Do you have a chubby Labrador? Don’t blame the dog!

With the best will in the world, it can be incredibly difficult to keep food-loving Labs slim and trim. The reason? It’s all down to a double whammy effect of their genes. However, by choosing light dog food  recipes, slow feeding bowls and providing plenty of opportunities for exercise, there’s lots you can do to help your overweight Labrador.
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11th April 2024

Do you have a Labrador who loves their food nearly as much as they love you? The reason, as a group of scientists have established, is a genetic mutation that makes some Labradors and Flat-coated Retrievers constantly hungry while burning fewer calories.

This double trouble effect means that Labrador and Retriever owners often have to put a mammoth effort into helping their pets stay slim.

How do you tell if your dog is overweight? Ensure your dog is a healthy size and weight with the Dog Size-O-Meter >>

The gene mutation was found in one-in-four Labrador Retrievers and two-thirds of Flat-coated Retrievers. Reported on BBC News, lead scientist Dr Eleanor Raffan of the University of Cambridge says that dogs, like humans, have genes that influence both interest in food and metabolic rate, commenting: “It shows us the power of our genes to change how we feel about food. If we get dealt a genetic hand of cards that makes us feel hungry or always want to eat, it takes greater effort to stay slim.”

Find out more about Labradors' love affair with food >>

The sausage in a box test

The study builds on previous research into a mutation in a gene known as POMC. The POMC gene and the brain pathway it affects are similar in dogs and humans. Not only do dogs with the mutation get hungrier in between meals but they also use around 25% less energy at rest, meaning they don't need to consume as many calories.

More than 80 pet Labradors dogs took part in the study and were given a range of tests. These included the 'sausage in a box' test, where the hungry hounds were tempted with a hidden treat they could see and smell. Dogs with the POMC mutation tried much harder to get at the sausage than dogs without it, indicating greater hunger.

The lighter way to help your Labrador or Retriever stay in shape >>

“Dogs with this genetic mutation face a double whammy: they not only want to eat more, but also need fewer calories because they're not burning them off as fast,” says Dr Raffan.

The scientists proved this by allowing some of the Flat-coated Retrievers to sleep in a special chamber that measured the gases they breathed out. This revealed that those with the POMC mutation burned about 25% fewer calories than dogs without it.


When it comes to the nation’s favourite dog breed, Labradors still top the table, according to the UK’s biggest survey of dog owners, Dogs Trust’s National Dog Survey. The findings include:

  • The Labrador has the highest levels of obesity and has been shown to be more obsessed with food than other breeds.
  • They make successful working and pet dogs because they are also relatively easy to train.
  • We may have unconsciously selected for Labradors with the mutation because they adore food and will do anything for a biscuit!

Kathryn Taylor has a “big chunky black lab” called Leo, who took part in the study. She told BBC News that he will eat anything, including a bowl of salad from the table, runner beans from vegetable beds and has been known to dig up carrots. “You can feed him and he'll still be wanting more food," she said, adding that they try their best to keep him slim including using a slow feeder bowl.

The research, published in the journal Science Advances, was funded by the Wellcome Trust  and Dogs Trust.


  • Follow the on-pack instructions – The key to avoiding over-feeding your Labrador puppy or adult dog is to follow the on-pack feeding guidelines and ensure you measure out their daily ration – don’t guess it – and then divide it up throughout the day.
  • Don’t forget to count treats – If you feed treats for training or when out on walks, this should also be taken into account. Remember that treats should be just that – something special, fed occasionally, in small amounts. Treats should make up no more than 10% of your Labrador’s daily diet. 
  • Don’t give your dog human food or table scraps – According to Blue Cross, a slice of buttered toast to a Cocker Spaniel provides about a sixth of their daily calorie requirement – the equivalent of two bags of crisps for a person. A sausage to a Staffie is the equivalent of one and a half chocolate bars to a person and a chocolate digestive to a Jack Russell is almost the same as a portion of chips to a human. What’s more, it’s important to avoid giving pets leftovers from meals as all sorts of human food can actually be harmful to pets.
  • Slow down their eating – While some dogs like to savour every mouthful of their food, you might find that your Labrador puppy or adult dog scoffs down their dinner in seconds, which is really not good for them. Eating food too fast can cause digestive upsets, some of which can be very serious, requiring immediate veterinary attention. Slow down super speedy eaters with slow feeding bowls featuring raised patterns that require more effort to get to the food, or puzzle feeders, which means your Lab has to engage both brain and brawn to get to their tasty kibble
  • Ensure their food is high quality and nutritionally balanced – If you feed low-quality dog food you may not be providing your dog with enough nutrients, so they constantly feel hungry. Pet Plan suggests: “By switching the food you are feeding them to something more nutritionally beneficial you may be able to change your Lab’s eating behaviour and allow them to slow down. If they’re still eating exceptionally fast, see a vet so your pet can be checked for any underlying medical conditions.” 

Every dog deserves a delicious, nutritious dinner that’s just right for them

At Burgess, all our high-quality recipes have been formulated with vets and nutritionists. This ensures they contain the right balance of vitamins and minerals to help keep your dog happy and healthy.

Our Supadog Light in Fat recipe with tasty chicken contains a specialist ingredient – L-carnitine – to help adult dogs maintain a healthy weight, glucosamine to help support healthy joints, essential fatty acids from fish oils help to support healthy skin and coat, plus ingredients to support digestive health.

With a whole host of 5-STAR REVIEWS, our customers have told us

* “My dog loves this product, and this keeps her weight at bay.” * “Dogs enjoy it, fills them but they maintain lower weight... Ideal.” * “Both dogs are eating the food. One is fussy but even she is clearing the bowl.” * “Excellent product always enjoyed by my dog.” * “Perfect for my dog as she struggles with weight due to a medical condition. Never any left in bowl.” *

Need more advice? 

If you’re at all unsure about the best way of feeding your Labrador puppy or adult dog or have any concerns about specific nutritional requirements, ask your local veterinary practice for advice. You can also call our expert team, available 9am-5pm, Monday to Friday, on +44 (0)1405 862241 who’ll be happy to help. Alternatively, use our online contact form to get in touch. 

Is your dog a Burgess dog? Join the Burgess Pet Club for exclusive offers and rewards.

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