The Facts About Pet DNA Testing

December 12, 2013 by Tails Magazine in Featured, Wellness with 1 Comment


By Louise Blake

Dogs come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and temperaments. This is one of the things that makes the species such a joy; rarely in other animals do you see such variety. When you stand a Great Dane and a Chihuahua side-by-side, it’s hard to comprehend that they are largely the same make-up.

DNA bar coding has told us that domestic dogs were raised by man from wild grey wolves. Their remarkable variation is a result of humans picking individuals with particular characteristics for breeding in order to exaggerate certain features. However, despite the fact that many breeds of dogs couldn’t look more different, they can all mate and have viable offspring, and so are found under the umbrella of the same species.

So why would you want to find out your dog’s genetic heritage? DNA tests have two main purposes: To identify a mix-breed’s make-up or to confirm a pure breed. Here’s why these discoveries may be useful.

Potential Health Issues

Aside from curiosity, the main reason people usually want to find out the origins of their mixed breed is to identify potential health problems. The results can often be a surprise. People tend to speculate about their dog’s heritage—for example, assuming that because their dog has a long body, there’s some sausage dog in there—only to find out that they were completely on the wrong track.

A number of breeds are associated with health problems that have been caused by continuous breeding to exaggerate characteristics. Identifying breeds present in your dog can give you an idea of the problems they might experience later in life. Here are some of the breeds that most often have problems:

  • Siberian Husky: Huskies are pre-disposed to a variety of auto-immune disorders, most commonly those that affect the skin. This can include sores and hair loss on the face and problems that affect the eyes and cause glaucoma and cataracts.
  • Bulldog: Like most dogs with short noses, bulldogs often experience respiratory problems. Their small nostrils, elongated soft palate, and narrow trachea can cause life threatening problems if they become overheated or tired.
  • Pug Dog: A pug’s bulging eyes can actually pop out of their heads, requiring a trip to the vet to have them put back.
  • Labrador: Whilst any dog can put on weight if he or she over eats, Labradors are particularly prone to obesity.
  • Beagle: Beagles frequently get epilepsy, a disorder which causes seizures and fits.
  • Shih Tzu: Toy breeds like Shih Tzus are particularly prone to wobbly knee caps. This causes the knee to occasionally pop out of place and can require surgery in severe cases.

There are lots of other breeds that experience health problems. Read this guide for more information.

Entering Competitions or Selling

People most commonly want to get a pure breed DNA test if they are hoping to enter their dog in a competition, or if they are a responsible breeder hoping to sell pedigree puppies. In both of these cases certification may be necessary.

The most popular form of competition is the dog show, which is a contest for Kennel Club-registered pure-breeds. This involves dogs being measured against the club’s Breed Standards to recognize which dog fits the ideal form of the breed. A DNA profile is invaluable proof that your dog is a pure breed, and can be used to confirm the pedigree of any dog you buy with a Kennel Club registration certificate.

So How Does it Work?

Different companies will use slightly different methods to calculate results. It is therefore best to look at a specific company as an example. In this case we will consider DNA Worldwide.

The process begins with a cheek swab to collect a sample of DNA from inside your dog’s cheek. This DNA is then sent to a lab where it is scanned into a database and assigned to a batch for testing. It then undergoes a process that extracts the DNA from the dog’s cells, which is then examined for 321 markers (genes that produce a recognizable trait) used in the test.

These results are then sent for evaluation using a program that considers all of the pedigree trees possible in the last 3 generations. Trees considered are:

• A pedigree with a single breed (a likely pure-breed dog)

• 2 different breeds at the parental level (a first generation cross)

• A complex tree with 8 different great-grandparent breeds possible

These potential pedigrees are filled using a database that contains the genetic information for 185+ breeds. The computer builds and considers millions of combinations of possible ancestry trees, and then gives each a score based on how closely the selected combination of breeds matches the tested dog’s data. The pedigree that has the best score is presented to you in your individualised report. The genetic testing analysis will take around 2-3 weeks from when the sample is received and costs about $100 for both pure breed and mixed breed analysis.

Does It Work?

Genetic testing is still an area of on-going research, and while it is getting increasingly more accurate as understanding grows inaccuracies can occur. A major factor that can affect the accuracy of tests is the quality of the DNA sample—the better the quality of the sample you provide, the better the quality of the results. By following the swab guidelines—such as taking care to not let it become contaminated, and allowing 2 hours between feeding your dog and swabbing—your results are more likely to be accurate.

Many people have reported that different companies have offered them different results for the same dog; this is entirely possible. Any tests accuracy depends predominantly on how many breed-related genetic markers are in its database. Therefore, in order to ensure that you get the best results, you should research the company that offers the most genetic markers. However, often the more markers analyzed, the higher the price.

Getting your dog’s DNA tested does more than just satisfy curiosity. For mixed breeds it can give you valuable warnings about potential health problems, and for pure breeds it can confirm pedigree, allowing you to compete in competitions.

Do you think it’s worth getting your dog DNA tested? Let us know in the comments.

Image by Therese Tjernström

Louise Blake is a part-time writer and a first-time mum. She loves dogs and has a Boxer puppy named Harley. 

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One Comment

  1. Pawsitively HumaneDecember 13, 2013 at 6:53 pmReply

    Great article!
    We learned something new about genetic markers. Will be sharing.

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