DNA Testing for Dogs
DNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid, is the hereditary material in almost all organisms, including dogs. Nearly every cell in a dog's body has the same DNA, but around 1% are slightly different between each dog. These small differences contribute to each dog's unique physical features and this is why dog DNA tests have become more important.
Why You Might Want to Consider Dog DNA Tests
There are two key reasons that most people would consider a DNA test for their dog. Firstly, it may be to gain more information on the breed or breeds that their dog is made up of. Secondly, the tests also allow breeders to check their dog's health for inherited diseases.
What Do Dog DNA Tests Identify?
If you are interested in your dog's ancestry, then dog DNA tests will compare your dog's sample to the provider's database of purebred samples. Some tests focus strongly on individual breeds, so the results may indicate that your dog is 25% Labrador, 50% German Shepherd and 25% Border Collie. Others also consider the groups that your dog's DNA fits into, so this might be 75% hound and 25% guarding.
In the case where you are testing to look for inherited disorders, there are specific tests for each breed of dog for known issues. For example, the Australian Cattle Dog is tested for progressive retinal atrophy, a condition which can result in progressive vision loss culminating in blindness. Meanwhile the German Shepherd is tested for degenerative myelopathy, a progressive disease of the spinal cord which occurs in older dogs.
How is a DNA Test Carried Out?
The process of collecting the sample is straightforward. All the providers of the DNA kits ask you to take a provided swab and gently rub the inside of your dog's cheek to collect a sample of saliva. There are a couple of things to think about and plan for at this stage.
Firstly, you might find it handy to have another person around to help you. Holding your dog while collecting the sample may not be easy if your dog is not feeling cooperative. If this is the case, remember that you can practice using a cotton wool bud or something similar before doing the real test. A quick swab, then rewarding your dog means they will be much happier when you carry out the real test if they know that the process is followed by a tasty reward.
Secondly, have some treats available to show your dog but not give them. When the saliva production kicks in, it makes it much easier to collect the sample.
Thirdly, it is essential that your dog has not eaten 30 minutes before you take the sample to ensure a clean saliva sample is taken.
Once you have the sample, you simply place it into the provided tube and send it back to the supplier, usually in a prepaid envelope. Turnaround for results is usually two to four weeks.
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Who Offers DNA Testing and How Much Will It Cost?
There are now several different providers of DNA tests. We have provided an outline of some of the most popular ones, along with details of the costs involved.
1. Wisdom Panel
Two different DNA tests are available: the Wisdom Panel Health at $149.99 and the Wisdom Panel at $84.99. Both tests provide identification for over 350 breeds and types, but the Health Panel also includes screening for over 150 genetic health conditions.
If you have a dog from overseas or you think they may have rare breeds in their background, then the size of their database makes the Wisdom Panel a good choice.
This company claims that they look at the genetic information in much more detail than their competition, meaning that their results are much more accurate, but that does come at a price. It is $129 for their breed identification test and $199 for their breed and health kit.
A nice extra feature is the relative finder. Once the test is submitted, Embark can assess how much DNA your dog shares with other dogs in their database. They then offer you the ability to connect directly with them.
3. DNA My Dog
This is a cheaper option at $68.99. which includes a straight analysis of breed composition. Though, they only focus on the most popular breeds in the U.S., so results may be more limited than those provided by other companies.
How Reliable is Dog DNA Testing?
Each of the tests mentioned claim that they provide an accuracy level of between 95% to 99% and they say mistakes come down to human error. The challenge can come from the size of the company’s database — if your dog's breed is not within it, then the results will not reflect that breed.
Another challenge to the accuracy of the results comes from the number of breeds there might be in a mixed breed dog. If there are a high number of breeds, each providing a small contribution, then the test may not be able to identify each one. Whereas, when a dog has a purebred parent or grandparent, it is likely to get very accurate test results.
Do be aware that there has been criticism of the accuracy of the medical testing and all companies advise that they do not provide medical diagnoses.
Is DNA Testing Worth It?
Well, we think testing is a fun way to know a little bit more about your dog’s background. We all know that we will love our dogs no matter what the test results reveal, but if you are at all worried about a medical condition that either your dog has or may have, then your veterinarian should always be your first point of call.