Long before I went into veterinary practice, my first dog was a “pound puppy” – a stray that had been picked up by the county animal control and was friendly enough to be put up for adoption at the local shelter. He was a mutt – a mixed breed with few characteristics that could identify what his parentage might have been. If only I could have purchased a DNA Test for Dogs back then!
My then newly adopted furry friend had big, floppy ears, black silky fur and a white spot right on his chest. He passed away years ago, and I often wonder what kind of mix he was after all. Border Collie-Labrador? Foxhound-Corgi-Shepherd? Our veterinarian back then had guessed Border Collie mix, but sadly the world will never know.
Today puppy parents can get a better idea about their adopted family member’s heritage. There are several dog DNA tests out on the market now that are quite advanced and can reach back pretty far into a canine’s genetic makeup. Even though as veterinarians we rarely have a reason to deal with this, I am personally fascinated by the study of canine genetics and how these technologies continue to progress.
They’re not just for mutts, and not only for fun, either. Dog DNA tests can help the owners of pure-bred dogs. They can be used to improve breeding programs and allow owners to be prepared for diseases that often show up later in the dog’s life. 40% of pure-bred dogs have genetic defects. The average pure-bred dog carries genes for 4-6 other genetically related problems that he himself may not have but can pass on to future generations. Here’s what you need to know about shopping around for DNA test for dogs.
ALSO READ: How to Accurately Use Dog DNA Tests
DNA Test for Dogs
the vet’s buying guide for pet owners
A Word on Banned Breeds
A word of warning before we proceed – most veterinarians urge pet owners to NOT view these tests as concrete evidence that their pet is one breed or another. Many pet owners are drawn to such tests in order to “prove” that their dog is – or isn’t – a particular breed.
For example, today many countries, counties, cities, military bases, insurance companies and even residential neighborhoods have a banned breeds list. Some mixed breed rescues and shelter dogs can resemble certain banned breeds. The most commonly banned breeds include:
- Pit Bull Terrier
- Doberman pinscher
- Staffordshire Terrier
- German Shepherd Dog
- Chow Chow
- Presa Canario
- Cane Corso
- Great Dane
- Alaskan Malamute
- Siberian Husky
Many owners invest in a DNA test for dogs to prove that their pup isn’t a mix of a breed that is banned. Often, this is a reaction to a complaint by a neighbor that thinks that the dog looks like a suspect on the banned dog breeds list.
DNA testing of these dogs can have mixed consequences and may not stand up if challenged in court. Likewise, dog DNA test results may or may not be sufficient evidence to convince an insurance company to insure your household. That is not to say that you shouldn’t use them, but rather to be more realistic about what the results actually are and not put all your eggs in one basket.
The DNA Test for Dogs Brands
Not every DNA test for dogs is the same. Some test for more breeds than others and cost can vary widely. I’m very familiar with all of them, but we’ll take a look at the most popular brands so you can decide which is best for your needs.
1. Embark Dog DNA Test
This is veterinarian’s favorite dog DNA test, called the Embark Dog DNA test, mostly because the company prioritizes scientific research and working with other professionals including animal geneticists and vets to ensure accuracy of their tests. It is readily available at many veterinarians and via the internet. One of the newer-generation dog DNA tests, this test has the right pedigree but is also the most expensive on the market.
Embark company has also partnered with Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine and uses a research-grade DNA microarray. This test’s strong science background has some benefits, but it also has some pitfalls, depending on what you want. Samantha has previously done two podcasts with one of the veterinarians at the company and their CEO Ryan Boyko (first and second) – I recommend those for anyone interested to know how these tests work. Below is what you should know about Embark dog DNA test before buying it.
- Simple cheek swab test
- Most advanced at-home test available
- Evaluates 200,000 genetic markers
- Includes genetic mutation testing for over…