What kind of dog is that?
If you have a mixed breed dog, or anything that looks slightly less typey than a Dalmatian, chances are you’ve been asked that question. About a million times. You might have some ideas about your dog’s breeding, for those of us who’ve found their dogs or adopted from rescues or shelters, you really just don’t know.
And maybe it doesn’t matter so much. I mean, to me, Maggie is Maggie. She’s from a shelter and she’s pretty awesome. Poodle, scnoodle, doodle, or muppet, she’s family. If I had to guess (and I’ve had to guess, many times), I’d say I see poodle in her intelligence and personality, and that her fluffy white afro screams Bichon. But that’s just a guess, and it’s only one of the many genetic recipes for ‘cute little white fluffy dog’.
But even though I’d love Maggie no matter what, even if she turned out to be part cat, sometimes I have wondered what she really is and if I could somehow give her a better quality of life if I knew. She’s been very healthy so far, but what do her genes hold for her future, and is there something I can do about that?
Why DNA test?
Each dog breed has its attributes, from webbed feet to retrieving to high prey drive. We also know that different breeds face different health risks related to their gene pool. Some breeds have a high incidence of hip dysplasia; others have higher rates of certain types of cancer or cardiac issues. Knowing your dog’s breeding could give you a head start on preventative care or point you in the right direction should health issues appear.
Here’s another scenario: maybe you’re on the fence about pet insurance. Your dog has been healthy so far, but you’re realizing that your good luck could change and you might find yourself facing hefty vet bills. If you have an accurate sense of what your dog’s veterinary needs might be in the future, knowing your dogs genetic make up could help you in your decision-making process.
I’ll be the first to admit that learning what medical conditions your dog might be at risk for can be scary — but DNA testing just shows risk, which doesn’t mean it’s 100% guarantee. It also means you can prepare for those conditions to which your dog might be predisposed. For example, if you learn about arthritis or joint or neuromuscular problems, you can begin preventative care with glucosamine and other supplements. Or maybe you’ll learn that your dog’s breeding indicates that he won’t be able to tolerate certain kinds of medications. That way your vet can prescribe a safer treatment.
What DNA tests are available to consumers?
There are two DNA testing companies on the market right now. Wisdom Panel – owned by Mars Corp. and Embark Vet – a smaller company out of Austin, TX.
|Maggie’s breed composition||Border Collie, Poodle, Golden Retriever||Bichon, Mini Poodle, tiny bit of Cocker Spaniel|
|Breed Markers checked||
|Health conditions tested for||3-7 depending the set purchased||160+|
|Free updates to results as more tests become available||X|
|Vet Report provided||X|
|$169 (when $30 coupon with this link is used))|
My Heritage K9 experience (Now Wisdom Panel)
Years ago, I received a Heritage K9 test, they have since been bought over by Wisdom Panel test as a gift. It was new at the time, I was very excited about it, but the results were less conclusive that I’d hoped. I will say, however, that the Wisdom staff were unfailingly kind and helpful, and also very open about the holes in their data. Their genetic markers were (at the time) unable to differentiate between Bichon, Havanese and Maltese, which actually mattered in Maggie’s case. At the end of multiple tests, Maggie appeared to have a baffling mix of Golden Retriever, Poodle and border collie in her background. Has the test changed since Wisdom Panel bought them? I can’t say honestly. I’ve had some friends that have done it and got back some just as odd results.
I don’t know how this test has been updated but I have known others who’ve done the Wisdom Panel and got similarly odd or non-specific results.
My Embark experience
Recently I gave Embark a try. I’m an enthusiastic early adapter of new technology and I’m always seeking to learn more about our pets. But Embark went way beyond my wildest expectations.
The Embark sample collection process is similar to the Wisdom Panel:
1. You swab your dog’s mouth with a q-tip they provide. I will tell you that this is much easier if you have a human helper.
2. Send it in.
3. Wait. Impatiently.
While you’re waiting, you can create an account on their site that will be updated as the results come in. The site gives you the option to upload a photo and put the breed you think your dog is, but because I wanted them to work from a totally clean slate, I didn’t want to tip my hand and show them what she looks like. (And if they told me my dog was a St. Bernard, then I’d know their test was not exactly as advertised.)
About eight weeks went by. But I reminded myself that I’ve technically waited 8 years for this information, so what’s a few more weeks? I also got updates along the way, very technical updates on what stage of the process the DNA was in.
But then results arrive. I got an amazing breeding break down of my beloved Maggie.
Chromosomes, DNA, and genetic make up, oh my gosh.
Embark gives you three views: a personal one with the most detailed info, one to share with your friends and social media, and one for your vet. This last one is all veterinary detail that might bore your friends to tears. They don’t like your dog that much.
You can view the complete list of Maggie’s vet report with the above links. Because everyone likes her that much, just kidding.
The first thing you see in Embark’s medical section is the results for tests for conditions that are common to your dog’s specific breeds. Amazing! You can click each section to learn more about the condition, what it causes such as drug sensitivity, organ issues, or musculoskeletal problems.
Here’s something that really impressed me. Embark estimates Maggies size to be around 12lb. Maggie’s weight is approximately 14lb so that was pretty accurate — and I never told them a thing about her except that she’s a dog.
In the health section, I can view the results for specific areas and systems: Clinical, Blood, Hormones, Immune, Eyes, Kidney and Bladder, Multisystem, Brain and Spinal Cord, Heart, Muscular, Metabolic, Gastrointestinal, Liver, Neuromuscular, Skin and Skeletal. Of course, with all these tests there are some things they can foresee your dog being predisposed to such as types of cancer. Each of the sections breaks down the chromosomes and the test results with an explanation in plain language that even Maggie could understand.
What I love about Embark is that they are the only research-grade dog genetic testing platform in which pet parents can opt to share test data to participate in research studies. By sharing your dog’s genetic profile, you and your dog can help scientists studying genetic disorders like hip dysplasia and cancers. We’ve all had to go through health struggles with pets; hopefully sharing information can help find new cures for major illnesses.
If you are interested in purchasing Embark use this link, or any of the above for a discount. We would absolutely love to hear your experience if you do the DNA test on your pup!