The canine obesity crisis

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 the UK’s most popular canine companion. However, this stereotypically “greedy” breed often suffers size-related health problems.

“Obesity is a serious issue for our dog population,” said 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 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 said.

In the past, the onus has been on owners to restrict the diet of their pets to prevent excessive weight gain, however, 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,” said Dr Raffan. “It’s a bit more nuanced than just owners needing to be careful.”

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