What Can DNA Kits Reveal About Your Dog?

Canine DNA tests can be a fun and interesting tool for learning more about your favorite pooch but they’re not useful for making medical diagnoses or decisions about treatment. Here’s what to know about them.

Ancestry DNA kits have become a popular way for people to fill gaps in their ancestral background and possibly learn about the potential inherited conditions. Pet DNA kits are growing in popularity, too. While your pooch doesn’t have any interest in tracing long-lost furry relatives in far-flung destinations, the tests can be a fun way to learn more about your dog’s background, whether he’s a purebred or a mixed breed, and maybe even enhance that all-important human-animal bond.

According to the last mutt census (conducted nearly a decade ago by Mars Veterinary and scheduled for a repeat in 2020), more than half the dogs in the United States are mixed breeds. Sometimes, mutts are so “mixed” that it’s impossible for pet parents to distinguish their fur kid’s ancestry by looks alone.

Genetic Surprises

That’s where a doggie DNA kit can offer insight into a pooch’s breed makeup. The more you know about a dog’s inherited breed traits, the easier it is to understand everyday behaviors in the home and toward people and other pets in the household. A better understanding between people and pets can help to improve their relationship and their chances for having the best life ever–together.

When an adorable mutt named Riley became our family member, all the shelter was able to share was that she had been removed from a high-kill shelter in Louisiana and flown to California to find a forever home. She was about two years old and liked being around other pets, including cats. But that was pretty much it.

One Dog’s Story

An easy-to-do cheek swab that tested for 250 dog breeds revealed that Riley is 62.5 percent American Staffordshire Terrier and 12.5 percent Shih Tzu. The remaining 25 percent of her makeup was said to be from terrier, sporting, herding, and hound backgrounds. That’s a lot of territory!

“Currently we can only go back three generations,” says Angela Hughes, a spokesperson for Wisdom Health, the company that makes the test used to determine Riley’s DNA.

Armed with this information about her background, it was easy to research the named breeds to learn more about her likes, dislikes, and general behavior. Insight into why she acts the way she does makes it easier to recognize those behaviors and love her even more. For example, she loves to sit on laps – a very Shih Tzu “thing” – even though there is nothing small and fluffy about her!

Health Info

The test also revealed whether Riley was prone to any of 152 genetic disease variants that can be seen in mixed-breed dogs. The results are from the largest canine genetic study done to date based on DNA home kits, conducted by Wisdom Health and Genoscoper Laboratories and published in PLOS Genetics. Riley came up clear on all 152 tests. The information isn’t for diagnostic purposes, but over the long term it may benefit veterinary medicine, pet owners, and dogs.

“For owners, understanding for which genetic diseases their dog is at risk can help them and their veterinarians design a personalized care and wellness program for their dog,” says Jonas Donner, PhD, chief scientific officer at Genoscoper. “More broadly, for veterinarians to understand which disorders are common across the overall population is extremely valuable information for the future of proactive medical care. Using genetic tools to further disease monitoring and eradication in different populations can, over time, have a positive effect on both purebred and mixed breed dogs.”

Dog DNA tests are a work in progress. As researchers learn more, pet parents who have reports on their fur kids will receive updates on pets’ genetic and health background.

This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.

Sandy Robins is an award-winning pet lifestyle journalist and author of For the Love of Cats, Fabulous Felines: Health and Beauty Secrets for the Pampered Cat, The Original Cat Bible, and Making the Most of All Nine Lives: The Extraordinary Life of Buffy The Cat.