DNA tests have been on the rise for humans and dogs alike, as people look to understand their own genetic history, as well as that of their dogs. It can be a fascinating way to discover more about what makes your dog tick, especially if he was a rescue dog that you may have little information about, but is it really worth the cost and effort?
The answer to the question of whether or not it is worth getting a DNA test for your dog is, “It depends.” It depends on your reasoning, the type of test that you choose, and how much you are willing to spend.
What are the benefits to DNA testing for your dog?
For mixed breed dogs, especially those that may be rescue dogs, it can be very helpful to know what breeds have come together to make your unique pet. Because each breed can have its own behavioral and health characteristics, gaining an understanding of your dog’s background can help you provide for him more effectively. For example, understanding the lively and fearless traits of my Vizsla mix helps me make sure that she has plenty of activity to keep her engaged. These types of behavioral characteristics for a breed can also aid in training. Certain breeds will respond better to particular training methods. Simply put, the more you know about your dog’s breed, the better you will be able to cater to his or her unique needs.
Understanding potential health risks for a breed can also help you work effectively with your vet to keep your dog healthy for years to come. It can also be advantageous if you are considering breeding your dog, as some genetic conditions may be passed on to their puppies. Beyond mere breed health risks, some tests will look for specific genetic mutations indicating potential conditions or risks. In some cases you may receive a personalized health plan that you can share with your vet in planning medical needs. If your dog’s results happen to come back showing a genetic marker for a particular condition, be aware that it doesn’t necessarily mean that your dog has that condition. It is simply an opportunity to discuss the result with your vet, and help you to know what to watch for in case the condition develops.
So, understanding your dog’s breed can certainly be advantageous in understanding behavior and health risks. The challenge is that relying on simply looking at a mixed breed dog in order to determine which breeds contributed to his particular look and personality will give you only partial insight, at best. In many cases, even experienced professionals are challenged to accurately guess just one breed present in a mixed breed dog. That’s where the science of DNA testing can come in, to fill gaps and help you gain a more thorough understanding of your pet.
Are the results accurate?
Technology advancement in genetic panel screening has driven companies and individuals alike to feed their curiosity in understanding the genetic makeup of themselves and their pets. Most companies offering DNA test kits for dogs indicate that they can test for more than 100, or up to 350, breeds with an accuracy of 95% to 99%. Not all tests are equivalent, however. There are some tests that are very limited in their scope, in the range of breeds or the amount of information for which they test. The more breeds that a company has in their database, the higher levels of accuracy they are able to achieve. Make sure you do your research before purchasing a kit to see if it can effectively meet your desired outcomes.
Additionally, when considering accuracy, recognize that if your dog is very mixed, coming from many breeds, the results will show multiple breeds with small percentages contributing to the total, but may not accurately identify all the breeds contributing to your unique pooch. The results are much more accurate for for purebreds, or mixes whose parent or grandparent was a purebred, coming from a more common breed. If your dog’s breed is more rare, even if he is a purebred, you are not likely to get an accurate result, unless that breed happens to be in the company database.
It is important to be aware that some scientists have criticized companies offering DNA testing for dogs because of a lack of understanding of methodologies being used. There are no clear standards in place for companies that offer the tests, and therefore, they should not be seen to be as reliable as genetic testing performed on people. The various suppliers of these tests may have differing methods that they employ to determine results, some potentially being more accurate than others. Because many of these companies are unwilling to divulge their methodologies, they have not had a fair peer review. Again, it is always important to do a little research before you make your purchase, and consider that that results may not be fully reliable. Some experts warn particularly that you should not start making medical decisions for your dog strictly based on genetic testing. Use information provided as a basis for talking to your vet, but be aware of potential inaccuracies.
How long does DNA testing take?
Conducting a DNA test for your dog is easy and can take under a minute. It’s typically as simple as swabbing the inside of your dog’s cheeks. In order to get an accurate sample, you will want to make sure that your dog does not eat or drink, or come in contact with other dogs for two hours prior to conducting the test. Also, be aware of toys that may be within his reach if you have multiple dogs in the house. That will help avoid cross-contamination. Once you send the sample in for testing, you can expect results in about 2 weeks, or up to 6 weeks, depending on the company.
What is the risk of testing?
The biggest risk is in the realm of misjudgment due to inaccurate results. For example, if a dog is said to have DNA that is from a breed that is considered aggressive, like a pit bull for instance, the dog may no longer be welcomed in the family. Because the testing process is not always 100% accurate, this breed determination may not be based on truth. Furthermore, because you do not have control about what is done with the information, there is potential for this breed information to be released, creating negative consequences within communities that may not welcome that particular breed, or an inability to get insurance for a dog breed that may have known health challenges.
There are further risks of inaccuracy when it comes to health screening results. You may get poor medical advice based on results of the test leading to a whole range of potential consequences. That may include extra veterinary costs or potentially poor medical decisions that may do more harm than good for your dog.
Are DNA tests expensive?
Depending on what the test is offering, you can find DNA tests for your dog ranging from $67 to $339. Many of the less expensive tests may have limited breed database information to provide results, limiting the accuracy. Also, be aware that not all tests include health screenings. Make sure that you research the test you are considering before you buy to make sure you know what you are getting. When possible, read the reviews from others who used it to gage their experiences. Also, keep in mind that many advanced DNA tests can give a pretty accurate description of what your dog looks like, simply by looking at the genetic markers. If a testing company is asking for your dog’s picture up front, you may want to look a little deeper before buying.
Is it worth it?
DNA testing for your dog can be a wonderful way to explore your dog’s unique genetic makeup while gaining an understanding of behaviors and potential health risks. It is important, however, to do some research before choosing a test in order to understand what you will be getting with your results. Because the industry is still young, and standards have yet to be developed, interpret the information that you receive with a critical eye, not assuming that it is 100% true. Be careful about making significant decisions regarding your dog strictly based on genetic reports. With that said, enjoy the fun that it can be to learn some more about your precious pooch.