If you own a lovable mutt or are planning to adopt one for the holidays, you may be curious about his breed heritage. But that's not all a DNA test can tell you.
Your adoption center staff may know something about your dog's heritage, but many times what they 'know' is an educated guess.
There are many reasons pet parents want specifics about their dog's heritage. Sure, one is simply curiosity; it's fun to find out your dog's heritage. Different breeds have distinctly separate traits, not just physical traits, but personality and behavioral traits as well you will want to know about. "Will this dog hunt?" as the expression goes.
Additionally, and just as importantly, it is very helpful to know a breed's 'health hazards.' Some breeds are prone to digestive disorders and diseases as they age. Others may have a tendency to hip problems. Many breeds tend to get cataracts as they age.
If you are aware of these factors in advance, you can take steps to prevent or minimize the possibilities of their development. So, for example, you could maintain a low fat diet for your dog, minimizing potential digestive and/or urinary problems. You would make sure your dog runs on an even surface and sleeps on an orthopedic bed to maintain hip flexibility if her breeding suggests a tendency towards hip dysplasia. Keep your cataract-prone dog out of direct sunlight as much as possible and make sure she wears Doggles and takes Ocu-Glo every day. More specifically, some tests will let you know what's going on health-wise in your dog right now.
Here are some of the tests that have been well-reviewed by pet parents. They require that you to order a kit, inside of which is a tool to swab your dog's cheeks to obtain a saliva sample. (The best time to swab is 1 to 2 hours after your dog eats.) Send that swab back to the company, and within weeks you will get your results.
The Embark Dog DNA Test is the most thorough of the readily available canine DNA tests to date, because it not only identifies your dog's breed heritage but it tests for more than 160 genetic diseases, including MDR1 sensitivity, degenerative myelopathy (DM), dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), PRA blindness, and exercise-induced collapse (EIC). This health information is exceptionally valuable, especially if you adopt a young or middle-aged dog, as you can, with your veterinarian, try to protect your dog from acquiring diseases or conditions that you know they are prone to.
You will get results back electronically in several pages that look at your dog from different perspectives. If you have questions, you can contact the company, which, according to customers, is very responsive and anxious to help.
Example of Embark Breed Chart
The results can take up to 6 to 8 weeks, longer than the other tests included here, but that may be because they need to send part of the collection to the Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine to analyze for MDR1 sensitivity. That test is probably the most important non-breed specific test, as it lets you know if your dog is allergic to some of the most frequently used veterinary medications.
Developed with Cornell University School of Veterinary Medicine, the Embark test is highly regarded among veterinary professionals and lay customers. The Embark has a 5 star rating on Amazon. The few complaints seem to be related to dog breed information which is murky in select situations. Some breed results may come back as "mixed breed," when pet parents are expected to know precisely what the breed is. Like the other tests included here, the Embark tracks breed types to the great grandparent level.
Wisdom Panel claims to have the "largest breed database of any DNA test in the world with more than 250 breeds, types and varieties covered." One of the most important tests, the MDR1 test, is included in this panel. The test, developed at the Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine in 2010, checks for resistance to certain antibiotics, which if administered to a dog with resistance can result in serious, even life threatening, reactions. Wisdom Panel follows your dog's ancestry back to her great grandparents so you'll get a 'big picture' of her inside and out.
To show you how simple the test is for you to administer, here is a diagram provided by Wisdom Panel:
This is just one sample of the many maps that will be charted on your dog:
Please Note: With the Wisdom Panel DNA test, some breeds will not be known exactly, so you may get a few 'mixed breed' results, depending on how mixed your dog's ancestry is. As in the diagram above, the further back we look at ancestry, the more difficult it is to read the genealogy of mixed breed dogs. Amazon reviews tend to be positive about the Wisdom Panel test when the results are more conclusive about ancestry than when ancestry was reported as 'mixed breed.' Nevertheless, the Wisdom Panel Canine DNA Test 3.0 is a very highly reviewed test and is the most popular test.
Of the two tests above, if you are more interested in breed information than health information, I would purchase the Wisdom Panel, as it traces more breeds than the Embark. If you want to focus on the health information, I prefer the Embark. Both test for MDR1. Cost-wise the Wisdom Panel is about half the price of the Embark and it takes 2 to 3 weeks for return, as opposed to 5 to 6 weeks for Embark.
This test is good for those who already know their dog's breed or those who are not concerned about the breed, only the indicators that reveal health factors. The Canine HealthCheck - Dog Genetic DNA Disease & Trait Test tests for 150 dog diseases and traits, including those in the categories of blood disorders, cancer, eye health, drug allergies (MDR1 test), and dental health. The results are provided by specific diseases and are categorized as normal, carrier, or at-risk. If a result comes back 'at risk,' the company advises you to get a second disease specific test from your dog's veterinarian. The Canine HealthCheck - Dog Genetic DNA Disease & Trait Test has a 5 star rating on Amazon, but the number of reviewers are small compared to the other brands listed here.
DNA My Dog is another swab test kit. It only provides breed information by percentage, but this information is important if you want to research the breed heritages and health for yourself. This test has variable reviews with the same percentage (38%) giving 5 star reviews as those giving 1 star reviews on Amazon. My own misgivings, however, come from those reviewers who took both the DNA My Dog and the Wisdom Panel tests and found that the dog breeds assigned by each test were different. DNA My Dog is a less expensive test than the two tests above.
If you go to DNA My Dog you can find a list of breeds the test can report on.
The DNA Affirm is similar to DNA My Dog in that it only returns information on breed identification and general health and personality aspects of those breeds. This is fine if you are only looking for that information, however, I am concerned that customers who have purchased other kits, like Embark or Wisdom Panel, above, have received different breed results from each company. The average Amazon review for DNA Affirm is 3 stars.
My top three DNA tests are: Embark Dog DNA Test, Wisdom Panel Canine DNA Test 3.0, and the Canine HealthCheck - Dog Genetic DNA Disease & Trait Test, depending on whether you are seeking breed, health, or both kinds of information. The best overall test is probably the Embark. On the other hand, DNA My Dog and DNA Affirm are considerably less expensive than the others, and may yield information that will be useful to you.
That's the buzz for today!