Dog and Cat Genetics: Everything You Need to Know

5 min read


The Role of Genes in Illness


Genetics are also behind many of our pets’ illnesses. In dogs, common genetic-influenced diseases include allergies, hip dysplasia, heart disease, eye disorders, slipping kneecaps and some cancers. In cats, these include idiopathic cystitis (a type of feline bladder disease), diabetes, allergies, heart disease, cystic kidney disease, eye disorders and certain cancers.


With this in mind, if you are planning to breed your pet, it is imperative to perform DNA tests on both parents to increase the odds that the offspring will be healthy. A range of testing options are available—from simple cheek swabs to blood samples—and pet parents should work with their veterinarians to decide which tests are appropriate and necessary.


“It is not ethical to breed dogs and cats without selection of healthy breeding stock,” stresses Bell. “It doesn’t matter whether someone only breeds one litter in their lifetime or is a commercial breeder. It is not acceptable to blindly produce preventable genetic diseases that will cause pain and suffering to the animals and their owners.”

If you are purchasing a new pet, you can also do your part to encourage responsible breeding. Bell recommends asking for official documentation of health testing of the parents, and not settling for less.


“Some breeders will give excuses and say that their dogs or cats are healthy and don’t need testing, that testing is expensive, or that they offer a health guarantee,” he says. “A health guarantee that will replace your family member with another puppy or kitten if they develop a genetic disease is not an acceptable alternative to preventing disease.”


Raising Happy, Healthy Pets


Understanding the history and potential health problems of your pet’s breed can help you make smart choices when it comes to training and healthcare, and genetic testing can provide valuable information.


“For instance, testing a dog for blood clotting disorders or disorders of drug metabolism can determine if your dog may be at risk of life threatening complications during surgery,” Carl says. “Knowledge that a dog is affected allows owners to make informed decisions about what activities might need to be avoided in an effort to keep their dog happy and healthy.”


The bottom line: no one knows your pet better than you, but there’s still lots to learn. And when it comes to your best friend, the more you know, the better.