Obesity in labradors

There is a (current) study at Cambridge University Vet School which is collecting canine DNA to check if some dogs - in this study it’s labradors - are predisposed to obesity [genetically] by analysing DNA samples from dog saliva.


They are asking for labrador owners to come forward and as almost 1 in 4 labradors is believed to carry a copy of a variant of a gene linked with weight, obesity and appetite, then not only is this an interesting study, also the results generated from it will hopefully be beneficial both now and in the future.


That is why Labrador should be taken out for walk and exercise (playing) more than most of the dog breeds.

I wonder if too much is made of this problem sometimes. All three of my Labradors, from show lines predominantly, are lovely, lean and fit, even my 11 1/2 year old. It is more difficult to get weight off than put it on, and we’re all guilty of perhaps allowing dogs to become slightly over padded from time to time, but as owners, it’s our responsibility to ensure they do not become obese.

Hmmmm, whether or not there is a gene linked with obesity, it’s not rocket science. Any animal can only gain weight, and remain overweight, if it is allowed to do so by over feeding. I was told at the first show with my home bred pup that I wouldn’t get anywhere in the show ring with her unless I put more weight on her. She was (is) a perfectly healthy weight, yet the judge didn’t even look over her properly, as she was too skinny. Now if she were really too skinny, surely it should have been reported to a vet? I do think there are a lot of excuses made for some dogs, and the show ring is one place where some completely contradict themselves, fit for function, but with extra weight?

Photos are of mother and daughter, both predominantly show lines.

Exactly true. I always take care of my doggies health. He loves to play and walk.

I agree that assessment of the correct weight for a dog is not as straightforward as it might seem. Some have a bigger skeletal frame and others might have more muscle. It is not always down to adipose tissue. Body condition scoring is a useful tool for assessing weight.

I welcome any research into the causes of obesity in dogs, particularly as it is not just Labradors that have a tendency for weight gain.

Exercise might be part of the problem but what do we mean by this? Two hours walking exercise is vastly different to two hours running/chasing a ball. Safe space for the latter is hard to find in urban environments. I have a small breed of dog but they could easily match a Lab in terms of exercise. I wonder if there are many dog owners who can give over two hours per day to exercising their dogs, particularly those who are employed. Maybe we expect a lot of our dogs when requiring them to fit in with our lifestyle.

Having struggled with controlling the weight of my dogs I have come to the conclusion that it is not as simple as just cutting down the food, particularly when you have a hungry dog. Calories in food might have some relevance but maybe not as much as the balance of fat, protein and carbs.

If they don’t already, having access to the backyard via pet door is a great way to encourage active lifestyle and behaviours - just so they can go out and run around whenever they want to. Might only be for a few minutes, but it adds up!

Out of my current three Labradors, the eldest girl needs very little exercise, but then she is knocking on the door of 12 years of age, so that’s no surprise. In fact I struggle to keep the weight on her. Her half sister is easy to maintain, and her daughter is the one most prone to putting weight on, yet is by far the most active.

As with us, we’re all different, and, according to the type of food we eat, and our age, it will all be linked to how easy/difficult it is to maintain a good weight.

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That is interesting and it really makes you wonder about weight control. There are so many factors and we certainly don’t have all the answers.

Meg - do you think that calories are very relevant in maintaining a steady weight? It’s just that I am not so sure. With my dogs it seems that fat content matters more.

Thank you Meg - that is useful and interesting information. Reducing food by 10% is useful but can be a bit troublesome for hungry dogs, as Labradors often are. That being said, I know from my friends’ Labs that they would eat and eat if they were allowed - they don’t seem to know when to stop.

With regards to 4 calories per gram for protein, I wonder about excess. From what I have read about the metabolism of protein in dogs, excess is used for energy and then deposited as fat if not required for that purpose. Wondering if this is something to factor in when trying to find a suitable diet for dieting a dog? In the past I’ve had a bit more success when giving food that has a lowish fat - 10% to 12% and protein circa 27%. Topping up with a small amount of lean protein such as chicken or fish seems to help too.

I have a working line Labrador - Not a Flabrador…he currently weighs around 26kg.

He would happily scoff food all day long if allowed to do so.

He gets plenty of off lead exercise with daily feed amounts tweaked depending on body condition &/or energy used.

Interesting claim that DNA can pre-dispose the breed to more weight gain. Why anyone would want to overfeed any animal is beyond me. As with humans…if dog too heavy or out of shape feed differently or less &/or exercise more.

Hmm…Maybe I was a Labrador in a previous life :slight_smile:


Your working Lab is light compared to my friend’s who are both show type. They weigh circa 33-35kg. It is a struggle for her to keep them in trim, especially as they are getting older and one is a couch potato. She had that one on a diet and it took about 6 months to get her weight down although the dog wasn’t hugely overweight at the outset. Both dogs get considerably less food than the RDA - probably about 60% of the lower amount.

The Dogslife Labrador study now has 6822 members.
Click on “Go to the Dogslife research page”

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Thank you Seaweed - I don’t know how I missed your original post - sorry. :-[ I will pass the information on to my Labrador owner friends.

Owners so often make mistake of taking food packaging RDA’s far too literally (myself prior included). 5 years ago I was studying charts on sides of kibble bag, measuring/weighing kibble portions & marking cups with masking tape. Now looking back I am mindful I was often doing so based on me proudly deciding which vague dog silhouette & description on packaging most closely matched my dog. (toy,small medium ,large & giant).

Owners are becoming more aware of obesity in dogs & that is one reason why more owners look at packaging for feed amount guidance.

As I type this both dogs are dozing on the couch…couch potatoes in the moment, however, a significant beach walk soon will change that.

Stating the obvious but like people, food ammount should ideally be based on relevant factors.

I accept it can be more difficult to find the correct feed amount in older dogs or dogs with mobility issues but much obesity is due to too much food or inadequate exercise…even in dogs DNA disposed to weight gain.

Must dash…beach waiting !


SlimDoggy (USA) has some interesting articles and a video by Frances O Smith, DVM, PhD, herself a Labrador breeder.


The links make interesting reading…I have read a few articles over recent years. Some might argue that some ring judging hasn’t helped.

Meg the last article linked mentions Riversway lines…my dog has this lineage in his pedigree.

I note the article indicating some working/field line dogs can have more of a show line appearance when retired/out of condition, however, some would argue that (acquired weight aside) , some show labs appear shorter in leg than many working/field lines.

i live in an area popular with off-lead walking by owners of various working breeds. Most of the walkers I regularly see &/or meet don’t tend to have overweight dogs, (in contrast to many working breed dogs in hands of day visitors). Whilst DNA can arguably be a factor, I believe feeding & exercise are key factors to condition.

Ironically I am just about to walk mine with another Lab we occasionally look after. When I started walking her I considered her more show line, however, after much good effort by her owners to get some weight off she now looks far more like my Lab in shape & condition. I have not seen her pedigree.

Must dash…3 dogs to be walked.

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