
eliminate health disorders caused by gene mutations.

Martie Coetser from South Africa on May 13, 2016:

Very interesting, thank you, Alicia and all researchers. Why Labradors have a
tendency to gain weight, was indeed a question on my mind. I wonder when will
it be possible to replace bad genes with good ones?

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on May 12, 2016:

Thank you for sharing the information, DDE. The facts that you’ve mentioned
are important for dog owners to remember.

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on May 12, 2016:

I recently watched a documentary on why pet owners have overweight pets. Over
feeding, and less exercise was the problem. The other issue is when pet owners
have more than one dog and keep their feeding dishes in different spaces one
of the dogs usually eats what the other dog has left and that allowed for that
dog to grow over weight. You shared useful points.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on May 09, 2016:

Hi, Suhail. Thanks for sharing the information with your relatives. Labrador
Retrievers make lovely pets, but it is important to be careful with their food

Suhail and my dog on May 09, 2016:

Although I don’t have a labrador, but my brother and his family may end up
having one. I will definitely refer this article to his daughters.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on May 08, 2016:

Thank you very much for commenting and for sharing the information with your
friend, Kali. It’s a great shame that some Labs are obese. They are wonderful

Kaili Bisson from Canada on May 08, 2016:

What a fascinating article. I had never heard of this before, but it seems it
is fairly prevalent in this breed. I am going to pass this to a friend who has
one of these doggies. Thank you!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on May 08, 2016:

I loved reading about your Labs, Faith! It sounds like you treat Max like I
treat Misha. Unfortunately, like your black Lab, Bess had hip dysplasia. She
has passed on but is still very much in my mind.

Thank you so much for the shares, Faith. I appreciate them all.

Faith Reaper from southern USA on May 08, 2016:

This is such an important hub, Linda.

We love our chocolate lab, Max, so much. He is very healthy as we only feed
him the best dog food we can find and no food from the table ever. He does get
a doggie treat now and then. He is one of the tallest labs we’ve ever had with
such a shiny coat.

We did have a couple of black labs and one yellow lab when my children were
growing up. One of the black labs did have hip dysplasia, which is so sad for
any dog. He was one dog who would try to snatch food from our hands whenever
we were outside having a BBQ.

Misha, Owen and Bess are such beautiful dogs! Bess reminds me of my childhood
yellow Lab, Brownie, he was a three-legged dog who adopted our family and
lived with us throughout our childhood!

I am sharing this important information everywhere.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on May 08, 2016:

Hi, Vellur. Thanks for the visit. I’m happy to say that Misha is in good
health at the moment.

Nithya Venkat from Dubai on May 08, 2016:

An interesting and informative hub about weight gain and appetite in Labrador
Retrievers. A gene mutation can wreak havoc, hope Misha is in the best of
health now.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on May 08, 2016:

Thank you very much, Bill. I appreciate your comment a great deal.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on May 08, 2016:

One of the things I enjoy about your articles is the fact that they are so
original….and informative…and just well-written. This one is no exception.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on May 07, 2016:

Hi, Flourish. Genetics is certainly an interesting topic. One of my cats is
very large while the other two – one of which is the same breed as the big one
and has one parent in common – are small. More than one vet has said that the
big one isn’t overweight. He’s just a giant!

FlourishAnyway from USA on May 07, 2016:

There definitely seems to be some selection in assistance dogs for factors
that are conflated with this gene. You have such interesting topics and
beautiful dogs. With my cats, they all have equal access to food and are well
exercised but several are obese and others are normal or skinny minnies. It
does make you wonder about genetics.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on May 07, 2016:

I’m happy to read about your view of Labs, Mel! Your description of a Labrador
Retriever’s needs is absolutely right. They are lovely dogs, but they do need
a lot of attention.

Mel Carriere from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on May 07,

I love labs. They are some of the most mailmen-friendly dogs around. I think
Labs need a lot of exercise. They are retrievers and have a natural instinct
to run, track and fetch things. People that have animals like this really have
to keep them engaged, in order to keep them healthy. Great hub!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on May 07, 2016:

Thank you for the comment and for sharing the interesting information, DrMark.
The situation that you’ve described certainly does sound like a hard cycle to

Dr Mark from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on May 07, 2016:

Very interesting article! Since one of the first selection tests for an
assistance dog is “retrieval”, it sounds like we are selecting for the obesity
gene since the puppies that retrieve may in fact be running after an object
looking for food. When the object is not something that they can eat, they
bring it back to the human and hope for a treat (since all puppies learn early
that humans are a source of food). It sounds like a hard cycle to break!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on May 07, 2016:

Thanks for the comment, Jackie. I agree – dogs and children love food as a
reward, but it’s very important to be careful with their health.

Jackie Lynnley from the beautiful south on May 07, 2016:

You give some great advice. It is very hard to not spoil our dogs and over
feed them but for their health we never should although I think most of us use
food for as a reward even for our kids much less our dogs!