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DNA Testing Your Dog

If you're like many owners of mixed-breed dogs, you've probably wondered what conglomerate of canines went into producing your very special dog. Could he be part Lab, part Bulldog and part Collie? Or is actually a mix of Boxer, Golden Retriever and Australian Shepherd?

Well, thanks to modern science, you no longer need to guess. DNA tests that reach back into your dog's parentage can give you a good idea of exactly what breeds went into making your dog.

DNA tests to determine your dog's ancestry are easy to buy online. Several different companies offer the tests, with some including health information along with breed heritage. And while finding out what breeds your dog has in his background can be fun, details about your dog's potential health risks can be invaluable.

Having your dog's DNA tested is easy. You order the kit online and receive it in the mail, or purchase it at a local pet supply store. You then use an enclosed cheek swab to gather DNA from the inside of your dog's cheek. Next, you pack up the sample and send it back to the company in a pre-paid envelope.

Once your dog's DNA sample arrives at the lab, the actual DNA is extracted from the cells on the cheek swab. These cells are examined for genetic markers, and the results are sent to a computer, which evaluates them using a program designed to consider various pedigree trees possible in your dog's past generations. A report is then created, which provides you with your dog's likely ancestry, and in some cases, his projected adult weight, his propensity to develop certain diseases, and other information.

Here are a few of the more popular canine DNA test kits, and what you'll receive with each. Price can vary considerably between tests, starting just under $100.

  • Wisdom Panel 3.0. Produced by Mars Veterinary, the Wisdom Panel 3.0 kit tests your dog for 250-plus breeds, types and varieties. It also includes a health screening for the MDR1 genetic mutation that causes drug sensitivity in some dogs. If your dog is a puppy and you're wondering how big he'll get, this test also gives a predicted weight profile.
  • Embark Dog DNA Test. The Embark test, produced by Embark Veterinary, a partner of Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, touts itself as the most accurate canine DNA test on the market. It tests for more than 175 breed, plus wolf, coyote and "village dog" ancestry. It also tests for more than 160 genetic health conditions.
  • DNA My Dog Review. The DNA My Dog Review is produced by a company called DNA My Dog, and looks at 84 different breeds. The results list breeds found by level of percentage detected in your dog's sample, and include an outline of the genetic health concerns and personality traits for all the breeds found in your dog's genetic profile.

While testing your dog to find out his breed heritage, it's important to know that some experts are skeptical about the complete accuracy of these tests. As geneticists develop better methods for testing and reporting on canine DNA, tests such as these will continue to improve.

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