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What do dog DNA tests show?
Most dog DNA tests provide information about breed makeup, ancestry, and health. They can predict dominant traits and characteristics, temperament, and how prone your dog may be to cancer and other diseases.
Having this information early on in a dog's life is critical. Consider the case of Labradors, where a common disease is hip dysplasia. Using a DNA test to help gauge the likeliness of your Lab suffering can help guide decisions you make when it comes to exercise, supplements, etc.
Are dog DNA tests accurate?
Dog DNA test accuracy has been a delicate topic since the products began getting mainstream attention. While owners seem to be overwhelmingly impressed by the results, scientists and veterinary professionals have voiced some discomfort.
The concerns raised are primarily around the lack of quality control enforcement for dog DNA tests. Since there is no overarching organization to enforce standards, the DNA testing companies are self-policing.
Dog DNA testing companies promote their accuracy as a selling point:
Embark boasts a 99.99% accuracy as a result of a proprietary DNA genotyping program that they have partnered with Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine on. This program uses over 200,000 genetic probes that they claim goes through stringent internal quality control.
I think it is important to consider the results you receive as one piece of the overall health profile of your dog. Owners should not rely solely on test results and should keep their veterinary physicians in the loop just as they would with our own human test results.
How are dog DNA tests done?
There are two primary ways that dog DNA tests can be done:
- Blood sample
- Saliva sample
Veterinary clinics will typically perform DNA testing by taking a blood sample. This is to ensure that enough DNA is collected to perform an accurate test, as the concentration of DNA in the blood is much higher than saliva.
At-home DIY kits use the Saliva sample as a method to allow any pet owner to perform the test. The means performing a simple cheek swab and results are generally available online in 2-4 weeks. This makes testing both harmless and painless for your dog and allows for affordable pricing.
Who makes at home DNA test kits for dogs?
The two most popular industry leaders for dog DNA tests are Wisdom Panel and Embark. I personally used Embark's Dog DNA kit and highly recommend their product due to ease of use, affordability, and the detailed results they provide.
Ease of use
DNA test kits from Embark are very user (and dog) friendly allowing for anyone to be able to use them. Kits can be ordered directly from their website and are shipped to you within a matter of days. Once received, the package contains all of the necessary information and tools needed to conduct the test. Test kits include:
- Step by step instructions
- A sealed, ready to use swab with a threaded cap at the end
- A threaded tube that the swab can be screwed into and safely secured
- Prepaid return envelope for lab delivery
The entire process from ordering the kit online, performing the test, and packaging up/sending the kit off takes less than 15 minutes!
The cost of knowing everything there is to know about your dog's ancestry and relatives, traits and temperament, health needs, and breed background is priceless. Considering that you can have all of that information for less than your annual shots visit, and it makes this a no-brainer.
Additionally, what you discover will likely pay for the test and then some. You can save thousands by mitigating health issues, allergies, or reducing the risk of future conditions.
Embark's results alert owners across four primary areas:
They don't spare any expense in providing in-depth information and providing the next steps for you to consider. I'll cover each of these areas in more detail below.
How to read Embark's test results
Typically when you're provided a massive amount of information, it often comes with a sense of being overwhelmed. This is farther from the truth with Embark's results.
While the amount of information provided is thorough it is organized in a way that is easy to digest.
In the health section, Embark will educate you on what the most common health issues are for your dog. They check for over 200+ genetic health risks. The results will list out different variants of conditions that are common and will alert you if your dog's DNA shows any signs of those variants.
Where a variant is present, you are able to click into it to understand the details of the variant. This includes any background, consequences, and likelihood of it being carried by other family members.
Lastly, there also is a nice feature where the details can be send directly to your Vet.
The Breed section can be quite fascinating for mixed breed owners. Since Embark has data on 350+ breed types and varieties, their results are extremely detailed. The results will show you the percentages of various breeds detected in your dog's DNA. This is especially helpful for rescue dog owners who may not have clarity in their dog's history.
Additionally, Embark's DNA testing is able to splice out both the paternal and maternal lines separately. This level of detail makes understanding the history a fun adventure for owners.
Finally, they classify the breeds into groups as a way to explain the known history of their lineage. Additionally, a geographical map is displayed to provide a visual origination location - a really cool feature!
The traits section is really cool, as it serves to show just how accurate the DNA readings really are. Here, Embark will list out physical features of your dog including:
- Base Coat Colors - this includes overall color, nose, feet,
- Coat Color Modifiers - subtleties in areas like facial hair color
- Other Coat Traits - shedding, texture, hairlessness, etc.
- Other Body Features - head and muzzle sizes, tail lengths, dew claws, eye color
- Body Size - self explanatory
- Performance - altitude change tolerances, appetite
- Genetic Diversity - is there inbreeding present?
Lastly, but possibly one of the coolest features of Embark, is the ability to see if your dog has relatives that have used Embark as well. It makes sense, right?
Since Embark has such a large database of DNA, it has the ability to detect related DNA patterns. This enables them to show you exactly what percentage DNA match your dog has with other dogs that have used their service.
Check out this video from Embark's Youtube channel where owners were able to reunite two siblings using this feature!
How long to get Embark DNA test results?
One of the biggest questions I had, when I used the Embark DNA test, was how long it would take for me to receive results. Therefore, before I purchased I did a quick poll in one of the dog groups that I'm a part of to see what people's experiences were. As a result, I found the following:
On average, it takes 2-4 weeks from the time the sample is received to receive your DNA test results back from Embark. This does not include the time to receive the kit, perform the test, and the shipping time of the swab back to Embark's testing lab.
This timeline appears to be in line with industry standards, and if you ask me is pretty incredible given the invaluable information you are provided!
How long it ACTUALLY took me to get my Embark DNA test results:
Here is the the actual timeline of events from the sample I sent off:
DateEventDays since testDays since received5/28/21Sample collected and shipped0N/A6/1/21Notification sample received406/6/21Notification that sample has reached testing lab and Step 1: DNA extraction to begin956/12/21Notification that Step 2: Genotyping starts15116/19/21Notification that Health results are ready22186/20/21Notification that Breed results are ready2319
So there you have it! 23 days from taking the sample including mailing time. Not bad!
Should you use dog DNA testing on a purebred dog?
Many people think that DNA tests are unnecessary for certified purebreds because their breed history is known. I would agree if the tests only provided that information. However, I've shown you that the Embark testing provides so much more.
DNA testing is still beneficial for purebred dogs. While breed history may be known with purebreds, health history and detailed ancestry information can still vary greatly. Additional benefits from DNA test providers such as locating dog relatives can also be enjoyed.
For such a little investment in the grand scheme of things, I believe all dog owners should enjoy this experience.
At the end of the day, Dog DNA tests are a great tool to help owners fully understand their dogs. This rings particularly true when it comes to crossbreeds or rescue dogs where a full history is unknown.
Test results themselves should not be solely relied upon to determine the best course of care for your dog. Results should be shared with your dog's veterinarian and can be used to help promote good health.
Additionally, there are some fun features that come along with DNA test kits. These can be explored to make the adventure of owning your dog that much more fulfilling!