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DNA testing was invented in 1985. In 1987, DNA evidence was used for the first time to convict a criminal. And over the years, countless wrongly imprisoned people have been exonerated and released because of DNA evidence.
DNA testing has become part of modern culture as well. And in recent years, a number of inexpensive consumer DNA test kits have found their way to market. Now, you can trace your ancestry (to a degree), find relatives around the world, and even find out if your genes predispose you to certain medical conditions.
It seems inevitable that, once people traced their own ancestry, they’d be interested in the ancestry of their pets. And yes, you can do that too.
Want to test your pup’s DNA?
How Does DNA Testing Work?
DNA is a molecule located in the nucleus of every animal cell. This molecule carries the instructions for the growth and development of that organism. The genome is the set of all of the DNA molecules in all the cells of an organism. 99.5 percent of human DNA is identical from person to person. The remaining half a percent, however, is what makes each person unique.
Consumer DNA tests work through a process called genotyping. The idea behind genotyping is that different groups of people around the world have a 4 to 9 percent variation in their DNA. By comparing a person’s DNA to that of different reference groups
Dog DNA tests work in a similar manner. And, just like with human DNA tests, dog DNA tests can suggest which breed or combination of breeds are in your dog’s heritage. They can also tell you about your dog’s parentage, as well as which diseases and problems your dog may be predisposed to.
Is it Accurate?
There’s definitely some controversy about that. Some describe human DNA tests as “a best guess.” And you won’t have to look far to find plenty of anecdotes from people whose dog DNA tests have turned up some highly improbable results.
But others contend that dog DNA tests are quite accurate, and that improbable results come down to:
- A problem with the sample that the dog owner provides
- DNA test kits that test for a small number of genetic markers, rather than a larger number
- Too few breeds in the DNA test lab’s database
- Lack of confirming tests with third-party geneticists
So if you’re looking to do your doggy DNA, choose your test kit carefully, and take your sample according to the manufacturer’s directions. You may even want to do it more than once.
Why do it?
Let’s be honest. A lot of folks do it out of curiosity. Is my Jack Russell 100 percent Jack Russell? And if not, what other breeds might be in the mix? Alternately, did my breeder tell me the truth about my dog’s heritage?
Genetic testing can also tell you if your pup is predisposed toward certain genetic health conditions. Some tests also provide information about allergies and sensitivities your dog may have. And this can be helpful.
Finally, some companies will also provide feeding and wellness plans tailored to your dog, on the basis of your dog’s test results.
What to Expect
First, you can order your DNA test kit online. You may also be able to buy a kit through your vet.
Different kits may ask for different kinds of samples. Many will include a swab to take samples of cells from the inside of your dog’s cheek. Others will take DNA from a hair sample instead. Some will even ask you to draw blood from your dog’s paw. In any case, it’s important to follow the manufacturer’s instructions to the letter to ensure greater accuracy. You will also be asked to use a code specific to your test kit to create an account and online profile.
Finally, seal your kit and send it to the lab. Your results should arrive in one to eight weeks.
Which are the best kits? That’s for you to decide. Kits can vary widely on the number of genetic markers they test for, response time, and price. You can check out some of the more popular kits here, at Canine Journal. This article details a variety of tests for a variety of purposes, including allergy detection.
How much does it cost?
Prices can vary widely. You might pay as little as $40 or more than $200. Remember to check for these important factors:
- How many genetic markers does the test look at?
- How many comparison breeds are in the company’s database?
- How many different genetic conditions does the test look at?
- What information does the company’s analysis provide?
- How fast can you get your results?
- What sort of customer support is available?
How Should You Interpret the Results?
Depending on the kind of test you do, your test might reveal the following:
- Your dog’s parentage
- The breed or breeds in your dog’s ancestry
- Diseases or problems your dog may be prone to
- Behavioral traits based on genetics
Remember that different breeds are susceptible to different health problems. But if a susceptibility shows up on your dog’s DNA test, it doesn’t mean that your dog will necessarily develop that problem. But it may mean that it would be a good idea to take precautions aimed at delaying or preventing that problem.
Should You DNA Test Your Pooch?
Well, as always, that depends.
If you need to prove the parentage or ancestry of your dog, then DNA testing is a good way to get that information. If you’d like a heads-up about potential hereditary health problems, it may also be worth your while.
Is it necessary, though? For most of us, probably not. But if you’re curious about what breeds might be in your dog’s background, why not give it a try?
Featured Image CC0 by Ylanite Koppens, via Pexels.