Breeders need to selectively breed out genetic mutation that makes 25% of Labradors flabby

Flabby labradors suffer from a genetic mutation that affects 25% of the breed making them obsessed with eating and burning less energy in their metabolism. Why do the dog associations and clubs allow this to happen? It can be fixed by culling (removing from breeding/blood lines) those breeding dogs that carry this genetic mutation which may have had – in the long distant past – a benefit in terms of survival.

Leo in Scotland is one Labrador with genetic mutation. With his owner’s (Kathryn Taylor) consent, he participated in a Cambridge University study which found that Leo was not exceptional in eating to excess. Leo proved this by being allowed to eat what he wanted in the study. According to The Times he had to be stopped for his own safety! 😁

Breeders need to selectively breed out genetic mutation that makes 25% of Labradors flabby
Breeders need to selectively breed out genetic mutation that makes 25% of Labradors flabby. Image: MikeB under license.
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Like other laboradors Leo is challenged by a genetic mutation which means that he feels hungry all the time and he burns ‘significantly fewer calories while they are resting’. Their brains tells them that they are starving.

The mutation affects a gene called POMC. The problem is also present in humans. So humans are prone as is the case with some dogs to getting fat and it is no fault of their own.

Remove affected dogs from blood lines

But before I go on, it seems to me that if a quarter of labradors are burdened with this genetic mutation, the remaining 75% are not. Why can’t Labrador breeders get to together and decide to share foundation dogs that are free of the disease and selectively breed from those?

Retire the breeding dogs that carry the mutation. This would be the end of the problem in due course.

Don’t be rude!

The study is published in the journal Science Advances. It was led by Dr Eleanor Raffan of Cambridge University’s department of physiology, development and neuroscience. She said:

People are often rude about owners of fat dogs, blaming them for not properly managing their dogs’ diet and exercise. But we’ve shown that labradors with this genetic mutation are looking for food all the time trying to increase their energy intake. It is very difficult to keep these dogs slim but it can be done.

The study

Eighty-seven labradors participated. They were of good weight or slightly overweight. They found that those dogs with the POMC mutation tried significantly harder to get at a sausage in a clear box after their breakfast compared to those without the mutation.

They found that dogs with the mutation burnt about 25% fewer calories while resting than those without it. They gauged this by testing their breath.

It is believed that the mutation was beneficial at one time which is why it has stuck around and not disappeared. It might have aided survival in the forerunners of the labrador. Dr Eleanor Raffan explains:

But the ancestors of both labrador and flat coated retrievers were St. John’s water dogs a type used by fishermen to retrieve their nets in the icy waters of Newfoundland from the 1600s onwards. They had a tough life so a willingness to eat any scraps they could found might have help them build up fat reserves to fuel their work and insulate them as they swam to retrieve fishing nets in the icy sea.

Assistance dogs

The problem is more common in assistance dogs. The speculated reason for this is that dogs that are more hungry are more trainable! Good point as it means positive reinforcement by rewarding correct behavior with food treats is more motivational for these dogs.


Please get to it, breeders and change your breeding practices! 🙄 The world does not need obese dogs. Incidentally, the same basic principles of improving health by altering selective breeding practices applies to cats.

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