Labs Are Actually Hungrier Than Other Dogs, New Study Finds · The Wildest

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Labs Are Actually Hungrier Than Other Dogs, New Study Finds

Being constantly starving is in their genes

by Sio Hornbuckle
7 March 2024
Cute dog dining with people during the evening light on the backyard of the house outdoors.
RossHelen / iStock

To state the obvious: dogs love food. Begging at the dinner table or passive-aggressively pawing at an empty kibble bowl is totally normal – if a little annoying – pup behaviour. But if you have a Labrador who seems a little extra food-obsessed, it turns out there may be a scientific reason behind their fixation. A new study published in Science Advances found that one in four Labs have a genetic mutation that causes them to feel hungrier in between meals. 

Labs are genetically hungrier

Previous research has found that dogs with a mutation of the pro-opiomelanocortin (POMC) gene have a higher risk of obesity, and scientists wanted to explore how the mutation impacts a dog’s eating behaviour. 

In one experiment, they showed dogs a sausage and then locked the sausage away in a perforated box. The dogs had eaten breakfast three hours earlier, so they shouldn’t have been overly hungry. They found that dogs who had the POMC mutation spent two times as much time trying to get to the sausage than the other dogs. “What we see in the dogs is that they’re getting this molecular starvation signal,” Eleanor Raffan, a co-author of the paper, told the Scientific American.

The researchers then conducted another experiment to see if it would take dogs with the POMC mutation longer to feel full when eating. After an overnight fast, dogs were offered a can of food every twenty minutes. The dogs were allowed to eat the food until they either didn’t finish a can or vomited. The results were unexpected: though both groups ate a massive amount of food (twice their total daily energy requirement), the dogs with the POMC mutation didn’t eat more food than the others. 

The two experiments together show that while dogs with the POMC mutation are hungrier than other dogs, they don’t actually need more food to feel full. Interestingly, though, dogs with the POMC mutation were much less likely to vomit – only one dog in the POMC mutation group threw up their food, while over half the others did. This means that dogs with the POMC mutation may be able to tolerate larger meals. 

They also burn calories slower

Researchers also measured how quickly dogs with the POMC mutation burn calories. They had 19 dogs fall asleep in a chamber and then measured the metabolic gasses they produced. With this information, they were able to calculate how much energy the dogs burned. They found that dogs with the POMC mutation burn calories much more slowly than dogs without the mutation. 

The fact that Labs are hungrier, have more tolerant stomachs, and burn calories slowly means they’re at higher risk for obesity. If you have a Lab (or any breed, really), keep an eye on their eating habits and be sure you’re giving them lots of exercise and the recommended amount of food. And if they happen to get a little chubby anyway, well, science says it might be destiny.  

Sio Hornbuckle

Sio Hornbuckle is a writer living in New York City with their cat, Toni Collette.

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