Do you have a mixed-breed dog and constantly wonder what combination of breeds went together to create your uniquely awesome canine? Does that curly hair prove it is part Poodle, or do the big ears mean a relative was a Basset Hound? Maybe you asked your vet and groomer and received different guesses. If so, that is not surprising. A 2009 study funded by the National Canine Research Foundation found that when they showed dog photos to over 5,700 pet professionals, only 27% of the dogs were identified correctly.
More and more pet parents are turning to dog DNA tests to finally answer the “what breed is it” question. There are a lot of different tests on the market, so how do you know what is the most accurate dog DNA test? The dog DNA test accuracy largely depends on the size of the company’s breed database and how many DNA markers (data points) your dog’s sample will be compared against.
What is DNA?
DNA is short for deoxyribonucleic acid, a long molecule that carries the unique genetic blueprint information about an organism. You have probably seen graphical images of DNA showing how it is made up of two linked strands twisted around each other that look like a ladder. Making up the rungs of the ladder is a backbone of adenine (A), cytosine (C), guanine (G) or thymine (T), referred to as ACGT. The order and sequence of ACGT determine everything about the dog, such as his fur color, how tall the dog will be, the color of his eyes and even potential health issues. This unique combination of ACGT is the dog’s complete set of genetic information, commonly called the genome.
In 2005, the first complete domestic canine genome sequence was documented and published by the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. According to senior author Eric Lander, director of the Broad Institute and a professor of biology at MIT, “The incredible physical and behavioral diversity of dogs — from Chihuahuas to Great Danes — is encoded in their genomes. There are 2.5 million genetic differences among different breeds of dogs.” This study also revealed that a dog’s genome sequence helps determine what genetic contributors, such as cancer or other significant diseases, can affect certain breeds.
How do you collect a dog’s DNA?
Collecting your dog’s DNA is as easy as taking a swab of your dog’s cheek. DNA kits typically provide a cotton swab that you put against the inside of the dog’s cheek that you roll and rotate around to collect cells. After letting it dry for a few minutes, you put the swab back in the sleeve and mail it to the company in the provided prepaid mailing envelope.
According to Dr. Adam Boyko, the chief science officer and founder of DNA Embark, once the sample arrives at the lab, the dog’s DNA is separated from the other parts of the cells. This is achieved by washing the cells over a research-grade microarray (a microscope slide that grabs the actual DNA) to analyze it. Using a computer, your dog’s genetic code is compared to genetic makers of purebred dogs to determine your dog’s breed(s). Results are typically sent over email or by mail in two to four weeks and are usually divided into percentages based on the dog’s breed composition.
How accurate are dog DNA tests?
Dog DNA test accuracy largely depends on the size of the company’s breed database and how many DNA markers (data points) your dog’s sample will be compared against to determine his breed(s). Also, each company has different proprietary methodologies to calculate these results.
Some DNA tests also analyze for inherited diseases in the dog’s genome. This is done by looking for specific genetic sequences associated with certain diseases. A DNA test can only warn of the possible risk, not the certainty of your dog acquiring the disease. The test can tell you if your dog may be predisposed to a certain medical condition, but it doesn’t mean your dog will necessarily come down with that condition.
Also, the dog DNA testing industry lacks long-term scientific studies of mapping genetic variants to the risk of diseases. There are limited peer-reviewed studies to validate the data and a lack of funding to conduct this follow-up research. For these reasons, it is important to not make medical decisions based solely on a dog’s DNA test results. If you have any concerns about your dog’s risk for certain diseases based on a DNA test, you should consult your veterinarian.
Which dog DNA test should I purchase?
Deciding on the best DNA test for your dog can be confusing as there are many choices. Not only are there several companies offering dog DNA tests, but some companies offer multiple types of tests to choose from. Here are several factors to consider when selecting your kit.
- Your budget – Costs can range from as little as $68 to over $200 based on how extensive the testing is.
- The DNA test accuracy – Depending on the brand, dog DNA test accuracy for breed identification can range from 90% to 99%.
- The company’s breed reference database – A basic test can compare your dog’s DNA against at least 95 breeds to more than 350 based on the company’s proprietary database.
- Medical conditions and dog traits – For some brands, medical condition testing is a part of the basic test, while for others, it is an additional cost.
- Veterinarian consultations – Based on the results, you may have questions. Some brands have veterinarians you can contact for a consultation.
Once you have decided on your budget and what features are important to you, there are plenty of dog DNA tests to choose from. Below are details on some of the most prominent ones to help you decide on the most accurate test for your needs.
DNAmydog.com – starts at $68.99. The results are returned within two weeks and include a custom certificate with your dog’s photo stating his unique DNA composition. Also available for purchase are a geriatric age test and an allergy test.
Easy DNA – starts at $79. This company offers various animal (and human) DNA testing services. Results take two to three weeks from receipt of the samples by its lab. Results are compared against its DNA database, which comprises over 95 breeds of dogs, plus 350 breeds are offered for $109. For an additional fee, it also has disease testing, inherited disease and trait testing and allergy testing.
Embark Vet – starts at $109. Results arrive in two to four weeks. This test checks against over 230,000 genetic markers and screens over 210 genetic health risks. You may also be able to research your dog’s family tree and determine your dog’s relatives in the canine relative finder application. Embark Vet also has breed and health kits and purebred testing kits. Certain tests include a consultation with an Embark geneticist veterinarian.
OniVet — starts at $119. This test screens for genetic diseases, coat colors, breed traits and parent confirmation. The standard test compares your dog’s DNA to over 350 breeds and will give an adult weight prediction for puppies. Test results are posted online in two to three weeks. Also available is a health add-on that tests over 220 health risks and over 40 physical traits. Other tests include the mycobiome and purebred DNA tests.
Wisdom Panel — starts at $99.99. The results are ready in three weeks. This kit screens for over 350 breeds, 25 medical conditions and over 35 traits. This company has the world’s largest breed reference database. The premium kit includes 180 additional health tests and a veterinarian consultation for any notable health findings.
No matter what your dog’s DNA test reveals (and if you agree with the accuracy of the results), these tests are a fun and great way to learn more about your pup, their likely personality traits, and why they behave the way they do.