Dog DNA Testing to Determine Breed
The American Kennel Club pedigree of Fallon Flights O’Fancy, an Irish Setter owned by Anne Schilling, is a mile long. The stunning purebred from Madison, Wis., justly holds his furry mahogany head high, but he isn’t snooty when he selects his friends. One such canine chum is Frank, a scruffy, shelter-rescued mutt that Fallon met at a dog park.
Unlike Fallon, Frank’s family history is a mystery. But thanks to new DNA testing procedures, Frank, and most mutts like him, can have their mixed breed ancestry deciphered. The tests are the scientific version of the best guessing game of all, “What kind of dog is that?” which has kept dog park walkers in conversation for years.
The DNA tests cannot reveal every bit of information about your dog, since genetic data isn’t available for every breed and mix, but even if you don’t receive a fully positive identification, at least some breeds can be eliminated.
Are Dog DNA Tests Accurate?
Dog DNA tests are able to identify the majority of known breeds. The major limitation is the number of breeds in the testing company’s database. The more breeds they have, the more accurate the results.
Most companies advise that their dog DNA test results are between 95%-99% accurate.
What is the Most Accurate DNA Test?
The companies of two leading dog DNA tests, Embark Dog DNA Test and Wisdom Panel Canine DNA Test, claim to have a very high accuracy rate of over 90%.
How Much is Dog DNA Testing?
Pricing for dog DNA test kits range from $70 – $170.
How Do You Do a DNA Test on a Dog?
One such DNA testing company is MetaMorphix Inc. of Beltsville, Md., whose cheek swab kit allows dog owners like you to test for about 38 breeds. To participate, you place the provided swab in your dog’s mouth and swish it around to coat it in saliva and mouth cells that hold DNA, a cellular material that contains the genetic instructions used in the development and functioning of your dog. A blood test from the Rockville, Md.-based Mars Veterinary, part of the same company that makes M&M’S candy, can detect more than 130 breeds. The American Kennel Club currently recognizes over 150 breeds, and the United Kennel Club recognizes 300 breeds, so there are inherent limitations to the current tests. As time goes by, though, these organizations will likely include more breeds, making the procedures more accurate and revealing.
Geneticists have identified over 300 DNA markers that help identify specific breeds. The recently mapped canine genome refers to the content and organization of genetic instructions for dogs sort of the protein recipe for canines. The ability to identify specifics in the canine genome gave birth to the breed DNA identification tests. “The more dogs these companies test, the more information they’ll have,” says Susan Nelson, DVM, of the Kansas State University’s Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital. “Hopefully that information will have medical relevance. Right now it’s mostly just for fun.”
Dog Family Surprises
Alexa Lewis of Los Angeles, Calif., decided it would be fun to test her two mixed breeds. She used the cheek swab test and felt that the results for her cordy a Chow Chow and Akita mix were accurate, but she was surprised about the results on her Golden Retriever mix, Riley. “Golden Retriever was eliminated for Riley even though they couldn’t tell us his primary breed. Riley has three breeds: Saluki, Dachshund and Labrador. That could explain his short legs.” Lewis plans to give Riley the blood test when they next visit his veterinarian.
Another dog owner who has tried out the new DNA testing is Cecilia Castillo of Tewksbury Township, N.J. She used the cheek swab on her purebred Border Collie and her two Border Collie mixes. The purebred’s came back as 100 percent Border Collie. “I knew Sally had to be a mix because she doesn’t act like a Border Collie, although she looks like one. I thought it would be cool to find out what was in Sally’s genetic makeup only for curiosity, no other reason,” said Castillo. “The results on Sally’s cheek swab were missing something, so when the blood test came out, I figured I’d retest her.” The results were different, although both tests revealed two breeds in common: Labrador and Dachshund. “They both showed that she has no Border Collie. The cheek swab test showed traces of Husky, Dachshund, and a significant amount of Labrador. The blood test showed traces of Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Golden Retriever, German Shepherd, Labrador and Dachshund.”
So what did Castillo do with the results? “I concluded that Sally is a true mutt.”
Health and Behavior Benefits to Testing
“Knowing a dog’s heritage can help identify temperament traits,” said Lisa Peterson of the AKC. “Breed-specific training is important. If the majority breed is listed in these tests, it will aid an owner in how to approach training and socialization.” Peterson added, “For example, Cecilia thought she had a Border Collie, the obsessive compulsive breed of the dog world. Knowing that Sally has some Husky, which tends to be more independent, means Cecilia may approach training in a different way.”
Like Castillo, you don’t have to do anything with the information, or like Lewis, you can joke about it with your dog park buddies and other friends. Lewis says, “We’ve made a lot of non-dog owners think we’re crazy when we tell them about the testing!”
Information Gained From Dog DNA-Testing Also Has the Following Applications:
You may consider altering your training style based on behavior related to certain breeds. Sporting dogs like Labradors need significant daily exercise to prevent boredom-based destruction. Guard dogs like German Shepherds are naturally protective and can be aggressive without appropriate socialization. Toy breeds like Papillons can be notoriously difficult to housebreak, so patience is required.
Inform your veterinarian if your mix has any breed known to have difficulties with anesthesia. For example, Greyhound or Whippet breeds have low body fat, and part Collies are sensitive to ivermectin, a compound used in some heartworm preventives.
Familiarize yourself with the breeds’ predisposition toward certain diseases. Miniature Schnauzers are prone to inflammation of the pancreas. Dalmatians are prone to uric acid stones. Old English Sheepdogs are prone to a type of anemia.
Explore performance activities that you may not have considered for your dog; these may include;
- Agility exercises for herding breeds or field tests for hunting dogs.
- Add to your exercise choices. If your dog’s ancestry includes a water-oriented breed, such as Poodle or Newfoundland, see if it will enjoy learning how to swim.
- Consider going to dog shows to look for visual evidence of other breeds that might be related to your dog.
- Create a fun pedigree document discussing historical backgrounds of breeds rather than specific parents.
- Make a scrapbook using your dog’s photos and photos of the known breeds of your mix. Consider including other people’s opinions of your dog’s heritage mix, no matter how bizarre it might be. The scrapbook could even include a funny illustration of your dog by using parts of magazine photos to piece together a collage.
Mutt Owners Get the Last Laugh
Family history information about your dog’s breed heritage won’t change the way you feel about your pet. You will love your dog just the same, but curiosity killed the cat, or in this case, dog, and satisfaction brought him back. You won’t be lost for words the next time someone asks you about your favorite canine companion, no matter how unusual the breeding turns out to be. In fact, where mutts are concerned, the funkier the mix of breeds turns out to be, the better and more entertaining answers you’ll have.
Dog DNA Test for Genetic Health Conditions
King Sigfred, a Los Angeles Great Dane, starts his day with the first of his three small, high-protein, high-fiber and low-carbohydrate meals. His water bowl contains just enough water during mealtimes about a cup, in his case and he doesn’t exercise for two hours after a meal, to promote proper digestion.
His housemate, Miniature Schnauzer Clara, on the other hand, receives her insulin injection and eats at 7 a.m. sharp. After her morning meal ritual, she goes for a 45-minute walk. She does best with no changes, sticking to the same calories and exercise every day to maintain regular blood sugar levels.
In both cases, the dog’s owner, accountant David Carleton, takes such measures to prevent his dogs’ hereditary conditions from worsening. Great Danes are predisposed to bloat, while Schnauzers have a tendency to get diabetes. However, as with King Sigfred and Clara, hereditary issues need not weigh down on your pet and disrupt your lives.
Learn the DNA ABCs
It first helps to understand a bit about genetics, which is at the root of the entire problem. Genetics can refer to inherited variation in DNA, a specialized acid that contains the instructions used in the development of all living organisms. Genetic predisposition means that your dog is at risk of getting a health problem due to its breed and that breed’s associated genes.
Just as diabetes,epilepsy, cancer and arthritis can run in certain human families, these conditions can pass down through dog families, too, even if your pet is a mutt with multiple breeds on its family tree.
All breeds are susceptible to genetic-associated ailments. There is no way to tell if a puppy will have any of the predisposed diseases, since genetics is strictly luck of the draw. Two littermates may or may not have the same genetic makeup. Also, being predisposed just means a risk that is higher than normal. By the same token, a dog that is not predisposed can get diseases with a genetic component. Nothing is cast in stone when it comes to genetics.
Diseases and Conditions Linked to Certain Dog Breeds
Here are a few common breeds with some of the disorders they may inherit:
- American Pit Bull Terrier – allergies, cleft palate, thyroid and hip problems
- Basset Hound – hair follicle disorders, glaucoma, back troubles
- Beagle – cataracts, deafness, epilepsy, heart disorders
- Bloodhound – bloat, hip problems, eyelid troubles
- Border Collie – deafness, cataracts, hip problems
- Boxer – allergies, hip troubles, deafness, sinus issues
- Chihuahua – glaucoma, baldness, heart disease
- Cocker Spaniel (American) – eye problems, epilepsy, hip disorders, thyroid disorders
- Dachshund – deafness, back problems, baldness
- German Shepherd – hip problems, epilepsy, cataracts, heart disease
- Labrador Retriever – joint problems, hip disorders, skin troubles, epilepsy
- Poodle – heart disorders, deafness, epilepsy, immune system problems
- Saint Bernard – cataracts, digestion troubles, hip problems
Two of the most common genetic-linked health issues among virtually all breeds are hip dysplasia and allergies.
Hip dysplasia is abnormal development and growth of the hip joint common in larger dogs that can cause painful arthritis and movement problems. Dogs typically show signs at five to eight months of age. You can’t prevent the condition, but you can keep it from getting worse.
“The big issue is nutrition,” said Dr. Greg L. Harasen, DVM, an orthopedic veterinary surgeon in Regina, Saskatchewan. “Dogs on high-energy rations as puppies, which grow at a more rapid rate, have more severe changes in their hips. The rations don’t cause the problem; they make the changes worse.” He explains that the problem is that some people feed their pups too much, elevating their dogs energy and calcium levels, which forces the undesired rapid growth. Be sure to feed your pet according to manufacturer and veterinary guidelines.
For appropriate cases, there are surgical fixes to get your dog walking more easily again. Another remedy for adult canines is weight control. “In dogs with degenerative changes in their hips, the more they weigh as adults, the more clinical signs they tend to have,” says Dr. Harasen. Prevent obesity by not overfeeding your dog, by making sure that you account for all food consumed, including treats and kitchen handouts. Be sure that your dog gets enough exercise as well.
Sophie, a four-year-old dog owned by Susan Shalaby, a teacher in West Allis, Wis., has the hip dysplasia that affects many Bernese Mountain Dogs. Shalaby keeps Sophie at a healthy weight. “We take slow, short walks, and I adjust to her speed,” says Shalaby. “She takes a glucosamine supplement.” Two different pain relievers gave Sophie tummy upset, so Shalaby is researching others. Sophie whimpers when a metal brush is used over her hips, so a softer brush is used instead. “We’ll probably put a ramp in so she won’t have to deal with stairs as she gets older.”
Allergies can also be inherited, with flea allergies among the most common for dogs. Amy Tiedt, a veterinary technician in Brooklyn, Wis., knows her West Highland White Terrier, Fred, is wildly allergic to fleas and dust mites. Just two fleas can cause him to start scratching badly enough to need antibiotics. Dust mites make him just as miserable. Total flea control is critical. “I use topical flea preventive religiously and mark the calendar so applications are never late,” says Tiedt. To avoid steroid use, Fred gets daily fatty acid supplements and antihistamines as needed.
For dust mites, Tiedt regularly washes Fred’s dog bed, washable toys, her bedspread and bedding. Dust mites thrive in humidity, so in humid weather, Tiedt turns on her air conditioner. She vacuums with a HEPA filter and bathes her pet every so often with a hypoallergenic shampoo. She also says, “Fred gets an antihistamine before therapy visits because he’s allergic to something there. It’s all about managing his environment.”
Bad Genes, Not Bad Dogs
Fred, King Sigfred and other dogs prove daily that a hereditary disease doesn’t automatically mean that you and your dog must suffer. Sometimes you can prevent or delay conditions by following specific medical and nutritional recommendations. Your veterinarian can advise you, but the day-to-day management is up to you.
Article written by Author: Phyllis DeGioia