Dog DNA tests are easy to do – some experts say too easy
Dog DNA Tests are a snap. Just order the kit and then like the humans’ version, you simply take a cheek swab, put it in the container provided and send it back.
Within a few weeks, you’ll get a report that includes your dogs’ DNA results. These results are supposed to let you know your mixed breed’s parentage and sometimes the dog’s potential for genetically caused health concerns. (There are other tests to confirm if a dog is purebred.)
These test kits are incredibly popular – last year, the Embark Dog DNA Test Kit was on Oprah’s list of favorite holiday gifts list.
But are they a good idea and are there any risks?
Is this pup really half and half Yorkie and Maltese dog? Or is there some poodle or Shih-Tzu thrown in? A dog DNA test could tell you.
Dog DNA tests work by comparing the sample you send in to the breeds they’ve already tested.
There are dozens of brands — and price points — for dog DNA tests.
How do Dog DNA Tests work?
Dog DNA tests work by comparing the sample you send in to the breeds the provider has already tested. Most labs have at least 100 breeds on file; some, like Embark Dog DNA Test, have 250+.
These tests work like other DNA tests for people; every dog (or person) has two copies of every gene. One from the mother and one from the father. DNA genetics labs can analyze every gene and then track it back three generations to the great-grandparents.
Puppies randomly inherit 50% of each of their parents breed, so your Morkie’s littermate could have very different DNA results – and characteristics, looks, and personality — than your Morkie.
How much do they cost?
Priced from $60 to hundreds of dollars, these tests are available everywhere.
You can find the fad from Amazon to Walmart and everywhere in between, with at least 10 national brands.
Mars Veterinary Wisdom’s Panel Professional is the most expensive – it requires a blood test at your Vet’s.
Accuracy won’t be in the cards any time soon
All the tests say they’re for information only; I’d say that, in fact, they’re for entertainment purposes only. Some Vets say take the results with a grain of salt because the same test done by different providers can deliver very different results.
Accuracy won’t be in the cards any time soon; there are no quality control standards for pet DNA testing, no regulations and providers don’t need to reveal how the tests are conducted.
Michael San Filippo, a spokesman for the American Veterinary Medical Association, said the group does not have a position on DNA testing for dogs, but “it’s fine to do if you’re curious about your dog’s ancestry and breed makeup.” He said pet owners should talk to their vets if the goal is to identify potential hereditary disorders or health conditions.
What’s the urgency to discover your dog’s breed(s)?
If you know if advance, the theory goes, you can be prepared and on the watch for certain diseases.
Sometimes people want to know for their own curiosity or to explain certain behaviors. Dogs with a lot of terrier, for example, are likely to be smart but also likely to bark a lot. Dog DNA Tests identify genetic markers, and what they mean.
Mars Veterinary, makers of the Wisdom Panel dog DNA test, is considering using their results to create food specialized for specific breeds. This is already a thing, and as Pets.wedMD.com points out, it isn’t necessary. And it can be misleading for owners. A food specially formulated for poodles, for example, doesn’t mean your poodle will be healthier or that a sick poodle will get better. Therapeutic diets can definitely help, but they’re formulated to address the problem, not the breed.
We’re already seeing this at the retail level, with kibble and canned from manufacturers like Eukanuba and Royal Canin. A food that is specific for Yorkshire Terriers, for example, recognizes that they (like nearly all small dogs) have a fast metabolism. So they need a diet higher in fat.
Plus, just because a food is breed-specific there is no guarantee that the food is of good quality. These same manufacturers who top up on useless fillers like corn in their other brands can do the same with breed-specific food.
What are genetic markers?
Most of these kits will show you genetic markers that identify an estimated risk for more than 150 canine conditions. But the problem is that genetic marker can indicate different variations of disease in different breeds. What could be fatal in a Collie is only a mild nuisance in a German Shepherd.
So you could be buying a big box of junk science, and get results that you don’t know what to do with.
Articles about Dog DNA Tests always mention the tragic case of a Pug owner who put her dog down based on hazy information from one of the leading Dog DNA Tests:
“….the story of a 13-year-old dog that was losing her ability to walk. Her owners decided to buy a $65 direct-to-consumer test, which showed a mutation linked to a neural disease called degenerative myelopathy (DM). Convinced that she would slowly die of the disease, her owners put her to sleep.
But the mutation for DM is notoriously hard to interpret. Kari Ekenstedt, a professor of anatomy and genetics at Purdue University, calls it the “ever controversial DM mutation.” The problem, she says, is that not having such a mutation is a good sign a dog does not have DM, but having a mutation does not guarantee the dog has the disease. It’s possible the dog Moses wrote about had an entirely treatable spinal disorder and did not need to be put down.”
Google Dog DNA Test and you’ll find a WHOLE BUNCH of “review sites.”
Review sites are set up to compare different brands, in any field, and they do just that.
But the site owner also offers ‘convenient’ links to buy any of the products reviewed. That’s how the person makes money.
So review sites are helpful but they are not true product research and are bound to have some degree of bias.
Keep in mind that review sites like these are set up to sell merchandise, not find flaws or concerns with the products.
Want to take better care of your Morkie?
So what’s the final word on Dog DNA Tests?
Are they worth it or not? And are there any downsides or dangers?
“Pet genetics must be reined in,” an article says. If it is not, the experts argued, then companies will continue to profit by “selling potentially misleading and often inaccurate information,” pets and owners will suffer, opportunities to leverage the data to help dogs could be lost, and people will become “more distrustful of science and medicine.”
– from animal research experts who published an op-ed in the scientific journal Nature. “Pet genomics medicine runs wild.”
Another scientific journal quotes an expert who says,
“There’s fantastic potential for dog DNA testing to improve the health of dogs. Already, scientists understand more and have improved circumstances for single-gene disorders through DNA testing.”