Should You Get a Dog DNA Test?
With the popularity of human DNA testing, it was only a matter of time before that curiosity extended to our four-legged friends. Nothing should benefit man that shouldn’t also benefit man’s best friend, after all.
The goal with testing dog DNA, though, is a little different from human testing, which is mostly performed to find out about your ancestry and family heritage. The typical desire with dog DNA kits is to pinpoint exactly what breeds of dogs are inside your mutt. It’s a question that plagues some dog owners/guardians—and one that ultimately isn’t that important, to be perfectly honest. A mixed-breed mutt’s going to have fewer genetic problems, due to its lack of inbreeding.
There’s another goal, though, that is discussed less, yet is arguably more important. DNA tests can also check your companion animal for a variety of gene-specific diseases or disorders—in other words, genetic mutations. Your dog could be a carrier of these illnesses, or be at risk of developing the full-blown disorder. DNA tests can rule that out—or expose a disease before it’s a problem.
We looked at three dog DNA test services to see how they worked, evaluating them for their ease of use, presentation of data, and ability to match even their own test results with consistency. The list includes Wisdom Panel Premium, Embark Dog DNA Test (Breed Health Kit), and DNA My Dog.
Why Bother Testing Your Dog’s DNA?
For most people, the main reason to test is to be able to point at your dog and say, “Oh, she’s a mix of this breed and that breed.” It can serve as a confirmation that your expensive dog is indeed the purebred (or designer hybrid) that you paid for.
We can’t stress enough that this is mostly meaningless. You’re not going to find your dog’s long-lost relatives. Well, except for users of Embark, a service that’s added a “Relatives” tab to its results that shows other dogs in the database with shared DNA. You can’t suddenly prove your dog is a purebred and petition the American Kennel Club (AKC) to let you register. (You can opt for AKC Purebred Alternative Listing (PAL) registration instead, to get your hound into AKC run events, but that doesn’t require a DNA test.)
no longer sells a dog DNA test claimed to have been used in a court case to show that a dog that was going to be euthanized for the “crime” of being a pit bull didn’t, in fact, have any pittie in him.
As mentioned earlier, the most important aspect of dog DNA testing is the genetic mutation/health checks that ensure your dog doesn’t have potential issues. We spoke at length about DNA tests with a veterinarian, Dr. Jenneka McCarty, V.M.D. She said the thing she likes about the tests is that “there are things you can rule out, like dogs with neurological issues, say if they have a negative [test] for degenerative myelopathy, that gives you very specific info. You can say, ‘It’s not this.'”
That said, she questions how prevalent the genetic problems tested by these kits are in the real world. “They’re genetic diseases. Not, for instance, diabetes, which is acquired,” she said, and listed off some others maladies. “Probably a lot of what they screen for is very rare.”
That said, we’d still argue it’s the strongest reason to use a dog DNA test. The expensive ones test for 150 to 165 genetic issues. Wisdom Panel also sells a less expensive $99 version that only checks breed info. DNA My Dog offers genetic screening tests separately for $139.99 for over 100 tests.
got 23andMe in trouble before it received approval in 2015). But Wisdom Panel advertises that its lab is USDA-accredited to keep up quality control.
Wisdom Panel and Embark both claim to test for more than 350 breeds. Embark also checks on how much dingo, coyote, and wolf are in your pet. DNA My Dog is at the low end with 95.
The companies can all add more breeds in the future. With the popularity of designer dogs—a hybrid between two purebreds—Dr. McCarty says there may never be a cap on breeds. Eventually what used to be a mixed breed could be looked at as a purebred.
How We Test Dog DNA Kits
We tested each kit three times. Once on a purebred Golden Retriever (named Griffin), and twice more on the same mixed-breed dog named Madison. I also performed a test on a pitbull pup named Clark that lives in my office, so I could check out the new data format on Wisdom Panel for 2020.
DNA My Dog didn’t fare well. Embark and Wisdom Panel managed to more-or-less match when it came to looking at Madison’s genetic makeup, with only one of them (Wisdom Panel) managing an exact percentage-of-breeds replication on two tests.
Both expensive tests pegged Madison as a carrier for a neurological disorder. As a spayed female it’s no big deal, but the health results could be important for you and your dog.
This is a space with few choices (one we tested last year, DNAffirm, appears to no longer be sold), so take a close look at each review before making a purchase.
Once you have Fido tested, if you’d like to take a look at your own genetic background, check out our roundup of the best DNA testing kits for humans, as well as the best genealogy software and services.