By Andrew Fischer

Why do Labradors tend to overeat?

Labradors love to eat and they often get more obese than dogs of other breeds. In the USA and in other developed countries, dog obesity affects around 45-55 % of all Labradors.

Recent studies found that Labrador Retrievers are more likely than other breeds to overeat. Labradors overeat for a few reasons, some emotional and some physical. One of the most common reasons for Labradors to overeat is because they have a specific gene mutation that makes them feel more hungry. 

However, there may be also other reasons for which your dog tends to overeat. Let’s look at some of the most common reasons and what you can do about your Labrador eating too much.

Is overeating bad for your dog?

As you can probably imagine overeating is quite harmful to your dog. It can lead to a number of both short and long term problems. In the short term, dogs that overeat often vomit, bloat, have loose stools and feel lethargic. 

Common long-term problems include weight gain. There is a wide range of other health conditions associated with overweight. An overweight dog is at an increased risk for joint issues, high blood pressure, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, cancer, viral infections, heat intolerance etc. 

Labrador genetics

Labradors have a specific genotype which makes them eat as much as possible because they were bred to work and swim in extremely cold conditions of Canadian taiga and tundra. These activities required huge amounts of energy. Labs had to burn a lot of calories just to generate enough heat to avoid hypothermia. Eating a lot helped Labradors to support the extreme caloric consumptions imposed by working and swimming in cold climate. 

Many Labradors also possess a fault at a specific gene that stops it from telling the brain to suppress hunger signals after a meal. One study discovered a modification in a gene called POMC (proopiomelanocortin). Because of this fault in the POMC gene Labradors are unable to produce chemical substances involved in turning off hunger signals after a meal. 

Since there is no specific treatment available for the mutation of POMC gene, Labrador owners should be very vigilant when it comes to monitoring their pup’s weight.

On average, Labradors with the fault in the POMC gene weigh on average around 5 pounds more than those without this modification. 

However, not all Labradors have this fault in their genes. Sampling from the USA indicates that only around 25-30% of Labrador retrievers have the POMC gene modification.

Some Labrador owners also told us that dogs with this modified gene were also begging more frequently for food, had a greater tendency to scavenge for scraps and were more motivated by food.

Also, Labradors, just like other breeds, are descendants of wolves. Therefore they have acquired some characteristics of wolves. Food in the wild is scarce and wolves that don’t eat as much as they can when they have the chance are often not given a second chance later on. This forces modern dogs to overeat when they have the opportunity. (1)

Bored dogs tend to overeat

Just like us, Labradors also tend to eat more when they are bored. If you believe that this is the reason for your dog overeating, make sure to provide some entertainment and activities to your dog. 

Your dog may also feel lonely. Dedicate to him more of your time and play with him or take him for a walk. 

Dogs that lack some nutrients tend to overeat

Another common reason for which dogs tend to overeat is a lack of nutrients. If your dog’s body lacks some nutrients, they might try to eat more and pretty much everything they can to satisfy that craving. 

Gastrointestinal problems that lower your dog’s capacity to absorb nutrients properly are another possibility of your dog’s overeating. This issue is more common in middle-aged and older Labradors.

You can also try to prepare a fiber-rich diet with minimal additives for your dog. This can help him to feel fuller for a longer period of time. 

Dogs that have specific underlying medical issues tend to overeat

Some Labradors that tend to overeat may also have some underlying medical issue. For example, Labradors are prone to developing hypothyroidism. This is a condition which your thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough of certain crucial hormones. 

Labs that developed hypothyroidism can easily gain weight and overeat. 

Diabetes is a common medical issue in Labradors. Hunger is one of its possible side effects. 

Cushing’s disease is another condition in which your dog’s adrenal glands secrete too much cortisol. Common side effect of Cushing’s disease is hunger. Affected dogs then experience weight gain. 

If your Labrador has suddenly developed an increased appetite, then a visit to the vet is a must. Always talk to your vet if you suspect your Lab to overeat due to some underlying medical condition.

How to keep your Labrador from overeating?

That’s basically all about portion control, exercise, and trying to resist your pup’s adorable begging eyes.

One great way to keep your Labrador from overeating is to feed him only at regular times each day, the same portion and without any extra snacks and treats. Your dog will gradually adapt to regular feeding schedule and will stop begging for snacks outside of these times.

Between meal snacks and treats should be the first thing you remove or radically change in your dog’s diet. Many commercial snacks contain a lot of empty calories without any nutritional value that make your dog eat more and more. Table scraps should be also eliminated.

Another effective way to keep your dog from getting overweight is by making sure your dog has plenty of exercise, whether it’s playing fetch or going for a walk. Engaging physical activities will keep his mind of food. 

Many Labradors are also bored and come to you with begging eyes looking for attention and NOT for food. Try to substitute a treat with a ball. Your dog may be still satisfied with your attention and forget about food. 

If your dog keeps begging for food constantly you can also take him to a specialized dog trainer. These specialists can teach you how to work with your dog and how to feed him correctly so that he stops begging for food.

You should also make sure to not overfeed your Labrador. You can find the optimal feeding schedule and portion sizes in THIS ARTICLE

Obesity in Labradors

A 2017 survey found that around 50% of all adult Labradors are overweight. Also, Labradors were found to be the most likely breed to become obese. 

If your Labrador is already overweight, consult THIS ARTICLE to find some very effective tips for weight reduction. 

Being overweight has a number of very harmful effects on any dog’s health. Common issues associated with excess weight in dogs include:

  • shorter life expectancy
  • joint problems
  • hip dysplasia
  • diabetes
  • cardiovascular problems
  • urinary disorders
  • reproductive disorders etc.
If your Labrador continues to be overweight even after cutting back table scraps and treats than you should reduce the amount of food he gets daily. You can start by reducing his portion sizes by 1/4 for a couple of weeks. If it doesn’t work, give him third less food than normal. 
Remember, it’s always recommended to check with your veterinarian before making any drastic changes to your dog’s diet.

How to find out if my Labrador is overweight?

There are certain ways you can easily find out whether your dog is underweight, has a normal weight, or is overweight.

When running your hands along the area of your dog’s rib cage you should be able to feel their ribs. If you cannot feel their ribs easily your Lab may be overweight. 

Also, overweight labs tend to have a thick and fatty neck and a rounder face.

Overweight Labradors also get out of breath easily and are reluctant to play games and go for walks.

If you don’t know what is the ideal weight for Labradors at different ages you can read more in THIS ARTICLE