Gene that hardwires dogs to overeat could help us to better understand obesity in humans

Most of us love to eat – the tastes, flavours and usually something sweet is simply irresistible. But do you know what drives you to eat, what causes you to feel hungry, or, for that matter, what tells you that you are full? Scientists, working with Labrador Retriever dogs have found a gene that helps the brain to tell them when they are hungry and when they’re full. This is important work, because if similar genes can be identified in humans scientists could be one step closer to formulating a strategy for helping people into more healthy eating patterns.

Lead researcher Dr Eleanor Raffan says: “Although obesity is the consequence of eating more than you need and more than you burn off in exercise, actually there’s some real hard-wired biology behind our drive to eat.”

So why Labradors? These dogs are among the greediest breeds of dogs, and canine obesity issues are similar to those of humans – with genetics, exercise and diet all factoring in. Apparently one to two thirds of dogs in developed countries around the world are overweight, with the Lab at the top of the list.

The culprit is a gene known as POMC, which is linked to weight gain and appetite, and, in a 300-dog study, those Labradors that carried the gene were on average 2kg heavier than those that didn’t.

The gene is believed to help the brain to identify the amount of fat in the body, but on occasion there are deletions from the gene which turn this function off and make it impossible for the dog’s brain to identify when enough fat has been consumed and stored. The POMC gene is also present in humans, though it is thought that the way our brains impact on our body weight is a lot more complex. Similarities do exist though, so more research into obesity in dogs may well reveal some vital answers for us.

In the meantime, if you are worried that your weight has got a little out of control, but you are not yet prepared to change your diet, maybe it’s a change in lifestyle that you need, to invest some time and effort into more physical exercise – jogging, outdoor fitness equipment, energetic pursuits, and so forth.