For many dog owners, we decide after much thought to adopt a dog from a shelter or a rescue group with little to no information about their background, breed, or history. This can be the most rewarding experience as you learn the quirks of your pet. Unfortunately, this also doesn’t allow for much medical history, leading many owners to wonder: Who is my dog? What breed is she/he? What size will she/he grow to?
Through DNA testing, there is an opportunity to learn more about your dog, starting from the cellular level. Pet owners can now easily purchase a dog DNA test kit from one of several companies that specialize in canine genetic testing. These tests evaluate the gene conformation of your pet and give results of their breed composition, average age in human years, and estimated weight at full growth. They can even illuminate certain genes that can lead to illness.
Benefits of Canine Genetic Testing
One of the benefits of DNA testing your pooch is that it can help determine certain chromosomal abnormalities, which in some cases can lead to illness in our dogs. Many pet owners will bring their dog’s DNA results to their veterinarian to discuss potential health risks based on breed identification and possible genetic mutations.
For example, a client brought her mixed-breed dog to me for evaluation after she ran a DNA test and found that her dog was 15 percent Border Collie. The panel revealed a genetic mutation of the multi-drug resistance gene (MDR1). This gene mutation causes neurologic side effects when an anti-parasitic drug called ivermectin is administered. Since ivermectin is a main ingredient in many heartworm preventatives, it was imperative to have this information to avoid using this medication and causing undesirable side effects.
Another example of how DNA testing can help inform preventative care is the story of Aggy. After winning a DNA test kit from petMD, Aggy’s owner discovered that her dog is a gene carrier for dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM). DCM is the second most common type of heart disease in canines. It is a condition of the heart where the muscles stretch, leading to enlargement and thus weakening the heart itself. If left untreated, it can be fatal. Aggy’s owner took this information to the veterinarian and found that Aggy was not currently showing any signs of DCM. This information is powerful, because now Aggy’s veterinarian will monitor him closely for any changes in heart rhythm and size, thus preventing a shorter life span.
These DNA test kits are easy to perform and usually use a cheek swab or blood (drawn by your veterinarian). Most results are available in three to eight weeks. Some mixed-breed dogs contain such a mixture that it is difficult to determine all breeds, so oftetimes there is an “other” category in the results. As these companies perform more and more DNA tests on dogs, accuracy of results continue to improve.
Many owners find these test results interesting, as they give a little more insight into their beloved family member. Also, becoming aware of a potential medical condition prior to any clinical signs is a benefit for the pet as well as the family who loves him or her. Whether you are a pet parent who just wants to dive into your dog’s history or someone who wants to allow the best preventative medicine for your pet, DNA testing is an exciting option.
Dr. Katie Grzyb is the medical director at One Love Animal Hospital in Brooklyn, New York.
Read more: The Hidden Benefits of DNA Testing for Dogs