UK Labrador Retrievers At Risk Of Middle-Aged Spread

Britain’s most popular dog breed can suffer from weight gain in middle age just like people, a UK canine health survey suggests.

Labrador Retrievers gain an average of 0.9kg each year between the ages of one and four, putting them at risk of being overweight by the time they reach middle age, the study shows.

Previous research suggests that, in the UK, Labrador Retrievers are the breed most likely to be overweight. The dogs are fully grown after 18 months and are regarded as being near middle age by the time they reach four. Researchers say putting on nearly 1kg every year after reaching maturity puts many at risk of obesity.

The findings are part of the Dogslife project, which seeks to gain a greater insight into links between the Labradors’ lifestyles and their health and wellbeing.

Dog owners provided details of their animals’ lifestyle as part of the project, which is led by the University of Edinburgh. The team assessed the activity levels and size of more than 4000 Kennel Club registered Labrador Retrievers as they grew to the age of four.

The study found that, on average, dogs were exercised for more than two hours each day. Dogs that spent more time fetching, chasing and retrieving tended to weigh less, the team say.

Chocolate colored Labradors were found to weigh, on average, 1.4kg more than yellow and black Labradors. While exercise is important, other factors such as genetics appear to play a role in why some dogs gain more weight than others in early life, the team says.

Initial findings from the Dogslife project will help researchers carry out further studies into the links between dogs’ body size, lifestyle, and overall health.

The study, published in the journal Preventive Veterinary Medicine, was funded by the Kennel Club Charitable Trust, The Roslin Foundation and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.

Dr. Dylan Clements, of the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies and The Roslin Institute, who led the study, said: “Dogslife is a ground-breaking study of canine health, which is made possible thanks to the incredible dedication of dog owners.”

Dogslife: A cohort study of Labrador Retrievers in the UK, C.A. Pugh,, B.M.de C. Bronsvoort, I.G. Handel, K.M. Summers, D.N. Clements, Preventive Veterinary Medicine, doi:10.1016/j.prevetmed.2015.06.020, published online 7 July 2015.

Source: University of Edinburgh

Doggy Database Aims To Define The Health Of Our Pets

Using data collected about Labrador Retrievers, research published in BioMed Central’s open access journal BMC Veterinary Research is beginning to quantify the health, illnesses, and veterinary care of dogs.

The UK is a nation of pet lovers – but what do we know about the health of our pets? To date the long-term (longitudinal) study of canine diseases has been patchy, relying on information from referral centers and details about pet illnesses which are not reported to a vet have never been studied before.

The Dogslife internet-based project* was organized in conjunction with the Kennel Club. From the 1st July 2010, the owners of all Labrador Retrievers born after 1st January 2010 and registered with the Kennel Club were invited to be part of the project. In the first year of the study 1407 dogs were enrolled in the study.

Early results to come out of this study show that four out of ten of all dogs were ill at some point. Analyzing their data the researchers estimated that about 80% of dogs had been ill by the time they were one year old – but that only half were considered by their owners to be ill enough to need to visit the vet.

Discussing the Dogslife project, Dr Dylan Clements from the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies and The Roslin Institute, which are both part of The University of Edinburgh, and lead author of the study said, “Labrador Retrievers are the most popular pedigree dog in the UK, and breeders and owners are passionate about the health of their pets. We are extremely grateful for the time and commitment provided by owners and breeders contributing to the study. We hope to follow the health of these dogs throughout their lives so that we can identify aspects of care which might reduce the risk of dogs developing the disease in the future.”

* Dogslife internet-based project

The study is on-going, so any Kennel Club registered Labradors born in the UK after 1st January 2010 can join the project.

Dogslife: A web-based longitudinal study of Labrador Retriever health in the UK Dylan N Clements, Ian G Handel, Erica Rose, Damon Querry, Carys A Pugh, William ER Ollier, Kenton L Morgan, Lorna J Kennedy, Jeffery Sampson, Kim M Summers and B Mark de Bronsvoort BMC Veterinary Research (in press)

BioMed Central

Source: EurekAlert!, the online, global news service operated by AAAS, the science society

Why Do Labrador Retrievers Love Food So Much?

 Labrador retrievers love food, say their owners, and they are often more obese than dogs of other breeds. Now, new research published in Cell Metabolism says there may be a biological reason for this.
[labradors and food motivation]
A genetic modification appears to increase a Labrador’s interest in food.

In developed countries, obesity affects 34-59 percent of dogs, reducing their lifespan and ushering in a range of health issues also seen in human obesity.

Rises in canine obesity, like human obesity, have been put down to reduced exercise and easy access to high-calorie food.

At the same time, even dog owners who control their pets’ diet and exercise find that some breeds easily gain weight, suggesting that genetic factors are at play.

Genetic factors are often at work when a trait is more common in one breed than in others.

With this in mind, a team led by Eleanor Raffan, a veterinary surgeon, and geneticist at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom, set out to investigate.

Raffan, who had previously studied obesity in humans, started by looking at a group of 15 obese and 18 lean Labrador retrievers.

The team examined three genes known to relate to obesity and weight in humans. A growing body of evidence suggests that biological reasons may underlie weight variations.

Inability to switch off hunger leads to obesity

The results uncovered a modification in a gene called POMC. Most of the obese dogs had a scrambled section of DNA at the end of this gene.

The scientists believe that because of this modification, Labrador, and flat coat retrievers – which are related to Labrador retrievers – are unable to produce two substances usually involved in turning off hunger after a meal: the neuropeptides beta-MSH and beta-endorphin.

Fast facts about canine obesity

According to Stephen O’Rahilly, a senior author on the study, a very small number of people with obesity also lack a similar part of the POMC gene as the dogs.

The mutation appears to be specific to Labradors and flat coat retrievers and correlates with an increased tendency toward food-motivated behavior.

Next, the team looked at 310 Labrador retrievers, and they discovered that a number of behaviors correlated with the POMC deletion.

Not all the Labradors that had the DNA variation were obese, and some were obese without having the variation.

Overall, however, dogs with the deleted gene weighed on average around 4.5 pounds more than dogs without the deletion.

A survey of owners also suggested that dogs with the deleted gene were more motivated by food, as seen in more frequent begging for food, greater attentiveness at mealtimes, and a greater tendency to scavenge for scraps.

Further sampling from the U.K. and the Unites States indicates that around 23 percent of Labrador retrievers do not have the POMC gene.

Among 38 other breeds, the deletion was only present in flat coat retrievers. The effect on their weight and behavior was similar.

Raffan calls this “a hardwired biological reason” for the dogs’ food-obsession, although the team observed many dogs in the study that were obsessed with food but did not have the mutation.

Gene missing in 76 percent of assistance dogs

Labs that are chosen as assistance dogs are also more likely to have this variation, offering a potential explanation as to why these breeds appear to be more trainable with food rewards.

The cohort included 81 assistance Labrador retrievers, and 76 percent of them had the deletion. This surprised the researchers, who speculate that the Labrador’s interest in food could be what makes them more suitable for assistance-dog training, as these tend to involve food rewards.

Confirmation of this could come by looking at puppies and finding out whether those with the mutation are more likely to qualify as an assistance dog.

What does this study imply for owners of Labrador retrievers?

“The behavior of dogs carrying this mutation is different. You can keep a dog with this mutation slim, but you have to be a lot more on-the-ball. You have to be more rigorous about portion control, and you have to be more resistant to your dog giving you the big brown eyes.

If you keep a really food-motivated Labrador slim, you should give yourself a pat on the back, because it’s much harder for you than it is for someone with a less food-motivated dog.”

Eleanor Raffan

The study, which is the first to describe a gene associated with canine obesity, may be a step toward possible treatments for people with obesity.

Previous rodent studies of POMC mutations have been hindered, because, in mice and rats, the gene is quite different from that in humans.

O’Rahilly comments: “Further research in these obese Labradors may not only help the well-being of companion animals but also carry important lessons for human health.”