What is a Dog DNA Test?

German Shepherd and Alaskan Malamute

Millions of people have welcomed four legged friends into the family, in particular, the cuddly mutt. While a lot can be said for a purebred’s beauty and grace, mutts are often healthier overall with fewer temperamental problems. This desirable tendency results from breeding within a larger genetic pool where there are fewer chances for unfavorable genes to overlap. The only real disadvantage of the lovable mutt is not knowing what kind of dog it really is. A dog DNA test can answer this question by revealing the ancestry of a furry friend.

Dog DNA tests are offered by a handful of labs as of summer 2008, but this number is expected to grow. Some tests extract DNA from cheek cells, and others require a blood sample. While all tests analyze canine DNA, they aren’t all equal. One DNA test might be able to identify more breeds in a sample than another. This has nothing to do with using blood or cheek swabs, but depends on how many breeds the test is capable of recognizing.

Golden Retriever

A dog DNA test that requires a blood sample will mean a trip to the veterinarian. Participating vets have dog DNA test kits on hand, or you can order one online and bring it with you. Kits include everything needed to draw the blood sample and submit it, along with prepaid postal packaging. Also included is a pamphlet for the client and an assigned test number. Results are mailed to the client a few weeks later with an optional copy sent to the veterinarian for the dog’s medical file.

A dog DNA test that requires cheek cells can be purchased online and will be mailed to the client. It contains everything needed to collect the sample including instructions and a swab, making a trip to the vet unnecessary. The swab is mailed back to the lab in a prepaid envelope. According to at least one of these services, results are returned in 4-6 weeks.

One potential drawback of the cheek swab is that it can fail to collect enough DNA material to yield results and might need to be repeated. While most labs won’t charge for re-testing a new swab, results will be delayed by several weeks.

fluffy dogs

A comprehensive dog DNA test costs $120 – $150 US Dollars (USD) or more, while some tests are available for under $50 USD. The difference in price typically relates to how many AKC-recognized breeds the test is capable of identifying. A dog DNA test that can only recognize genetic markers for 50 different breeds, for example, will be less expensive (and potentially less accurate) than a test that can check for genetic markers for over 130 breeds. Companies that offer these tests are constantly working to improve accuracy by increasing the number of recognized breeds in their databases.

The Wisdom Panel™ by Mars, and the Canine Heritage™ XL Breed Test by MMI Genomics, Inc., are two of the most popular dog DNA tests, but there are others. The former requires a blood sample, while the latter utilizes cheek cells. Their websites contain information about the tests, how many breeds the tests can identify, result samples and more. The kits are available online, as are other less expensive and less comprehensive kits.

Getting a dog DNA test for your mutt will not only satisfy your curiosity, it can help you to better understand the dog’s temperament and needs. Dog DNA analysis also aids veterinarians in identifying potential health problems associated with certain breeds.

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