If you have a Labrador, you’ve probably noticed that it seems to have a bottomless pit for a stomach. No matter how much food you put in front of your Labrador, it seeks like it always has room for more.
Why do Labradors always want to eat? While scientists aren’t entirely sure why Labradors always want to eat, most believe it’s a scarcity-driven behavior left over from the ancestors of Labradors who lived in the wild.
To learn why Labradors have this scarcity-driven behavior, and to learn what you can do about a Labrador who eats too much, read on.
A scarcity of food
Food is hard to come by.
Until humans left the food chain and began growing and harvesting their own food, the previous sentence was true of every living thing on the planet.
This includes the wolves from which dogs evolved. Back before dogs existed, the wolf packs that moved through Earth’s forests would often go for days at a time without finding a meal.
So when they did catch or find some kind of food, they would take advantage of the opportunity and eat every single available scrap.
If the wolves of the ancient world didn’t eat as much as they could whenever they could, they stood a good chance of starving to death. This risk was only heightened by the extreme exertion these packs had to ensure, whether that be from chasing prey or running from bands of early humans.
So how does this tie into your Labrador?
Well, all dogs ‒ including Labradors ‒ are part of an evolutionary branch that split off from wolves about 20,000 to 40,000 years ago.
This means they kept many wolfish traits ‒ one of which is the propensity to eat as much as possible whenever food is available.
Why overeating is bad for your Labrador
So now you have a pretty good idea of why your Labrador loves to eat everything it can get in its mouth.
Unfortunately, while that behavior suited your Labrador’s ancestors, your pup doesn’t need it. In fact, the overabundance of food available to your Labrador might be causing it to overeat ‒ which can result in some serious health problems that both diminish your dog’s quality of life and decreases their lifespan.
To the surprise of no one, the biggest health challenge dogs who can’t stop eating face is obesity.
The main issues caused by obesity occur because the fat that builds up in an obese dog secretes inflammatory hormones that cause disease. The diseases that develop or prosper because of these hormones can decrease your Labrador’s lifespan by two years or more.
Obesity health concerns
While inflammation from fat buildup causes a lot of problems, there are other health concerns that obesity contributes to that you also need to be aware of.
- Heart issues. Excessive weight gain can contribute to heart disease and high blood pressure in your Labrador.
- Arthritis. Your Lab’s joints are designed to hold up a certain amount of weight. If their body exceeds that weight, the cartilage in the joints can deteriorate and lead to arthritis.
- Breathing issues. Overweight Labradors are at a higher risk of Laryngeal Paralysis and a collapsed trachea, both of which make it extremely hard to breathe.
- Tumors. Obesity in dogs can make fatty tumors more likely. It also increases the risk of bladder cancer and breast cancer, both of which are characterized by tumor development.
- Skin disease. The added fat on your Labrador’s body result in additional skin folds. These can get infected by bacteria, which can lead to itching, an unpleasant body odor, and redness of the skin.
- ACL issues. A heavy dog will place more weight than is typical on their ACL, which is a ligament in the knee. If the ACL tears, a sizable surgery bill is on the way.
Not all Labradors who eat a lot will become obese. There are some other factors that also need to come into play for a food-happy Labrador to gain an unhealthy amount of weight:
- High-calorie foods
- Excessive treat consumption
- Decreased exercise
- Hypothyroidism is also a potential cause
If you’re concerned that your dog is obese, the smartest idea is to take it to a vet an let a professional make the judgement. If you don’t want to do that though, there’s a pretty quick visual test you can perform to determine your dog’s level of obesity.
First place your hand palm down against the knuckles of your other hand. Using the flats of your fingers, rub your knuckles. This is how your dog’s ribs should feel when you pet them between their shoulder blades.
If it’s hard to feel your dog’s ribs between their shoulder blades because of a thick fat layer, your dog is obese. You can further confirm this by looking at the base of their tail. If you see a visible layer of fat there, your Labrador definitely needs to lose some weight.
How to stop your Labrador from eating too much
If your Labrador is eating too much food, there are a few ways you can get them to curb their intake.
Portion out their meals
The number one way to reduce the amount of food your Labrador eats is to dole out their food in the correct portions. This will vary depending on the size and age of your dog, so the safest way to figure out the right portion size is to go to the vet’s and get their advice.
It’s important that you don’t simply start giving them less food. While haphazardly decreasing the amount of food your Lab has access to will certainly result in weight loss, it could also lead to malnourishment ‒ which has its own set of serious health concerns.
Also, if you have multiple dogs, you’ll need to get a bit creative with how you feed them. Simply multiplying the portion size by the number of dogs you have isn’t a good idea, as the first dog to reach the bowl is probably going to eat all of the food.
A good idea is to separate your dogs into different rooms when feeding time comes and make sure each gets the exact amount it’s supposed to.
Stop giving them treats
Just like in human diets, treats are the bane of your Lab’s weight loss efforts.
I know it’s hard to resist giving your dog a piece of the cookie you’re eating when they wag their tail and stare at you with expectant eyes. I also know how easy it is to slip them a biscuit every time you pass the Milk Bone box.
But if you care about your Lab’s well-being and longevity, you need to stop doing these things. Consistent feeding of calorically dense food items like cookies, biscuits, and other dog treats will balloon your dog’s weight like nothing else.
These things can also be unnaturally high in sugar, which can lead to a whole bunch of other health problems on top of the potential obesity.
If you enjoy giving your Labrador gifts, consider buying chewable bones or toys instead of high-calorie treats. The enjoyment will last much longer, and you won’t have to feel guilty about hurting your dog’s overall health.
Don’t let them eat leftovers
Another surefire way to ratchet up your Labrador’s weight is to let them eat the leftovers from your meals. Many human foods are made specifically for consumption by humans ‒ it can be detrimental and potentially dangerous to feed these foods to your dog.
The calorie amounts in some of the foods you eat can also be surprisingly high ‒ so offering a few bites of something to your Lab might have a significantly worse effect than you might expect.
Use a weight loss food formula
The last thing you can do to help your Lab with their weight problem is to feed them a food formula made specifically for weight loss. There are a variety of choices out there, but here are some of the most popular ones:
- Purina Overweight Management (available on Amazon)
- Hills Prescription Diet Metabolic (available on Amazon)
- Royal Canin Satiety Support Weight Management (available on Amazon)
As always, you should talk to your vet before changing your dog’s diet.