Ask My Vet is a series based on questions I have—and maybe you do, too—about dogs. Katniss’ veterinarian, Dr. Katharine Kennedy of Arbor Animal Clinic here in Austin, provides answers and expertise as a part of this series.
Question: Should I get a DNA test for my dog? How much to they cost?
Most people who ask about DNA testing for their dogs are talking about finding out what breed(s) their dog is with greater certainty than just looking at his or her appearance. This is a fun idea and a definite bonanza of moneymaking for the companies that offer it. Although I haven’t tested my own rescue, The Fabulous Miss Penny Lane, yet I am absolutely curious to know what her results would be.
How does DNA breed testing work? The test looks for a pattern of genetic markers, or genotype, that are typical for each breed compiled in the company’s database. A variety companies do this testing using either a cheek swab or blood sample: Wisdom Panel, VetGen, AKC, and UC Davis College of Veterinary Medicine, among others.
How much does it cost? Prices vary by type of test and company, but as an example the basic Wisdom Panel is $85.
Is it accurate? THIS is the golden question. It’s definitely not a perfect science, and the technology is absolutely still under development. I strongly caution folks not to make medical decisions based on genotyping results. I also caution that these companies will not stand behind their results in a court of law. This has been a big issue with bully breeds, purebred breeders and “hypoallergenic” breeds.
What other genetic tests are there? Lots! In the dog world we can test to certify parentage for registered purebred dogs, essentially a doggie paternity test. We can look for specific genetic abnormalities such as hereditary cataracts, neurological diseases and blood-clotting abnormalities. We can look for a specific genetic mutation, MDR-1, that causes sensitivities to common drugs in herding breeds such as border collies.
What about other species? Genetic testing is used very frequently in equine and cattle breeding. We can also test elk for a contagious prion disease called Chronic Wasting Disease. We can test wolves, pigs, alpacas, salmon, bison, deer and even yak for a variety of reasons. You can even send in a chunk of unidentified meat and find out what species it came from.
Anything crazy and wild they can do? Not a genetic feat per se but fascinating that someone spent the time to figure this out: the DogPile ID test. Some homeowners associations and apartment complexes now require you to submit a cheek swab of your pooch upon signing your contract. If they find a poo pile in the communal lawn that you did not pick up they submit the sample to the lab and match it to the owner, resulting in a fine to the dog’s owner. Talk about a hotly debated topic!
Should you spend your hard-earned money on breed testing? Sure—but just for fun, not for medical reasons.