Recently a client asked me about DNA testing their dog. Years ago, I tested a couple of my own dogs, but I hadn’t thought about the DNA companies in quite some time. I do remember being less than convinced that the results on my dogs were accurate.
I researched the options available today and discovered there are a half dozen or more companies who are more than happy to take your money to test your dog. On MyPetNeedsThat.com, they list their favorite top five options (ranked best to not-as-good!): Embark, Mars Veterinary Wisdom Panel 2.5, Wisdom Panel Mixed Breed DNA, Wisdom Panel 3.0, and Dog DNA.
Caninejournal.com has a different list: Embark, Wisdom Panel Health DNA, and HomeDNA Orivet Dog DNA (two options here, one for mixed-breed identification and one for health screening.) Three that were reviewed but not ranked included DNA My Dog, Paw Print Genetics, and PetConfirm DNA Test. There are many additional options available. Some of the articles that popped up on Google were quite old. There is now a Wisdom Panel 4.0.
WisdomPanel.com makes the following claims about their product:
- They claim to be the world’s leading DNA test for dogs, stating their database include 250+ breeds, types and varieties, which they also claim is the largest number on the market
- Their analysis goes back three generations and provides a predicted weight profile
- They provide extensive information about each breed and breed group found
- Their tests screen for the MDR1 gene, a mutation that causes some dogs difficulties with drugs
- They screen for exercise-induced collapse
- Discounts are available!
Embark’s website is EmbarkVet.com. Their websites states they are a research partner of Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. They also state that they are the “Top Dog” of DNA Tests. In fact, most of my research indicated that they do have the best chance of accurate results. They have over 200,000 genetic markers, while (according to their website) other Dog DNA companies test for less than 10,000.
Embark states their test screens for over 160 diseases. Other companies charge additional fees to test for each disease individually or for panels of 3-7 diseases. They report on over a dozen physical traits such as coat type and body size. They capitalize on the fact that they are affiliated with Cornell and “contribute to science”. (This is supported by an article on Veterinary Information Network about the Doberman Diversity Project. This is a non-profit organization working with Embark and Cornell. Their goal is to “clean up” the gene pool of Dobermans who are plagued by a variety of life-threatening genetic diseases.)
Lastly, they claim to provide updates to your dog’s profile if new information becomes available, at no cost to you. (They do offer the caveat that if the new information requires probes that are only available on the most recent version of their test kit, the owner must pay for a new kit.) One of the two founders of Embark is an Assistant Professor in Biomedical Sciences at Cornell’s College of Veterinary Medicine. He also received a PhD in Biology from Purdue University, my Alma Mater!
Testing can be done at home by a simple swab of the inside of your dog’s cheek. It is imperative that you follow the instructions provided to ensure no cross-contamination of the sample, but it is not hard to do. Whichever test you decide to do, be sure and scour the web for coupons. At least some of the companies offer discounts!
What about cats?
What if you are a cat lover? Do you want to know more about your kitty? Your options are more limited… Most cat breeds are less than 100 years old. They trace back to 8 geographical regions of origin: Western Europe, Egypt, East Mediterranean, Iran/Iraq, Arabian Sea, India, South Asia and East Asia.
While most mixed dogs today are descended from different breeds, most mixed cats today are descended from crosses between random-bred cats, not cats of a specific breed. Cats were bred more for appearance than performance. The Cat Ancestry test traces the lineage of your cat. It provides results for common physical traits of coat color, fur length, and type, but is NOT a breed test. (Information provided by Veterinary Genetics Lab US Davis.)
Helping shelter pets
I learned some interesting new information in my research on DNA testing. For instance, a very recent article on MNN.com (Mother Nature Network!?) discussed how DNA testing was helping shelter dogs find homes.
In this article, Wisdom Panel was partnering with a shelter in Metro Atlanta, using a special variation of their test just for shelter animals. They called it DogTrax, comparing it to CarFax!! DogTrax is sold to shelters at a discounted rate and the turnaround time is only 4-5 days. Shelters sometimes use the information to create enticing names for their residents…
One dog that was a combination of fox terrier, Cocker Spaniel and Lhasa Apso became a “Foxy Lhocker”! An Associated Press article stated that all DNA tested dogs in a shelter near San Francisco found homes within two weeks. In my experience, every black and white dog that goes through a shelter is deemed to have Border collie lineage! Husky is another frequently listed breed contribution. It would be awesome to have DNA testing on every shelter dog to at least provide some information about what they are!
In addition to companies willing to decode your family dog’s DNA, there are many options available for Canine DNA Parentage Testing. VetDNAcenter.com asks “Do you have doubts about the parentage of a recent litter? Is it possible you may have a multiple-sired litter? Would you like to offer your purchasers DNA-certified pedigrees?” The UC Davis Veterinary Genetics Laboratory offers canine DNA tests that verify parentage, identify genetic diversity within dog breeds, assess traits of interest, and determine genetic predisposition to health conditions. They offer a coat color panel and have a list of breeds for which specific tests are available.
If you read some of my previous posts, you know I recently lost my beloved old Border collie. Prior to my conclusion that she had a brain tumor, I sent blood to Mizzou to test her for Degenerative Myelopathy. It was actually a genetic test which assessed what copies of a specific gene she carried. She came back negative for that test, meaning she had no copies of the gene that causes DM.
Learn about heath concerns
Many of the DNA testing sites tout the idea that you can learn a great deal about the (potential) behavior or future health concerns of your pet when you know their DNA. Maybe…. Maybe not. One article pointed out that Boxers were prone to tumors. That is an understatement. In the veterinary world, Boxers are known as tumor factories. However, I personally believe that hybrid vigor is one of the best defenses against genetic diseases.
If you own a Boxer mix, does your dog have an increased likelihood of getting cancer? Maybe. But in many cases, one good (normal) copy of a gene is all that is required to avoid genetically induced disease. I sure wouldn’t lose sleep worrying about it. I would test my dog so I could tell my friends when they come over for dinner that I have a “Kiwi Collier” (Chihuahua/Australian Shepherd/Jack Russell terrier/collie) or a “Golden Chinscher” (Golden Retriever/Miniature Pinscher/Chihuahua).