Dog DNA Tests: What You Need To Know

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In a survey done by the ASPCA, approximately 3.3 million dogs enter U.S. animal shelters per year. With about 25% of these dogs being purebreds, that leaves a substantial amount of rescue dogs with mixed heritage! Increased interest in pet adoption through rescues and shelters leaves many owners wondering what their pup is a combination of. Does your canine companion have spots? Ears that are pointed? Floppy? These attributes can all indicate their genetic makeup.

What Can DNA Tests Show?

Canine DNA testing has opened many doors into the wonders of dog genetics. The tests can provide information on breed breakdowns and, in some products, an analysis of health predictions and age.

Breed Breakdown

Dog DNA tests are popular due to their ability to analyze a dog’s genetic composition and deliver the breed percentage found in their sample. One pet parent used the Embark DNA test to test her six year old mutt, Kayden, and found some surprising results! While she thought he was a mix of some Pit Bull, others had guessed everything from Border Collie to Great Dane, Pointer, and Lab. Seeing as he was found as a stray in the middle of the Utah desert, it was truly difficult to nail down a realistic combination.

Kayden’s DNA test reported that he was a mix of American Staffordshire Terrier (one of several breeds that fall into the Pit Bull group), Cattle Dog, and Golden Retriever. While his spots, coloring, and body were indicative of the first two breeds, the latter was rather shocking to his mom!

Additionally, the report provided support regarding his mysterious background. Embark detailed out Kayden’s haplogroup (in layman’s terms where his mother’s and father’s families originated, perhaps even 10,000 years ago). It tests for wolf and village dog lines and screens for inbreeding. It also provides images of other dogs with similar results so that you can learn more about the proposed breeds.

If you’d like to flip through Kayden’s results they’re viewable here.

Genetic Predispositions

In some DNA tests, such as the Embark DNA test, it can take you even deeper than your dog’s breeds. Rather, it offers more information on their health issues. Embark can test for over 160 genetic health conditions in addition to a detailed outline of what it could mean for your pet.

In Kayden’s case, his mom was made aware of his risk for thyroid problems and that he was a carrier for a progressive retinal atrophy (PRA). Luckily, at seven years old, Kayden passed his health inspection with flying colors.

This type of information is remarkably useful as it can allow pet parents to recognize potentially dangerous health ailments in their animals. Imagine knowing if your dog had multi-drug sensitivity that could cause seizures or coma so you could make an informed decision about how to treat their parasites or cancer. Think of how much it could help your vet to know that your dog was at risk of early cataracts or spinal cord problems. The information this test provides isn’t just a cute novelty. It could actually add years to your dog’s quality of life.

Genetic Age

Other DNA tests, like DNA My Dog, offer canine genetic age tests in addition to their breed analysis. It is designed to determine the genetic age of your dog. Genetic, or biological, age is different than chronological or actual age in that genetic age “gives insight into the predicted longevity of your dog from a cellular level”.

They test for their genetic age by measuring the length of the canine’s telomeres, the dynamic, protective caps on the ends of rDNA strands that tend to shorten with age. This telomere length represents your dog's biological age as opposed to your dog's chronological age. Intense trauma or stress can cause a canine’s telomeres to shorten faster than normal.

The genetic age tool can be a great advantage and sign of your pet’s health. If the results are on the higher end, you can begin to investigate what could be causing their genetic age versus actual age discrepancy. Factors such as obesity, underlying health issues, and breed-specific ailments can all lead to an older genetic age.