Dr Trudie Prinsloo is a qualified veterinarian and attorney. In 2015, she started Legalvet Services to provide legal advice to the animal health and veterinary industries in South Africa and now she has teamed up with us to tell us more about dog DNA testing. While Dr Prinsloo is a qualified veterinarian, she cannot advise on genetic diseases and issues remotely. This blog is intended for informational purposes only and should in no way be regarded as a substitute for professional veterinary advice, diagnoses, or treatment plans.
dotsure.co.za is not responsible or liable for any advice or any other information provided herein. If you have questions about your pet’s DNA or potential genetic diseases or issues, the best course of action is to consult your veterinarian as soon as possible.
Dog DNA testing has become a fashionable thing! It is now possible to have your dog’s DNA tested, but it is possible to do it from the comfort of your couch. You can order a DNA test kit online, have it delivered to your house, take the sample yourself, return it to the laboratory, and wait for the results. When I first heard about these tests, the sceptic in me immediately thought it was just another moneymaking scam. But the more I investigated, the more excited and less sceptical I became. So, what can these tests tell us and how accurate are they?
What does it mean to do a DNA test?
DNA is the acronym for deoxyribonucleic acid (yes, it is difficult to pronounce, that’s why it’s just called DNA!), which is the genetic part of cells. After a sample is collected, the DNA can be examined in a laboratory to determine the genetic origin of the individual. It can also be used to identify any genetic disorders.
The clever geneticists tell us that 99% of the genes in all dogs are the same, which is why they are dogs. It is just about a 1% difference in the genes that lead to the various characteristics of the different breeds and other individual traits seen in dogs.
What information can we get from DNA testing?
Different laboratories and companies offer different types of tests. Here are some of the tests on offer:
- Breed identification determines if your pure-bred dog is as pure-bred as the breeder told you. It can help to identify the breed composition of a mixed breed dog.
- Your dog’s family tree can be traced back to its great-grandparents on a breed level.
- A relative match is a new service offered by one of the largest companies doing dog DNA testing in which they test against their database to identify any of your dog's relatives on their database.
- Evaluate any genetic health risks your dog may have, such as drug sensitivities, genetic eye diseases, or muscular disorders.
- Evaluation of the gut biome of your dog can help you understand how the microbes in your dog's gut affect its health.
- Genetic age testing determines your dog's genetic age by measuring the telomere length. This is a more accurate indication of how long your dog can live.
Where can it be tested?
Several local and international laboratories can do genetic testing. Not all laboratories offer the same tests. The type of tests you want to do and the reasons for testing will influence your choice of a laboratory. If you have a serious concern about genetic diseases, it will be best to work with your veterinarian and use their recommended laboratory. Such laboratories must be registered and accredited laboratories. But if you want to find out which breeds are in your mixed breed puppy’s DNA, you can choose any laboratory that offers the test. You can find local and international laboratories that offer dog DNA testing by doing a Bing or Google search.
How are the samples collected?
If you order a kit online to do the test at home, each test will give you clear instructions. It is surprisingly easy to do. The tests use saliva and involve either a swab or a small brush that is rubbed on the inside of the dog's mouth between the gum and cheek. The most difficult part is usually getting your dog to stay still while you are collecting the sample. Depending on the specific kit, the sample is either placed in a transport medium and closed or dried and placed in an envelope. After sealing it, it is sent to the laboratory in a pre-addressed envelope.
How accurate and reliable are these tests?
The accuracy of the tests will differ between the different laboratories and amongst the different types of tests. The most popular test done by private owners is breed identification. Some laboratories have a reference database of more than 350 breeds, while others only have about 60 breeds in their database.
The laboratory with the 350 breeds database will generally be able to provide more accurate results, but it is not always the case. For example, the Africanis, a locally recognised dog breed, is not found on any of the breed lists of the large international laboratories considered when we did research for this blog. If your dog is an Africanis or Africanis mix, results from those laboratories cannot be accurate. On the flip side, however, if the laboratory testing against 60 breeds would include the Africanis, it would be a far more accurate way to test an Africanis or Africanis mixed breed dog. Although comprehensive comparative studies could not be found, the anecdotal data suggests that the different laboratories usually identify at least the same dominant breeds in a mixed breed dog. Since identifying the breeds in a mixed breed dog is usually only done for our own information and as a bit of fun, the inaccuracies in these tests are harmless.
As the databases of the laboratories increase, the accuracy of these tests should also continue to increase.
The accuracy of testing for hereditary conditions is good, but the interpretation of those results is not always straightforward. Your veterinarian must be part of this process. One thing to remember is that even though a dog may carry a gene for a genetic disease, it does not mean it will be expressed.
Should you get your dog’s DNA tested?
DNA testing can be expensive, but there are situations where it can be very beneficial. One instance is if you or your veterinarian suspects a genetic disorder in your pet. Determining your dog's genetic age can tell you if you need to improve your dog's health habits. Knowledge of your dog’s gut biome can give you the necessary information to improve your dog’s health and increase its lifespan. Another reason to do DNA testing would be if you dispute the purity of a pure-bred dog that you bought or to determine who the father is. If you foresee a legal dispute, it would be prudent to involve your veterinarian from the beginning. Doing a breed identification of your mixed breed dog, may not be essential from a health perspective, but it can be a lot of fun. Let’s start using this technology to the advantage of our pets.