Dog DNA Tests: Why Your Mutt’s Makeup Matters

Discovering your mutt’s background is easier and less expensive than you think.

From the WebMD Archives

Anyone who has had a mixed breed dog has likely wondered: Just what type of dog do I have?

Now, it may be possible to answer that question. Companies specializing in dog DNA testing are enticing owners who are curious about their mutt’s background. Owners may also decide to test so they can take the information to their veterinarians to discuss potential health issues about their dog’s breeds.

Priced from $60 and up, the tests are available online and at many pet supply retail stores. All of the kits test DNA via a cheek swab sampling, except for the most expensive, Mars Veterinary’s Wisdom Panel Professional, which requires a blood test at a veterinarian’s office (call your local veterinarian for pricing).

Not surprisingly, like most products, not all dog breed DNA tests are created equal. The more breeds in a company’s database, the greater the chance for accuracyin their results, says

Nathan Sutter, PhD, assistant professor of medical genetics at Cornell University. And generally, the more dog breeds the company has in its database, the more expensive the test.

Sutter says such dog DNA tests can typically identify the majority breeds in a canine with great accuracy. “But if a dog is mixed breed and comes from a great many breeds, each with just a small contribution to the total, then the breed test may be unable to identify most or all of the breeds contributing to the dog,” he says. Sutter says that if a dog has a purebred parent or grandparent, the results are highly accurate.

Testing the DNA Tests

James Belzer was always interested in confirming his suspicions that 13-year-old Girl was a Husky/German Shepherd mix. So the Manhattan executive agreed, at the request of WebMD, to try three brands of dog breed DNA tests: Canine Heritage, DDC Veterinary, and Mars Veterinary’s other option, Wisdom Panel.

All of the dog DNA tests Belzer tried use a cheek swab sampling to compare DNA against a number of major breeds. These dog DNA test kits were created to identify dogs of mixed heritage. Purebred confirmation is available through other testing.

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Here are the DNA tests Belzer used and their cost at the time he did the tests:

Wisdom Panel (301-444-7900)

  • Cost: $79.99
  • Tests dog’s DNA against 170 different breeds
  • Findings: Made up of at least 50% Siberian Husky and 25% Border Collie

Canine Heritage Breed Test (800-362-3644)

  • Cost: $99.95
  • Tests dog’s DNA against 105 different breeds
  • Findings: Siberian Husky as a secondary breed (Canine Heritage only lists a primary breed if the dog has a purebred parent), with German Shepherd in the mix

DDC Veterinary (800-625-0874)

  • Cost: $68
  • Tests dog’s DNA against 62 different breeds
  • Findings: Level 1 Siberian Husky, made up of at least 75%, level 4 German Shepherd, made up of between 10% and 19%

“It was pretty easy,” says Belzer of the collection process. After he sent the completed test kits back to each company, results came within two to four weeks (Wisdom Panel was the quickest; both of the others took about a month). DDC and Canine Heritage findings came in the mail, and Wisdom Panel’s results were emailed.

Two of the three companies’ results validated Belzer’s hypothesis: that Girl was a Siberian Husky/German Shepherd mix. Wisdom Panel, which tests against more breeds than the other two, suggested Girl was part Border Collie. “That was something I would have never considered,” says Belzer, who doesn’t question the accuracy of the test. “The results were a little out of line with what the other two found, but it’s certainly not a breed that I would rule out.”

All of the companies contain disclaimers that the test is for informational purposes only, and most owners order dog DNA tests solely for the curiosity factor. “It answers hypothetical questions and can validate your assumptions,” Belzer says. “It’s also a great conversation piece at the dog park.”

Why Test Your Dog’s DNA?

Once predominant breeds are established, owners can take their results to their veterinarian to discuss potential health issues associated with specific breeds. “Boxers are prone to getting cancer, and Dobermans sometimes have bleeding disorders similar to hemophiliacs,” says Bernadine Cruz, DVM, associate veterinarian at California’s Laguna Hills Animal Hospital. Knowing these potential risks ahead of time, and asking your veterinarian to keep an eye out for them, can save lives.

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Other potential reasons for dog DNA testing include wanting to know how big your puppy will get, or knowing in advance that if a dog’s predominantly terrier, for instance, it’s going to have an abundance of energy, Cruz says.

Mars Veterinary, makers of the Wisdom Panel dog DNA test, is considering using their results to create food specialized for specific breeds. So dogs predisposed to arthritis, for instance, might eat a diet containing ingredients that protect against the progression of the disease, Cruz says.

In addition, the affordability factor means it’s a somewhat small investment that will only make pet owners more informed about their pooches. “Your dog is a member of your family, and it’s nice to know something about where it came from,” Sutter says.

WebMD Pet Health Feature Reviewed by Elizabeth A. Martinez, DVM on March 23, 2010

Sources

SOURCES:

Nathan Sutter, PhD, assistant professor of medical genetics, Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine.

Bernadine Cruz, DVM, associate veterinarian at Laguna Hills Animal Hospital, California.

James Belzer, pet owner.

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