Home Podcast TOP #60: How Dog DNA Tests Impact Veterinary Research

TOP #60: How Dog DNA Tests Impact Veterinary Research

By now most pet owners are familiar with DNA tests for dogs, how they work and the reasons for trying them. Most often, owners use them to find out more about their dogs, including breed and potential health problems. But were you aware that DNA tests and study of canine genetics does a lot more than simply provides information on your pup?

For today's podcast episode I spoke with canine DNA study researcher and veterinary spokesperson Dr. Angela Hughes of Wisdom Panel, one of the leaders among dog DNA test companies. Dr Hughes provided more details on how studying canines' genetics helps and impacts the veterinary research field, and she also explained what type of information owners can expect from these tests, how to do them and how this data can help to take better care of their dogs.

Listen to the episode in the video above and find the full podcast transcript below. For more, visit this episode’s post on the official Theory of Pets website.

How Dog DNA Tests Impact Veterinary Research
(podcast transcript)

How Dog DNA Tests Impact Veterinary Research

Thanks for tuning in for another episode of Theory of Pets. As you know, on this podcast I try to reach out to experts in the pet industry to gain some insights and some knowledge for all of us pet owners with millions of questions about our dogs and cats. This week I was able to talk to Angela Hughes, who is a doctor of veterinary medicine; she has a PhD and she was the lead researcher of dog DNA study recently, the largest study of its kind. And she's also a spokesperson for Wisdom Panel. Wisdom Panel is one of the leading companies in the dog DNA industry – they created the Wisdom Panel dog DNA test which is very widely known.

Dr. Hughes is also a veterinary spokesperson that can discuss the findings of the study, how they impact the future of canine treatment and health, and of course what dog owners need to know about canine DNA and tests like Wisdom Panel. So I was excited to talk to her today and I'm excited for you guys to listen to the interview as well.

Interview with Dr. Angela Hughes

Samantha: I know you were recently the lead researcher on the largest canine DNA study to date; can you tell us a little bit about the study and the findings?

Dr. Angela Hughes: Yes, so I was definitely one of the researchers involved in the first study of its kind and its size to our knowledge. Over a hundred thousand dogs were studied and tested over the course of a little over a year, and from that data what we found was looking at hundred and fifty two genetic disorders and those dogs. What is the frequency, how often do mixed breeds versus purebred dogs carry a genetic mutation that may or may not affect them, so depending on the disorder some diseases are recessive where you need two copies in order to see the disorder potentially crop up, or other disorders are dominant where you only need one copy. And what we found was mixed breed dogs in general are healthier in the sense that they are less likely to have two copies of those recessive disorders than their purebred cousins so to speak, but the mixed breed dogs are actually more likely to carry a genetic mutation of some sort, so to have at least one copy than the purebreds.

In large part probably because there's more selection pressures, and more people testing and looking for these disorders and the purebred population than trying to breed away from them as they should be, then in the mixed population where a lot of it is just happening willy-nilly. And so actually the dog with the most positive genetic mutations was a mixed breed dog and they had five out of a hundred and fifty-two which is a little bit scary, but needless to say like I said the percentage of dogs that are likely to develop one of the genetic tests or genetic diseases that we were testing for. These are closer to the two to four percent range depending on when they are, whether they are mixed breed or purebred.

Samantha: Wow, that's amazing.

Dr. Angela Hughes: A lot of great information.

Samantha: Yes, so how will this information affect to the veterinary field going forward?

Dr. Angela Hughes: There was a couple of points that we wanted to try to get across. One was that mixed breed dog there are in something called hybrid vigor and having a little bits of variables generally is not a bad thing, but it does mean that you could carry along the disorders from each of those breeds so your mixed breed could still suffer from a genetic disorder. So keep that in mind that we can't just say “oh well they're a mixed breed dogs, they're going to be healthy and not think about it or worry about it.” So testing them is still really helpful to give a lot of information to the veterinarian and to the client. The purebred population, obviously we've known for a while, has got certain disorders that we need to pay attention to and so genetic testing for them, it's also really helpful, to understand that they are predisposed to or not.

So one of the things that your breed might be predisposed to that your dog probably isn't, because they didn't inherit those genetic disorders, and then the third thing was to create a database, so we created a database called MyBreedData.com where the veterinarians or breeders or general dog owners could go and see the frequency of these disorders, these mutations in different sure bred populations or as a mixed breed for all populations, so you can see how common it is within a breed and what disorders have been found in that breed.

So if you're looking at a new breed, say you're interested in the Labrador Retriever, and you want to see which genetic disorders might be present in that breed, that your breeder will hopefully have tested for and have some information about, so that you could be rest assured that your dog isn't going to develop that disorder, you can go here and you can see the 11 or 12 different disorders that we can test for presently that the Labrador do carry and so you should ask a breeder about having tested for these and ensured that their population of puppies is not going to be affected.

Samantha: Yes absolutely, I think that's something that a lot of pet parents don't realize when they are looking to adopt, they just assume that any reputable breeder will test for these things and that's not always the case.

Dr. Angela Hughes: Yes, many of them do and certainly most of them have the best in their heart for their breed and for their dog, some of them may just need a little bit more education as to what is available and what they need to be doing. But it's always good to check and to have your research done beforehand so that you can go and ask the right questions and get the information that you need.

Samantha: Yes, certainly, absolutely, and going forward from that after you adopt your pet there are other things that parents should be aware of. I recently did the Wisdom Panel DNA test on our beagle Molly, she was a mix we knew the breeder, we were pretty sure that her dad was a cocker spaniel and her mom was a beagle, we met both the parents but of course just from the look of a dog you can't always tell, so we weren't sure farther back in her history what else we would find. The Wisdom Panel test showed that she was a 50/50 split and it also tested because there's two different ones correct one that just looks at breed and one that looks more into their health.

Dr. Angela Hughes: Yes, so we have Wisdom Panel 3.0 and 4.0 which looks at breeding ancestry as well as one or two genetic disorders like multi drug sensitivity and exercise induced collapse, which are both very critical ones that the owner should be aware of and keep in mind. With the Panel 4.0 also goes into the traits of the dog and then as you mentioned with the Panel help which is what you did was our ancestry traits and hundred and fifty plus genetic disorders including the two I mentioned before the multi drug sensitivity and exercise-induced collapse.

Samantha: Yes.

Dr. Angela Hughes: Thankfully Molly was clear for all of them.

Samantha: I know, we were so excited to see that, you hear that misleading stigma quite often that makes breed dogs are going to be healthier than purebred dogs, and we have a purebred Labrador Retrievers as well she came from somebody that we know that breeds and she was tested as a puppy, so we decided that because we have her test results from when she was younger that we would try this with Molly and we were hoping for good results and we were really excited to see that she came out clean for everything so that was great. But what would a dog owner expect because obviously not every dog is going to be negative for all of them, what information could you get from this test if your dog did test positive for one of these genetic disorders?

Dr. Angela Hughes: Yes, for example, if we want to talk about like the Beagle they have a couple of disorders that are a little bit more common, one of those that comes to mind is something called factor 7 deficiency and it is still fairly prevalent in the breed, about 35% of the breed carries one copy of the dogs that we have tested to date, carries at least one copy of the genetic disorder and about almost 5% are what we call genetically at risk, so they carried two copies. And what factor 7 deficiency is it's an inherited bleeding disorder, it's that a number of breeds but beagles are very well known for it, it's usually a fairly mild disorder but it can have a more intense or severe effects which cause excessive bleeding after trauma or surgery that sort of thing.

So it's really important for owners and veterinarians to know that they can take proper precautions if the dogs were to be injured for some reason, or go in for even an elective surgery like a stay or a neuter having your veterinarian aware that you might be dealing with more than normal bleeding is important to know going in so they can be prepared. But you would get information like that on your report is your dog clear, is it positive for one copy or is it positive for two copies and therefore genetically at risk and some key indicators about how to manage that condition and have that conversation with your veterinarian.

Samantha: Yes, I found that very helpful obviously we didn't have anything pop up with Molly, but I did show in my review and there'll be a link underneath the podcast so people can watch that video, but you receive an email you clip on it all of the information is there available online, it'd be really easy to take that information with you print it out, take it with you on your cell phone whatever you want to do and bring it in to your veterinarian and have that conversation, and I really love that wisdom panel gives you those little tips and tricks for speaking with your vet because sometimes that can be a hard conversation for some people to have.

Dr. Angela Hughes: Definitely, but it's the conversation that we need to be having and quite honestly there's a lot of genetic information out there that's fairly new, so not every vet is going to have all of the details at the top of their head. So we need to engage with them and give them the information that they need to help research it more and understand it better so that they can be better equipped to take the best care of our unique individual pet. You know every dog is and every cat for that matter is a unique individual and they're doing their very best to take care of everyone, but a lot of this information like I said is really new just in the last couple of years, so they have bee out of school for more than two or three years chances are they haven't really been exposed to a lot of it. So it's important that we have that conversation with them in a sensitive and supportive way because we don't want to say clearly you know what you are talking but ultimately we're all working towards the best thing for our animal.

Samantha: Absolutely, we are advocates for our animals so I think that this gives you a nice starting place, you can do some research on your own and bring it in and start that discussion, so that was great. So what can dog owners learn because another aspect to the wisdom panel is not just the health aspects but the different traits for different breeds?

Dr. Angela Hughes: Right so I think one of the things that is sometimes undersold at least initially is people don't always realize it but understanding what breeds going into your dog to understand the behavior of your dog and really kind of what makes your dog tick or how they like to think, and unlocking that a little bit and understanding then what that means for their lifestyle and how you keep them in your home. For example my own dog turned out that she was a mixed breed dog that I found randomly on the streets of Portland Oregon, and when I found her she was not acting at all like a terrier but I think she had been running for several miles according to another runner that she was been following and who knows what her nutrition status was and all that sort of thing living out on the streets.

But when she was cleaned at the shelter and we decided to adopt her and brought her home and she looks very terrorist, but because of her behavior I wasn't ready to accept that I'm like no I got to see the DNA to prove that she's actually a terrier. Well so we did the DNA testing but as it turned out some rest and food over the first few days really turned her into a Terrier and her DNA confirmed it. So she is actually half Russel terrier, a quarter Australian Cattle Dog and the quarter mixed and she is every bit a cattle dogs Russell Terrier mix, she's got tons of energy, she's all about chasing those squirrels and honestly for me even as a veterinary geneticist and I know my breeds, I had a quick conversation when a with a behaviorist and she gave me some extra tips about terriers, like the fact that they really are even more so than your average dog are denning animal and they like to shred things and kind of burrow under stuff and I'm like that explains why she keeps tearing up my $30.00 dog bed that I bought.

What she recommended was actually giving them shredded newspaper instead, and so that gives her more of something that she can destroy without annoying me and kind of create that denning space and then we also kind of put her crate off in a corner where it's a little bit quieter and out of the way, so she doesn't feel like she has to be on alert all the time and those things have really helped. But we also keep the blinds down in order to preserve our house from her nails; she honestly is a squirrel out there. So things like that that you can adapt and change and make accommodation for, so that she can have a better space in your home and you can have a happier relationship with her and all of that sort of thing because we really want to combat people that just don't seem to get along with their dog and decide to take it back to the shelter, that's not the ultimate goal, The ultimate goal is to have a happy, healthy home for you and for your dog. And so I think the behavior component is really sometimes undersold as part of this test, knowing what breeds go in and what they're kind of perks and ticks are can really help families make the best environment and happiest dog.

Samantha: Yes I absolutely agree, you know quite often people will adopt a dog especially if it's a mixed breed not knowing exactly what they're getting into, and that can kind of cause problems in the future. So knowing in advance after you adopt your dog if you do a test like this and you can figure out kind of what to expect in certain things that can make their life easier, your life easier it just makes things better for everybody.

Dr. Angela Hughes: Absolutely.

Samantha: So dog DNA testing is becoming a little bit more common, it's been around for decades which I think a lot of people don't realize but it is becoming more common with these over-the-counter tests like wisdom panel, what should dog owners know because there are different options on the market, what should they know about before choosing the best test and what would set wisdom panel apart from other options on the market?

Dr. Angela Hughes: Yes, so there are a couple different tests on the market, wisdom panel has been on the market for over 10 years we're actually coming up on our 11th anniversary here in the fall, we've tested about a million dogs in that time so we've certainly tested probably the most of any company by far and we have a very extensive breed database. So we have over 250 breeds types and varieties, so we can give you a lot of great information, we also have dogs from around the world so our test is available not only in the United States but also in Australia, the UK, Europe some parts of Europe. In order to move into those different markets we have to collect dogs from those markets themselves and make sure that their genetic profiles match what we have or do we need to create new ones, so for instance when we moved into Australia we actually had to create an extra signature for the border collie, because we did have a group of Border Collies down there that didn't match so well to our U.S show lines of border collie that our U.S field lines the border collie.

So having all of that information in our database of over 15,000 purebred dogs to represent these 250 different breeds, makes a huge difference and improves the accuracy of the test and gives us a lot of great information to pass on to you. We also offer trait testing so we haven't really talked about that too much yet but we can test for a number of different physical characteristics and traits which can be a lot of fun for people to understand, we can't quite get the blue eyes versus brown eyes in dogs and cats yet but for example does your dog have a genetically up right ear or they kind of based erect really get that kind of halfway up and down, are they based erect because they should be fully upright that just never quite learn how to go all the way up that through thing.

And then finally obviously the health component, so that's been something we've developed more recently in the last couple of years, but that's a really critical piece to help veterinarians and clients understand the health aspects in addition to just saying okay you've got a Labrador, German Shepherd, Golden retriever mix and those three breeds are generally predisposed to Arthritis particularly hip dysplasia, so we want to pay attention to that well we can now go a little bit deeper and say okay which of these genetic diseases that we can test for, are we also positive or negative for example in that mix breed dog we'd been thinking about maybe exercise induced collapse. Which again is a disease that owners can help mitigate or control, so the dogs that have exercise induce collapse when they exercise really hard even for a fairly short period of time maybe 10 minutes suddenly their muscles just give out and they just kind of collapse right there, and it can be really scary for folks if they don't know what's going on.

I spoke with a woman who's very mixed breeds right there and all sorts of things with this dog and did not look at all like a Labrador Retriever, but it was positive for two copies of this CIC or extras in these claps and she had had to collapse episodes before they realized with genetic testing what the disease was and rushed her into the veterinary clinic, the emergency clinic sorry what's wrong with her dog or puppy, but if you know what it is you can take appropriate measures to keep the dog from collapsing or if they do collapse to stay with them, keep them calm, let them calm down and cool down and they should be fine within a relatively short period of time and recover but if you don't know that it can be really disconcerting to have it happen to you. So that sort of information is really helpful and credible to folks, so we just have a really extensive array of testing available to the client and through our veterinary products as well to the veterinarians directly.

Samantha: And what else should our listeners know that we haven't covered already?

Dr. Angela Hughes: Certainly we are available at WisdomPanel.com. Like you said we have two different tests panel which is panel 4.0 which is our best where people can learn about breed, ancestry, traits and two disorders or if they're interested and want to go kind of the larger panel the wisdom panel health that runs $149.99 on our website as well also available at amazon.com. Yes absolutely it's a great way to unlock the inner pieces of your dog’s brain so to speak, to understand their behavior, what their needs are, what their quirks are health-wise with that component inhales and then obviously answer the age-old curiosity question which is what is what breed is this dog or breeds as the case may be which is often what drives people to do it principally and then they can learn all this other stuff on the back end which is great.

Samantha: Absolutely and we'll have links to just below the podcast and when we share this on social media it'll be right under the link that you can get onto WisdomPanel.com you guys have a fantastic website by the way there's tons of great information on there for pet owners that are maybe thinking about doing a test but not 100% sure, and of course the information on the different options available if anybody's interested.

Dr. Angela Hughes: Perfect that's great, thank you so much for Pat having me.

Samantha: And thank you Dr. Hughes so much for your time today, I really appreciate it you had some great information about canine DNA and how that's going to be affecting the veterinary field in the future. I am really excited to follow this topic and if anybody out there listening wants to follow the topic as well, be sure to jump onto our website theoryofpets.com you can go back and check out all of my past podcasts and there's going to be future podcasts coming as well, some of those relating to this topic because it's very interesting to me.

PREVIOUS PODCAST: Treating Canine Cancer with Coley’s Toxins

Samantha’s biggest passion in life is spending time with her Boxer dogs. After she rescued her first Boxer in 2004, Samantha fell in love with the breed and has continued to rescue three other Boxers since then. She enjoys hiking and swimming with her Boxers, Maddie and Chloe.