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Vet's corner

Can DNA testing help to keep your pet healthy?


If your dog is a mixed breed, a DNA test can do more than just tell you about his lineage. It can also help you to care for his 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.


How did DNA testing for dogs come about?

DNA tests from archaeological sites show that humans have owned dogs for around 50,000 years. But while the idea of people having animals in their homes is ancient, testing a dogs DNA to find out more about their breed is relatively new for most owners. In fact, DNA tests for dogs only became available about 20 years ago, when American petcare company Wisdom started the canine genomics project in 1999. Since then, it claims to have tested more than 850,000 swabs of dog saliva – giving a typical owner access to the worlds largest database.

Other companies have taken a slightly different approach. For example, rather than building a huge database, Embark Vet has focused on collecting dog DNA from around the globe to create its library of 250 breeds. It has genetic information from coyotes, wolves and village dogs (dogs that existed before the modern breeds that we know today), which is especially useful for mixed breeds as it says it can even determine exactly where a village dog may have come from.

Which test should you choose?

Many firms now offer DNA testing for dogs, but this can come with big differences in price. While it may be tempting to buy the cheapest test kit available, keep in mind that this could affect the size and quality of the database against which your pets DNA is tested. Think of it is as going to a library to find your favourite book. Just as you wouldnt look for poetry in a science library, it also doesnt make sense to check your European rescue dogs DNA with a company that only holds samples from North American purebreeds.

Instead, a more comprehensive database, which holds information on the area you know your pet is originally from, is usually the best choice. If youre unsure, contact the company before buying a kit and make sure to question them about their database, as well as how their pricing works.

The benefits of DNA testing

Apart from curiosity, there is good reason to test your dog. Only by knowing his breed(s) can you make sure to pay attention to, and even prevent, certain conditions he may be prone to. For example, German Shepherds can develop hip problems and Huskies are prone to autoimmune disorders. While a DNA test can never replace a diagnosis by your vet, knowing whats in your dogs genes means you can look for symptoms more effectively.

DNA testing: one owners experience

Nina May recently adopted her dog, Goldie, from Romania. Curious as to which breeds her self-described 'mutt had in her genetic make-up, she ordered a test kit from a company that holds gene samples from south-east Europe.

'The test kits instructions were clear, and it was easy to carry out, Nina says. 'All I had to do was to ensure Goldie didnt chew on the swab that I swirled around her inner cheek for a minute.

'The company then kept me up to date with the tests progress, which took around six weeks. Goldies results showed that shes a European village dog, with English Cocker Spaniel and Pekingese as distant ancestors.

'I found it really useful to know that Goldie has a Spaniel component to her genes, Nina says, 'as that breed can be prone to an eye condition called progressive retinal atrophy. Having that information meant I could have Goldie tested. Thankfully, her results came back negative, but I would have been able to take the necessary steps very early on if the diagnosis had been positive.

The test also included results for a total of 165 other clinical conditions – when I showed it to my vet, all he could say was, “Wow, they really test for everything.” Knowing whats on the other end of your lead is not just satisfying, it can really help you take even better care of a pet you love.


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