Why Are Labradors Always Hungry? The Science Behind Satiety

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It’s long been said that Labradors are always hungry and seem to be bottomless pits when it comes to food. Some breeds, like the Labrador, are very food-motivated, while others, like border collies, are more task- and people-oriented. So why do Labradors spend their time seeking food and why are they more prone to becoming obese because of this?

There could be a few reasons your Labrador constantly appears ravenous, so let’s have a look at what those might be.

Are labradors genetically hungrier?

In 2016, a study in the journal Cell Metabolism found that Labradors and some closely related Flat Coat retrievers have a specific gene mutation that is absent from other dogs. This gene mutation affects their motivation for food, increases the likelihood of storing fat and makes them more prone to obesity. The study also found that this mutation was more common in dogs that were being selected as assistance dogs than those becoming pets.

The POMC gene, which is the affected gene, is also linked to obesity in humans and is involved in satiety. Satiety means feeling full. It seems that the mutation in Labradors means that they don’t seem to realise when they are full, so never feel satiated and will continue to look for food.

Other causes of hunger you should rule out

If you have a dog that constantly seems hungry, it may not just be their genes. When your dog looks at you with those pleading eyes, it can be really tempting to give in, but this can become a very vicious and unhealthy cycle. Dogs that are overweight as puppies go on to become overweight adult dogs and can be obesity-prone for life. With this in mind, if you do have a Labrador, it’s a good idea to be disciplined right from the word go when it comes to food and meal-time behaviour.

Talk to your vet about body condition score (BCS). This is a way to make sure your dog is an ideal weight for their size, breed and age. Keeping your dog slim throughout life has many health benefits.

Avoid bad feeding habits with your dog

Get into good habits when it comes to your food. Dogs that are allowed to scavenge can become a real nuisance at mealtimes and it can be a hard habit to break once it’s ingrained. They may appear hungry, but they are just playing the game because they know it works. Make sure everyone in the family, including visitors, knows that feeding the dog from the table is not allowed.

Weigh out your dog’s ration of food so you don’t leave it to guess work. If your Labrador, or any dog for that matter, seems hungry during the day, split the daily ration into three or four meals. If this doesn’t help, speak to your vet about whether a more filling, lower-calorie food might be appropriate to help with the hunger pangs.

Dog parasites

Make sure your dog’s worming treatment is up to date. Although heavy worm infestations are not very common these days, worms can still be an issue, especially if your greedy dog is eating all sorts of unsavoury bits and bobs when out on walks. The difference here is that dogs that are hungry because of worms won’t gain weight, and may even lose weight.

Medical issues

Labradors are more prone to certain diseases, which might also make obesity more of a problem. Elbow and hip issues are pretty common in the breed, and if your dog can’t exercise they will need fewer calories. With orthopaedic problems, it’s especially important to keep them slim to keep the stress on their joints to a minimum.

Labradors are also prone to hypothyroidism, which is an underactive thyroid gland. The thyroid controls the metabolism, so dogs affected by this tend to be lethargic, hungry and prone to easy weight gain. If your vet suspects hypothyroidism, they will need to do certain blood tests to confirm or rule it out.

In summary

Although your Labrador might have a genetic excuse for being a greedy guts, it’s still really important that you control their weight. Obesity is very bad for your dog’s health and is proven to shorten their lifespan. For maximum time with your furry friend, stay strong and don’t give in to those big, hungry eyes!

Reviewed by Dr. Hein Meyer, DVM, PhD, Dipl-ECVIM-CA