DNA Testing for Dogs: Hidden Benefits

Around ten years back, DNA testing kits began to appear in pet stores. This product can be a great help to those who have adopted shelter dogs and are curious about their legs: Is that the Dobermans? Does that Airedale ancestor have beardy facial hair? Is that ability to swim a result of Labrador Retriever DNA?

These tests are also useful diagnostic tools for vets. Genetics can cause many diseases and ailments. Some DNA sets may also affect a dog’s response to medication.

Identification of Genetic Health Risks

Breed identification and the detection of potential mutations that cause disease are two categories in which DNA tests for dogs can be classified. A DNA test can indicate if a particular condition is more likely to develop in the future, but it’s not conclusive. Tests for genetic mutations are much more accurate. Some of these tests are included in the DNA testing kits available over the counter.

Anna Kukekova is an assistant professor of animal sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She says that it may be worth testing for mutations known to cause disease that requires additional care from owners. Some breeds are prone to unique mutations.

Kukekova uses the example of progressive retinopathy (PRA), a genetic condition that is irreversible and largely incurable. It causes blindness. More than 100 breeds have been affected, though some are more susceptible. The first Gordon Setters were diagnosed with it. As vision disorders in dogs can have many causes, treatments, and prognoses, it is important to detect the PRA mutation in order to predict the dog’s future.

The combination of a dog’s breeds may make it necessary to know about diseases that affect the breed, says Los Angeles veterinarian Dr. Patrick Mahaney.

He says that herding dogs, such as shepherds or collies, are often carriers of a mutation in the MDR1 gene [also known as ABCB1], resulting in an increased risk for adverse drug reactions. Mahaney says that, from a care perspective, knowing whether a patient has a mutation in the MDR1 would give valuable insights into the possibility of adverse reactions.

The Dog DNA Kit: Everything You Need to Know

Online and in pet shops, several companies offer DNA tests for dogs. The price ranges from $60 up to $90. The higher-end tests are justified by the fact that they include genetic tests that can cause common diseases or have access to more breeds of dogs.

The majority of dog DNA tests require a swab that is placed in the mouth and then wiped on the inside cheek of the no-doubt confused mutt. The pet owner then mails the swab, in a protective bag included with the kit, back to the lab. After a couple of weeks, buyers receive a detailed report via email or mail detailing their dog’s probable breed.

Dog DNA testing can be used for other purposes.

Animal shelters can benefit from genetic testing as well. The Veterinary Journal published a study that found half of the dogs in Florida shelters were not Pit Bulls. They had DNA from other breeds, including American Pit Bull Terriers and Staffordshire Bull Terriers. The perception of Pit Bull Terriers can be a complex and touchy subject. However, it helps shelters stigmatize dogs who are already struggling to find homes.

A second use for dog DNA is forensics. Stephen J. Dubner, Steven D. Levitt and the Freakonomics podcast and books duo argued, in 2005, that New York City, which is home to the Freakonomics book series and podcasts, should maintain a database of dog DNA samples whose owners don’t pick up after their dogs and increase the fines for repeat offenders. Baltimore condo members proposed in 2010 to keep genetic samples from all their canine residents to be able to compare them with the droppings that were left. This is a practice that has been adopted by several American housing complexes as well as some local municipalities.