In the very beginning, the use of dog DNA tests and determining the genetic origin of an individual dog was done mostly for fun and prestige. They would help us find out why Huskies have blue eyes, for example. However, scientists and veterinarians have found out numerous other and better advantages to dog DNA testing procedure in recent years.
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Because dog DNA tests now provide valuable health information about the dog, more pet owners now wish to discover the ancestry of their pets and what to expect health-wise. Therefore, crucial questions related to the topic of canine DNA testing must be asked: how accurate are dog DNA tests and how much can we trust the validity of the results.
We've discussed this and other aspects in three of our podcast episodes:
- TOP #94: How DNA Research Is Helping Dogs Around the World
- TOP #60: How Dog DNA Tests Impact Veterinary Research
- TOP #50: What Are Dog DNA Tests and Are They Reliable?
How Does a Dog DNA Test Work?
Nowadays, there are numerous types of dog DNA tests on the market. They will help determine the ancestry inference after collecting material and taking out DNA data for genetic assessment of the dog.
These tests have grown in popularity as companies now market them not only to pet owners but also breeders, veterinarians, shelters and more. One of the most popular companies, Mars Veterinary, have run 800,000 dog DNA tests by 2017.
With the original tests a decade ago, to identify mixed-breed dogs, it used to be necessary to take a blood sample. Nowadays, however, the procedure for collecting DNA sample is quicker since contemporary tests extract it from cells from a dog's saliva.
For pet owners, it's simple enough to buy a dog DNA test online, take a cheek swab, and send it sealed to a lab. The technicians working there will extract the DNA from the swab and check approximately 200,000 SNPs (single-nucleotide polymorphisms), which are actually repeated sequences of canine DNA determining various breeds.
To get a precise result from a dog DNA test, researchers need enough SNPs from the database of purebred dogs to have an adequate array for comparison. The results will be most accurate when the database of samples is large enough, which is why companies like Embark and Mars Veterinary rose to prominence – they have largest databases, and we've compared both of their tests back to back (see our analysis here, here and here).
After comparing breeds from their database with DNA bits taken from the dogs of known lineage, the computer will identify the breed of the particular dog in percentage. In most cases, it's fairly easy to pinpoint the genes of all individual dog's ancestors because the modern dog breeds have emerged after the Victorian era, only 150 years ago.
After approximately 2 weeks, the owner will receive the DNA results about their dog. Once the predominant breed of said individual dog is established, the owner can discuss with the vet all the potential health issues associated with that particular breed.
For example, a DNA test will show how 25% of Dobermans are genetically prone to getting Von Willebrand disease, an inherited breeding disorder (1, 2). Another example is how dog DNA tests uncovered how Boxers, Irish wolfhounds, Saint Bernards, Flat-coated Retrievers and Bernese Mountain Dogs have breed-related predispositions to the development of cancer (3).
The results of trustworthy studies show that these diseases are related to genetic and heritable components in these breeds. Sometimes, being aware of potential health risks may save your dog's life, or make it easier to manage their health condition.
Are Dog DNA Tests Accurate?
There are three the most famous companies working with dog DNA tests:
- Wisdom Panel (Mars Veterinary)
- DNA My Dog
Their representatives claim that the results from their genetic testing kits and the data they acquire is from 95% to 99% accurate. The level of accuracy may vary depending on the size of the breed database each company has and possible human error.
The accuracy of these tests have been questioned many times before, but it's been confirmed that the accuracy of genetic material estimation is thought to be more accurate when the database is more comprehensive. The reason is that there is a more considerable amount of material to compare the samples they receive.
The problem may occur when the tested dog is a “heavily” mixed breed. In such a case, each breed contributes to the final result with a much lower percentage, and the canine DNA test is not always able to identify the full genetic map of the particular dog with precise accuracy.
On the other hand, if the tested dog had purebred parents or grandparents, or at least one or two of them, the results of the test will be extremely accurate.
Unfortunately, these dog DNA tests are nearly useless for rare breeds that are not included in the above mentioned companies' databases. That is especially true of the dogs adopted outside the US. However, these rare breeds are also rarely encountered.
Why Invest in a Dog DNA Test?
In most cases, pet owners will typically buy dog DNA tests out of curiosity and to find out the lineage of their pup. However, there are other more useful reasons to have the DNA of the dog tested and analyzed, including the below.
Confirming the breed
Unfortunately, not all breeders are trustworthy. Therefore, it sometimes happens that pet owners purchase dog with a dubious genetic origin at the cost of a purebred breed.
The DNA test will answer the question of whether the puppy from a particular breeder is in fact the breed that the owner has paid for, or if it's a slightly mixed breed.
Proving the breed
Determining that the dog is or is not of a particular breed with a precise percentage number can sometimes be crucial. This may be especially important when it comes to more “problematic” breeds, such as Bully breeds or Wolf-dog hybrids.
In some U.S. states and countries, adopting and caring for such a dog may cost pet owners more money, and even become a legal problem. Having the results from a canine DNA test can be a way to protect the dog from authorities.
For example, a few years ago, New York City co-op banned keeping the dogs of 27 different breeds. Now, every owner needs to get a dog DNA test proving that the genetic lineage of the said dog does not contain more than 50% of a banned breed.
In the case of surgery for the dog, it's useful to know if the dog is sensitive to anesthesia. The canine DNA test is very helpful in such a case since it will determine whether the dog genetically belongs to a breed that is sensitive to this type of medication.
The results of these tests may also show if the dog has an MDR1 (Multi-Drug Resistance 1) sensitivity or predisposition to certain other diseases.
It is not uncommon for a puppy to grow into a dog too big for a household. Using a DNA test can help prevent such a situation on time, and help pet owners determine how big the dog will eventually get.
The Best Dog DNA Testing Kits
Three of the most trusted dog DNA testing kits right now are:
|Wisdom Panel 3.0 Canine DNA Test - Dog DNA Test...||4,981 Reviews||$79.65||Buy on Amazon|
|Embark | Dog DNA Test | Breed & Health Kit | Breed...||1,306 Reviews||$189.00||Buy on Amazon|
|Dna My Dog - Canine Breed Identification Test Kit...||521 Reviews||$66.99||Buy on Amazon|
There are still no official quality standards for canine genetic testing in diagnostic laboratories. As a result, it is technically possible to get incorrect test results with your dog DNA tests.
To change this, the IPFD (International Partnership for Dogs) started the initiative for harmonization of dogs' DNA testing. The goal is to create a database with information about commercial companies and the quality of their canine DNA tests. By December 2018, their database included data for 59 genetic test providers from 17 countries. That number is expected to increase over the coming years.
READ NEXT: The Best Dog DNA Test Kits