Reviewed and updated on March 5, 2020, by Dr. Katie Grzyb, DVM
Many pet parents decide to adopt a dog from a shelter or a rescue group with little to no information about their background, breed, or history.
This comes with an upside and a downside. It can be a rewarding and fun experience learning the quirks of your pet. But you miss out on important medical history, and you might wonder what breed your dog is and what size they’ll be fully grown.
Even though you can’t get your dog’s previous medical records or information about their past, you can find out what breed your dog is with a DNA test. And this can give you some valuable info beyond just knowing what type of dog you have.
What Can You Learn From Dog DNA Tests?
Several companies that specialize in canine genetic testing have created dog DNA test kits. Through DNA testing, you can learn more about your dog, starting at the cellular level. This is the only way to truly know what breed your dog is.
These tests evaluate the gene conformation of your pet and give results of their breed composition, average age in human years, and estimated weight at full growth. They can even identify certain genes that can lead to illness.
Determining Your Dog’s Breed
Dog DNA test kits are easy to use, and it’s something you can do at home. You just need to swab your dog’s cheek and then mail the cheek swab to the lab specified. Then you create an account online to track the results of the test. Most results are available online in two to four weeks.
The test screens for 250 or more dog breeds, compares your dog’s genes to an extensive database, and gives you the results with percentages of each breed. These tests can trace your dog’s ancestry back three generations, to their grandparents.
With some mixed-breed dogs, it can be difficult to determine all of their breeds, so oftentimes there is an “other” category in the results. As these companies perform more and more DNA tests on dogs, the accuracy of the results continues to improve.
Determining the Breeds of Shelter Dogs
Genetic testing can also be of use to animal shelters. A study published in The Veterinary Journal found that half the “Pit Bulls” in Florida shelters actually had no DNA related to Staffordshire Bull Terriers, American Pit Bull Terriers, or any other breeds lumped into the Pit Bull category of breeds.
Perceptions of Pit Bull Terriers is a touchy, complicated subject, but dog breed tests can help shelters avoid placing a stigmatized label on dogs that struggle to be adopted.
On the other side, dogs that might be Pit Bull mixes might also have several other breeds in their mix. This information might work in their favor as well. Of course, there are many biases placed on dogs due to their breed, so education is also key.
Identifying Health Risks Based on Breed
One of the benefits of DNA testing is that it can help determine certain chromosomal abnormalities that can lead to illness. You can bring your dog’s DNA results to your veterinarian to discuss potential health risks based on breed identification and possible genetic mutations.
Genetic Mutations (MDR1)
A client brought her mixed-breed dog to me for evaluation after she ran a DNA test and found that her dog was 15% Border Collie. The test revealed a genetic mutation of the multi-drug resistance gene (MDR1).
This gene mutation causes neurologic side effects from an anti-parasitic drug called ivermectin, the main ingredient in many heartworm preventatives. It was imperative for the owner to know to avoid this medication because it could cause undesirable side effects.
Another example of how DNA testing can help inform preventative care is the story of Aggy. After performing a dog DNA test, Aggy’s owner discovered that her dog is a gene carrier for dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), the second most common type of heart disease in canines.
It is a condition of the heart where the muscles stretch, leading to enlargement and thus weakening the heart itself. If left untreated, it can be fatal. This information is essential, because now Aggy’s veterinarian monitors him closely for any changes in heart rhythm and size, thus preventing a shorter life span.
Dog DNA tests give a little more insight into your dog’s background and breed mix. And being aware of a potential medical condition before you see any signs is a benefit for your pet and you.
Whether you want to dive into your dog’s history or provide the best preventative medicine for your pet, DNA testing is an exciting option.
Dr. Katie Grzyb, DVM, is the medical director and co-owner of Skyline Veterinary Specialists in Matthews, NC.
Read more: The Hidden Benefits of DNA Testing for Dogs
Featured Image: iStock.com/Lux Blue