DNA Tests for Pets?!

You’ve likely seen the advertisements for at-home DNA tests from companies like 23andMe, AncestryDNA, and a number of other top genetic testing companies. However, did you know that there are also DNA tests available for your pets?

This article explores the basics of testing pet DNA. First, we’ll take a look at how it works and what kind of results you can expect. Then, we’ll explore the differences between pet and human DNA testing, the expected costs, and we’ll discuss the value of pet DNA testing overall.

Check it out!

How Does It Work?

Pet DNA tests work just like human DNA tests! The company you order a test from will send you a sample collection kit, which is typically a cheek swab. Swab the inside of your pet’s cheek, place the sample in the return envelope, and mail it back to the laboratory. Within a few weeks, you will get your DNA test results back from the company. The process is painless for your dog or cat, and should only take a few minutes of your time. 

What Can You Learn?

Like human genetic tests, pet DNA tests offer both ancestry testing and genetic health testing. Several services offer a “breed composition” service, which can help you identify the breeds your dog consists of. Other services allow you to find living relatives of your dog on their platform, much like the Family Finder service of many ancestry DNA testing companies. Plus, most companies allow you to explore genetic variants which may be related to disease or degenerative health conditions. Be warned, a major complaint with “mutts” is that they are too mixed for breed-specific results to be obtained.

Depending on which company you order your test through, a number of genetic health options are available. Some companies test for specific diseases, while other companies test the entire genome for genetic variants which may be detrimental. Some companies have breed specific tests, while others will test any breed. As a warning, many genetic diseases are breed specific, and science does not understand how these variants work in other breeds. One company even allows landlords the ability to test the DNA found in feces, in order to enforce pet waste laws. However, before you dive into pet DNA testing, there are some serious differences between human and pet DNA tests that you should know about.

The Difference Between Human and Pet DNA Testing

First and foremost, you should know that pet DNA tests are not regulated or controlled by the FDA. Human DNA tests must meet certain standards, and not market information which they cannot scientifically back up. This is not necessarily true of pet DNA tests. However, the lack of regulation and scientific rigor has been noted by prominent geneticists and veterinarians

But, the International Collaboration for Dog Health and Welfare has started a program called the Harmonization of Genetic Testing for Dogs. Through this site, you can find a number of tests which have been vetted and approved by a panel of geneticists and veterinarians. 

Unfortunately, pet DNA tests suffer in other ways. While genetic testing is a powerful tool, it is only as powerful as the data set that is analyzed. Pet DNA databases are much smaller than human databases, which makes them less reliable (and it’s not like all human DNA tests are). Another major problem with pet DNA testing is that veterinarians have not been trained extensively in genetics. 

With the rapid expansion of DNA testing methods, techniques, and data analysis, this makes it almost impossible for the average veterinarian to know if the DNA test you ordered is accurate and reliable. But, then again, many human doctors are plagued by the same issue. Doctors and veterinarians both hate it when their patients demand they take action on a DNA test they do not understand fully and have not vetted themselves. To combat this, many veterinarians are now partnering with genetic testing companies they support to offer DNA tests. If health is your concern, you should consult your vet before purchasing an online DNA test. 

How Much Does This Cost?

This varies considerably depending on the company and the services provided. Below are the prices of several prominent pet DNA testing companies, for both dogs and cats. Check them out!

For Dogs

  • Embark – Breed composition, Genetic Health $199
  • Wisdom Panel – Breed composition, Genetic Health $80-$150
  • DNA My Dog – Breed composition, Genetic Health $70

For Cats

  • Basepaws – Ancestry. (Health and Wellness in development)  $99
  • MyCatDNA – Health and Traits €99

 

But, Is a Pet DNA Test Worth It?

Considering the price of these pet DNA tests is equal to or more than many human DNA tests, the price does not currently reflect the value of these tests. Human DNA testing is much more reliable and is based on a much larger body of scientific evidence. So, there are really only 2 reasons to order a pet DNA test. The first is on the orders of your veterinarian. If your vet thinks it would be prudent to better understand your animal’s DNA and they have a preferred test, it is probably a good idea.

The second reason is for fun! Genetic testing, though it is still in its infancy, is incredibly interesting. You may learn something interesting about your animal, or find its relatives through the test. While you should take the results with a grain of salt, it is still fun and beneficial to learn about the genetic variants your pet may carry. If you can justify the price for a little fun, go for it! It’s harmless for your pet, and you might learn something interesting.

 

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