Can DNA testing help to keep your pet healthy?

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If your cat is a mixed breed, a DNA test can do more than just tell you about your pet’s lineage. It can also help you to care for your cat’s health by looking out for conditions that certain breeds are known to be prone to. Here’s what you need to know about the testing process.

What you should know about DNA testing

A recent study of ancient cat DNA showed that these felines have lived alongside humans for more than 3,000 years. But while the idea of cats cohabiting with people has been around for millennia, testing a cat's DNA to find out more about their breed is relatively new.

Unlike dogs, there are also fairly few cat breeds in existence – fewer than 30 major breeds, compared with more than 200 dog breeds. And most feline purebreeds are less than 100 years old, meaning there are fewer 'perfect' DNA markers that identification kits can work with.

The benefits of DNA testing

But that doesn't mean a DNA test doesn't have its benefits, and it can still give you vital clues when it comes to caring for your cat. Only by knowing her breed(s) can you make sure to pay attention to, and even prevent, certain conditions she may be prone to.

So far, around 250 hereditary diseases have been identified for cats and, because purebred cats come from a smaller gene pool, they can be at higher risk of contracting them. While a DNA test can never replace a diagnosis by your vet, knowing what's in your cat's genes means you can look for symptoms more effectively. For example, polycystic kidney disease (one of the most common hereditary diseases) disproportionally affects Persian cats. Many other breeds are more susceptible to heart disease such as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, eye conditions like progressive retinal atrophy, and diabetes.

Which test should you choose?

While DNA testing for cats is growing, there are currently only a few reputable firms on the market. Which test you choose also depends entirely on what you'd like to find out about your cat. Some tests will simply identify the breed (and wildcat) genes present in your pet's make-up, but others can offer tests for genetic diseases and traits – which is always useful to know alongside your annual health checks.

If you're unsure which option to go for, contact the company before buying a kit and make sure to question them about their database, as well as how their pricing works.

DNA testing: one owner's experience

'I adopted my cat, Casper, when he was a year old, and I was interested in getting his DNA tested because he's unlike any cat I've ever met,' explains owner Jessica. 'He's very laid back and adapts quickly to new situations. In fact, he's almost dog-like!'

The testing company Jessica chose requires a swab of a cat's saliva, as well as a hair sample. 'Casper has a lot of fur, so he was perfectly fine with having a small section trimmed off for a sample. But it was much harder to get him to sit still for the saliva swab,' she says. 'The results also took quite a long time to come back. The company currently promises a result within two to six months, but is working to reduce that to six to eight weeks.

'The test showed that Casper is a mixture of Domestic Shorthair, Ragdoll and Egyptian Manu. The report couldn't say what percentage of each breed he is, but the testing company has promised to keep me updated as the science develops. They're also working on a health index, alongside wellness and trait profiles, so we'll eventually be able to find out much more about Casper's genes.

'I'm glad we did the test, as it was fun to find out more about Casper's breed background. He's definitely closest to the Ragdoll in size and personality, but looks more like a domestic shorthair. And, even if the science is still in its early stages right now, it can provide vital information to take even better care of your cat.'

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