By Dr. Alexandra Barrientos, DVM, Earth Angels Veterinary Hospital
Photo courtesy of Laurie Szostak
As a veterinarian, I’m often asked if canine DNA testing has any merit or if it is just another fad. Like the science behind DNA testing itself, the answer is not quite so simple. There are several factors to consider, among them cost, accuracy, the type of sample required, collection method and the way in which results are reported. With so many companies offering canine DNA testing, which has been available since 2007, how does the average owner go about researching and then choosing the right test?
To get the most out of your results, it’s important that you first determine your goal(s)— what do you want/need to find out about your canine companion? Are you simply trying to end the “breed debate” that your furry companion creates among family and friends with his or her blended characteristics? Maybe you are questioning the pedigree given by your breeder, as your dog looks nothing like the parents or breed description. Or are you perhaps trying to discover the possibility of inherited ailments in order to discuss this information with your veterinarian?
The first thing to consider is that although canine DNA tests can typically identify the majority of canine breeds, a dog with a very mixed breed heritage will not be clearly identified as belonging to any one specific breed (“Dog DNA Tests: Why Your Mutt’s Makeup Matters,” Web MD Pet Health Feature Archive, 2015). The end result can be less than clear with regard to genealogy and nutritional recommendations. However, when looking for actual genetic markers for inherited diseases and mutations, the markers will either be present or not regardless of the number of breeds your dog comprises.
The second thing to know is that there are two types of DNA tests—a swab test using an oral sample, and a blood- based test. While swab tests do vary with respect to the breadth of their DNA breed database, the larger databases (over 100 breeds) do give a more detailed breed makeup of the pet, and some even provide a picture of what your dog may look like based on his or her DNA contribution. However, since each company’s test draws from a different breed database, sending your dog’s sample to different companies may produce different results (“Which DNA Test Should You Choose to Settle the ‘What’s in the Mix’ Questions,” The Bark, 10/08 issue). The advantages of a swab-based sample test include ease of collection, the ability to be conducted at home and the wide range of prices that make them affordable for many owners.
While the owner performs a swab test, blood-based DNA tests require a veterinarian to collect the sample. By virtue of being performed by a professional in a medical setting, the chances of contamination or inadequate sample size are reduced. Many blood-based tests can also provide an owner with comprehensive information beyond the “most likely breed” result. The Genetic Health Analysis, by the Royal Canin company, formerly known as the Wilson Panel, offers a lot more bang for your buck (“DNA Testing for Dogs—Does It Really Work?” article at www. propetfix.com, April 2014).Their analysis includes separate sections, encompassing the most likely breeds in your dog going back three generations, explanations of breed history and traits, nutritional recommendations, a genetic ancestry certificate and testing for 13 inherited diseases and 27 breed- specific mutations. Results are then shared with your veterinarian for appropriate follow-up and explanation.
Dr. Alexandra Barrientos is the founder/owner of Earth Angels Veterinary Hospital in Wappingers Falls. A graduate of Cornell’s School of Veterinary Medicine, she advocates a least-toxic, natural approach toward the health of small animals, and their people too, via the integration of cutting-edge allopathic medicine with alternative medicine. You can reach her at 845.227.P-A-W-S (7297) or by visiting www.earthangelsvet.com. █