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Is my dog fat? Revealing why its not simply about weight loss solutions.

So you’ve noticed that your dog has started to put on some weight and you want to do something about it. You speak to your vet and come up with a plan but despite your best efforts you are struggling to see results. 

Whilst this may not be the case for all breeds of dog, there are some that genetics may not be on their side. In this blog we are going to be exploring different reasons why you might struggle to get your pooch to lose weight. 

Pro-opiomelanocortin (POMC) Gene 

After conducting a research study in 2016 the pro-opiomelanocortin (POMC) gene was identified. Research published suggests that the repeated finding of breed as a risk factor for obesity means genetic determinants are more likely the cause (Wallis & Raffan, 2020). There are certain breeds which are predisposed e.g., Labrador retrievers, pugs, golden retrievers and others resistant e.g., greyhounds, whippets (Wallis 7 Raffan, 2020). 

A specific mutation of this gene has been shown to contribute to increased body weight, increased body fat percentages, and increased food motivation. 

What does this mean? 

To strip it right back, the definition of a gene is “a unit of heredity which is transferred from a parent to offspring and is held to determine some characteristic of the offspring.

So when someone describes a mutation in a gene that means that some of that information is missing. Specifically for the POMC gene there were 14 pieces of information that were identified as missing (Barnette, 2022). 

The POMC gene codes for two proteins, beta-MSH (melanocyte-stimulating hormone) and beta-endorphin. These proteins contribute to signalling the brain to end the sensation of hunger once a dog eats a meal. In a dog with the POMC gene mutation, the brain does not receive these signals as effectively, and therefore the dog remains hungry even after an adequate meal.

Is my dog going to be fat? 

The short answer to this is no. Whilst there is a genetic predisposition to those who possess the POMC gene, this does not mean that they will become obese by default. 

Providing your dog with a balanced and nutritionally complete diet and regular exercise will help maintain a healthy weight. Additional management tips such as feeding smaller meals more frequently can help increase your dog to feeling ‘full’ for longer (embark, 2022). 

By monitoring your dogs body condition score (BCS) with the use of the WSAVA Body condition score chart, you can be vigilant and identify concerns sooner in regards to your dog’s weight. 

Other considerations 

Whilst genetic influence like we have discussed can be a huge contributor to obesity in dogs there is also the consideration of your dog’s metabolism. 

When a dog is neutered (spayed/castrated) there is a change in the hormone production within their body which can include the reduction of their metabolism. Because of this the way that they use the energy they get from their food is altered. This means that they are more susceptible to gaining weight if their energy requirements are not altered e.g. swapping to a lite version of a diet or daily ration reduced. 

Conclusion 

Regardless of whether your dog is at risk of being predisposed to genetic conditions such as the POM-C mutation, the routine and principles of weight loss are not all that different. 

There are other considerations to take into account e.g. neutering, breed, activity levels which can impact a dog’s ability to lose weight. Although genetics are out of your control as the owner, it’s useful to be aware of such instances not only for your own knowledge but also raising awareness to those around you who may have a dog struggling to lose weight 

References 

​​Barnette, C., 2022. Proopiomelanocortin POMC Gene Mutation | VCA Animal Hospital. [online] Vca. Available at: <https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/proopiomelanocortin-pomc-gene-mutation> [Accessed 17 June 2022].

Wallis, N. and Raffan, E., 2020. The Genetic Basis of Obesity and Related Metabolic Diseases in Humans and Companion Animals. Genes, 11(11), p.1378.

Editors, E., Padmabandu, M., Berman, M. and Editors, E., 2022. There’s a Gene That Controls Appetite in Dogs and Embark Now Tests For It. [online] Embarkvet. Available at: <https://embarkvet.com/resources/blog/pomc-dogs/> [Accessed 29 June 2022].

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