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Dog DNA Tests: Why Your Mutt’s Makeup Matters

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

Reviewed by Elizabeth A. Martinez, DVM on March 23, 2010
From the WebMD Archives

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

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

Priced from $60 and up, the tests are available online and at many petsupply 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 localveterinarian for pricing).

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

Nathan Sutter, PhD, assistant professor of medical genetics at CornellUniversity. 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 ina canine with great accuracy. “But if a dog is mixed breed and comesfrom 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 breedscontributing to the dog,” he says. Sutter says that if a dog has a purebredparent or grandparent, the results are highly accurate.

Testing the DNA Tests

James Belzer was always interested in confirming his suspicions that13-year-old Girl was a Husky/German Shepherd mix. So the Manhattan executiveagreed, at the request of WebMD, to try three brands of dog breed DNA tests:Canine Heritage, DDC Veterinary, and Mars Veterinary’s other option, WisdomPanel.

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

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

WisdomPanel (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

CanineHeritage 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 aprimary breed if the dog has a purebred parent), with German Shepherd in themix

DDCVeterinary (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 GermanShepherd, made up of between 10% and 19%

“It was pretty easy,” says Belzer of the collection process. After he sentthe completed test kits back to each company, results came within two to fourweeks (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 resultswere emailed.

Two of the three companies’ results validated Belzer’s hypothesis: that Girlwas a Siberian Husky/German Shepherd mix. Wisdom Panel, which tests againstmore breeds than the other two, suggested Girl was part Border Collie. “Thatwas something I would have never considered,” says Belzer, who doesn’t questionthe accuracy of the test. “The results were a little out of line with what theother 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 informationalpurposes only, and most owners order dog DNA tests solely for the curiosityfactor. “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 totheir veterinarian to discuss potential health issues associated with specificbreeds. “Boxers are prone to getting cancer, and Dobermans sometimes havebleeding disorders similar to hemophiliacs,” says Bernadine Cruz, DVM,associate veterinarian at California’s Laguna Hills Animal Hospital. Knowingthese potential risks ahead of time, and asking your veterinarian to keep aneye out for them, can save lives.

Other potential reasons for dog DNA testing include wanting to know how bigyour puppy will get, or knowing in advance that if a dog’s predominantlyterrier, for instance, it’s going to have an abundance of energy, Cruzsays.

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

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

Show 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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