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What You Need to Know About Pet DNA Kits

Take the mystery out of Fido's behaviors, health, and genetic history.

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Photography by: Getty

As a dog owner, odds are good that you've been asked this question at some point or another: "What kind of dog do you have?" For some, the answer is not readily available. Maybe your cherished four-legged family member was a rescue dog, or maybe the previous owner was as much in the dark about the pup's background as you are. If you're the proud parent of a dog whose history and identity are, for the most part, a mystery to you, you'll probably agree that the love and companionship you get from your four-legged friend take priority over breed and pedigree.

 

Still, if your curiosity just won't be quelled, DNA kits can offer answers to your questions—that way, you can take care of your pet more effectively and gain deeper insight into breed-specific conditions and medical issues. One popular pet DNA kit is the Wisdom Panel kit, which claims to offer the most complete breed database of any test on the market with over 350 breeds, types, and varieties represented. When it comes to DNA kits, the bigger the breed database that it references to determine the genetic composition of a dog, the better—or more accurate—the test results. Here, everything you need to know about pet DNA kits.

 

RELATED: Eight Questions to Ask When Choosing a New Veterinarian

 

All Pet Owners Could Benefit from the Tests

Angela Hughes, DVM, PhD, veterinary geneticist with Wisdom Health, says that DNA testing, although primarily marketed and used by pet parents of mixed breeds, is something that all dog owners can benefit from utilizing. "Any pet parent can benefit from genetic testing for their dog," she says. "Wisdom Panel 4.0 and Wisdom Panel Health DNA tests can be used for mixed breed or purebred dogs. Genetic information obtained from the tests enable owners to design a wellness and lifestyle program that best fits their dog's one-of-a-kind needs." She adds: "Knowing the genetic ancestry of a dog offers tremendous benefits related to healthcare, nutrition, and behavior modification."

 

In other words, a DNA kit allows you to find out just how unique your dog truly is—providing information about your dog's history, specifically pertaining to breed and genetics. Tests often trace a maternal and paternal line all the way back to its great grandparents by analyzing the dog's specific gene composition. This information can forecast a breed's predisposition to certain cancers or other potentially serious or life-threatening medical conditions, which is vital to prolonging the lifespan of your beloved pet

 

A Veterinarian Weighs In

Dr. Lawrence Putter, DVM, medical director of New York City-based Lenox Hill Veterinarians, says that the dominant reason he decided to test the DNA of his pet was curiosity, not a belief that it could offer some life-saving or crucial information about his dog. Putter recalls that a number of years ago, he decided to perform the Wisdom test on the family Chihuahua who was believed to be a mixed breed.

 

"We basically ran the test because we were curious of what was in his gene pool, but more for fun," he explains. "It didn't medically change anything. He lived to be maybe 16 years old with congestive heart failure, kidney failure, and a brain tumor so it didn't change anything in the course of this life rather than me questioning the validity of the test." Dr. Putter offers that DNA testing could be helpful for pet owners with infants or small children who want to be sure that they are not introducing an animal that belongs to a breed known for behavioral issues. However, for dog owners seeking information about diseases their pet might be prone to, he prefers specific genetic testing over DNA testing by way of a kit, and suggests that pet owners speak to their veterinarians about accessing one of the various labs around the country that specialize in disease testing. "I can't think of any cases where a pet DNA kit has influenced medical care, but it might. There might be something in a breed that you may want to know about, but when you're talking about outbreeding and mixed breed dogs, the credibility of the test is compromised."

 

Whereas Dr. Putter does not completely dismiss pet DNA kits and their value altogether, he offers that most of his clients use them just because they can. "I think a lot of it is for fun," Dr. Putter says. "I don't know how much of it is going to be helpful necessarily."

 

How to Use a Pet DNA Kit

To complete this test on your dog, you will need to perform a cheek swab sample. This scraping of cells, taken from the inside of the mouth, is referred to as a buccal swab or smear. Materials needed to conduct the test as well as information on how to prep the smear for shipping and testing are included in the test. For the more expensive brands, have a blood test performed at a veterinarian's office (additional fees will apply, so call your vet in advance).

 

Tests to Try

These tests have a significant number of breeds that they test for in their databases, which is important because it significantly increases the accuracy of the test.

 

Embark is a top-of-the-line kit, which costs $199, offers a comprehensive and detailed health screening, maternal and paternal tracing and much more detailed information about your pet friend, including testing for over 200 breeds. For all of this comprehensive information, you'll have to wait three to seven weeks to receive the test results.

 

You could also try Wisdom Panel 4.0, which costs $85. This kit includes a detailed family tree going back three generations, making it ideal if you think you have a highly mixed mutt. You should have the results from this test two to three weeks from the time it is received for processing. According to Dr. Hughes, the test offers the most complete breed database of any test on the market with over 350 breeds, types, and varieties represented—the largest number on the market. The company states that over 1.25 million dogs from around the world have been tested with the Wisdom Panel dog DNA test.

 

Last but not least, there's the Home DNA Orivet Dog DNA Test and Life Plan. This kit, which costs $125, tests for 220 canine breeds, and is ideal for pet parents, as it provides a customized exercise, diet, and playtime routine along with a complete health screening. It takes about three weeks to receive test results, and this particular test does not screen for wolf or coyote genetic traits.