With the recent surge in popularity of human DNA tests, it’s not surprising to see that the search for ancestral answers has extended to canine family members. The millions of rescue dogs-turned-pets in the U.S. imply just as many hereditary mysteries. Now when curious passersby ask, “What kind of dog is that?” you can do more than shrug and hazard a half-baked guess. Technological advance and a vast data source have made a simple at-home test insightful enough not only to identify the breeds present in your dog but also to provide health patterns associated with those breeds. So rather than just being trendy, obtaining a genetic profile of your dog will empower you to tend to his or her specific biological needs.
If you’re interested in pursuing a dog DNA test, there are several available options but only a few worth considering if you’re serious about getting accurate and actionable results.
The consensus pack leader is Embark. It utilizes the most data points and offers the most comprehensive test. In addition to sifting through over 350 breeds on record to determine from whence your pup came, an Embark Breed Identification Kit is the only test that includes a Relative Finder. This special feature alerts you of dogs that share DNA with your dog and gives you the means to reunite them if you so choose. Because of the thoroughness of its findings, this test sells at $129. For extra money, you can receive a Health Kit, which identifies breed-related health conditions and physical traits like coat, eyes, appetite, and potential body size. There are also packages specifically for breeders. After submitting your sample, you can expect a turnaround time of three to five weeks.
The runner-up is Wisdom Panel a service that also tests for a large number of breeds but ultimately produces results that are less refined, and therefore less accurate. Its Essential package rings in at $100 and offers ancestry, physical traits, and a report of any current medical complications. Its new Premium package ($160) includes additional health data such as potential health risks, genetic carrier status that could affect future puppies, and a follow-up guidance call from a veterinarian in the event of a remarkable medical finding.
In a case study, Better Housekeeping found that different test companies produce varying results from the same DNA source.
No matter which brand you select, the testing process is essentially the same. You’ll have to obtain a DNA sample from your dog via a cheek swab. (If there’s some resistance at first, it’s recommended to have treats on hand to reward compliant behavior. But dogs shouldn’t eat or interact with other dogs 30 minutes before taking the sample, as this could cross-contaminate it.) Then you mail the sample to a lab, where its genetic code is compared alongside genetic data of purebreds to determine which of these breeds are present in your dog.
As frivolous and bougie as it might seem at first blush, a DNA test can be a useful tool in responsible dog-owning. Even if dogs were somehow aware of their hereditary health conditions, they can’t communicate them. Knowing unique attributes and possible afflictions allows you to be proactive about caring for your dog’s individual needs. Just be sure to consult a veterinarian before making any major health decisions based solely on a DNA test’s findings.
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