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The Gene Behind Increased Appetite in Dogs

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Have you ever wondered why some dogs always seem to be hungry? If you have a food-motivated dog, you’re not alone. It turns out that genetics may offer clues behind food motivation, and understanding the science can help you manage your dog’s increased appetite more effectively.

In this article, we’ll take an in-depth look at the gene that’s been associated with increased hunger in dogs. We’ll also explain what makes this gene unique and how it affects canine appetite.

Finally, we’ll discuss some tips for managing your dog’s food intake while maintaining their overall health and well-being, and share information on additional causes of increased appetite in our canine companions. 

The POMC gene influences increased appetite in dogs

The POMC (pro-opiomelanocortin) gene is a piece of genetic information responsible for producing specific proteins that help regulate appetite in animals, including dogs. In simple terms, it’s like a set of instructions that tells a dog’s brain when it’s time to stop eating, making sure the dog doesn’t overeat and maintains a healthy weight.

The problem occurs when a dog has an altered version of the POMC gene, which makes it more difficult for the brain to recognize when it’s time to stop eating. This variant is associated with increased appetite in the Labrador Retriever (one of the most popular dog breeds in America) and Flat-Coated Retriever (a breed closely related to Labradors). It can lead to overeating if not managed properly.

Scientists at the University of Cambridge discovered this genetic variant behind food motivation in a 2016 study. Nearly 25% of Labradors studied had at least one copy of this variant, a 14-base-pair deletion in the POMC gene. They found that the dogs with the variant were more likely to be overweight, had more body fat, and had higher food motivation.

How does Embark test for increased appetite in dogs?

Did you know that 18% of Labrador Retrievers tested with Embark have the POMC variant? Although this variant is commonly found in Labrador and Flat-Coated Retrievers, it has been found in other dog breeds, too.

The POMC result is included in every Embark dog DNA test that includes health testing. We measure this result using a linkage test.

Linkage tests rely on the fact that DNA sequences close together on a chromosome tend to be inherited together. These tests do not directly examine a variant of interest, so they may not always be perfectly predictive of your dog’s true genotype. However, our most recent analysis shows that our linkage test is over 98% predictive of POMC genotype.

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How is increased appetite related to obesity in dogs?

As mentioned earlier, the POMC gene variant is associated with increased appetite and overeating in dogs. The genetic alteration affects the production of proteins that help control feelings of fullness. While scientists don’t know the exact mechanism of how those proteins work, it’s likely that dogs with this variant may not experience satiety after eating, leading to a constant desire for more food.

Dogs that have a stronger drive to eat may end up consuming an excess of calories, leading to various health issues like obesity, inflammation, and joint pain. For this reason, it’s crucial for pet owners to be aware of their dog’s predisposition to increased appetite and take steps to ensure they maintain a healthy weight.

In the Cambridge study, almost 25% of the Labrador Retrievers tested had at least one copy of the variant in the POMC gene, known as a deletion since the gene is partially missing. Interestingly, when it came to assistance dogs, the number increased to more than 75%. It’s possible that with their high levels of food motivation, these working dogs are easier to train, making them more effective at their jobs.

What to do if your dog has the POMC variant for high food motivation

If your dog has the POMC variant associated with high food motivation, there are several steps you can take to manage their increased appetite:

  1. Try smaller, more frequent meals. Feeding your dog less but more often can raise their baseline feeling of satiety, reducing the likelihood of overeating.
  2. Track your dog’s body condition score. Monitoring your dog’s weight and overall health can help you make informed decisions about their diet and exercise routines.
  3. Use their food motivation as a training tool. High food motivation can be a powerful incentive in obedience, scent detection, or agility training. This can not only help manage their appetite but also provide mental stimulation and exercise.
  4. Slow down your dog’s eating. Fast eaters are more likely to overeat and be at risk for obesity. Implementing techniques to slow down their eating, like using slow-feed bowls or puzzle toys, can help.
  5. Maintain a healthy diet. Providing your dog with nutritious food can help keep them satisfied and support their overall well-being.

When is increased appetite in dogs normal?

There are several normal reasons why your dog might have an increased appetite:

  1. Growing puppies: Young dogs require more calories to support their rapid growth and development. As a result, they may have a naturally higher appetite during this stage of life.
  2. Active dogs: Dogs that engage in regular physical activity, such as hunting, herding, or participating in dog sports, will require more calories to maintain their energy levels. These dogs may have a higher appetite due to their increased energy demands.
  3. Pregnant or nursing female dogs: Female dogs carrying or nursing puppies typically have higher nutritional requirements to support both themselves and their offspring. They will typically have an increased appetite during late pregnancy and throughout lactation.

Other causes of increased appetite in dogs

Besides the POMC variant, there are other medical reasons why a dog might have a higher-than-normal appetite. Some of these conditions include:

    1. Diabetes mellitus: Increased appetite (especially when combined with weight loss) can be a sign of diabetes in dogs, as their bodies struggle to regulate blood sugar levels.
    2. Cushing’s disease: This hormonal disorder can lead to an increased appetite, as well as other symptoms such as increased thirst and urination.
    3. Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency: This condition is characterized by insufficient production of pancreatic enzymes, which are important for normal digestion. Dogs with this condition typically have soft stools and big appetites, because they are unable to make use of the nutrients from their food properly.
    4. Medication-associated: Certain medications, such as steroids, may lead to increased appetite as one of their side effects.

If you notice any unusual changes in your dog’s appetite or behavior, consult your veterinarian for a thorough evaluation. They can help determine the cause of your dog’s increased appetite and recommend appropriate treatment options.

Harnessing genetic knowledge for better canine health

Understanding the POMC gene’s role in increased appetite in dogs can help you manage your dog’s appetite and overall health. To learn more about the genes behind other traits Embark tests for, see our list of the coolest canine traits.

By being aware of your dog’s genetic predisposition to increased appetite, you can take the necessary steps to ensure they maintain a healthy weight and lifestyle. Remember, it’s essential to consult with your veterinarian if you have concerns about your dog’s appetite or overall health.

With a proactive approach and an understanding of the factors that influence your dog’s appetite—and a clearer insight into why dogs are so food motivated—you can provide the best care possible for your beloved canine companion.

Writer Richard Rowlands with his dog, Otto.

Richard Rowlands Contributor

Richard is a copywriter and content creator who works with pet and veterinary businesses. When he's not researching, writing, or creating content plans, he enjoys spending time with his rescue dog, Otto, and exploring new places. Check out his blog for savvy pet parents at

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