4 December, 2017

Dog DNA Test: A Guide to Purchasing the Best Brand

Dog DNA TestThe Dog DNA Test may already have been around for the past decade, but it seems as though it has recently become one of the more popular trends to take of the world of dog owners. YouTube is inundated with videos of people sharing the “Big Reveal” of their Fur-children’s DNA test results.

If you own a purebred dog, you probably haven’t given Dog DNA Tests much thought, but as the owners of just about every mixed breed, mutt, mongrel, pavement special, or simply put: rescue dog, knows attaching the name of a specific breed (or 3) to your dog is guesswork at best.

Knowing your dog’s ancestry and its family tree gives you an inside look at the canine genetic markers, parentage, and more.

Your dog might be the size of a Corgi but have what looks like the face of a German Shepherd, or vice versa. It is for owners of dogs such as these that the dog DNA testing can put an end to the curiosity and will ensure that the next time someone asks with a rather judgemental look, what breed your pup is, that you can give a list of breeds going back at least 3 generations.

Dog DNA Test: What’s the Purpose?

The purpose of dog DNA testing is for owners of mixed breed dogs to gain more information about their doggos. 

Owners of purebreds, if they’re done their homework, should know everything about the breed in terms of health issues or personality traits generally associated with a mixed-breed dog. They will know the average size of the dog once fully grown, as well as what the best training techniques and exercise needs associated with the breed and their dog ancestry.

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A Dog DNA Test will tell the dog owner what breeds went into making their pooch. Once they know the breed identification they are working with, owners can treat (or prevent) certain conditions to which a specific breed is prone.

With the help of genetic information, you can know what breeds are prone to certain health issues so that the dog can be exercised and trained accordingly.

By identifying specific genetic markers that are inherited from both parents, owners can also be aware of particular personality traits such as defensive aggressive behavior; and therefore, the dogs can be socialized and trained to avoid any unwanted behavior.

Another advantage of having a mixed-breed puppy’s DNA tested is that it can give you a better idea of what size the dog is likely to grow to.

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Dog DNA testing is incredibly useful when it comes to finding suitable homes for dogs and puppies in shelters and rescue facilities.

Knowing the breed of the dog can help give potential rescue parents a better idea of what health issues the dog might have, it will help to better determine whether they will be a good match for a family with children or other animals by assessing likely personality traits.

Dog DNA testing will ensure that someone who is looking for a dog suitable for apartment living doesn’t end up surrendering the dog because he grew into a 110lbs dog.

A Dog DNA Test Kit Amenities

Although some test kits may vary slightly, most of them will generally include:

  • Instructions – Step-by-step and easy to follow
  • Cheek Swabs – Usually 2 of them which should both be used for the same dog
  • An insert for drying the swabs
  • Shipping label and box (or envelope) – This should be prepaid and used to send the dog samples to the laboratory for analysis

Dog DNA Testing: A How-To Guide

Here are the instructions for the Wisdom Panel 4.0 DNA Test.

Other tests may vary slightly (Embark Dog DNA Test, for example, has an additional step which instructs users to insert the cheek swab into the container and shake for 10 seconds), but in principle, the procedure is the same for most test kits!

  1. Remove a swab from the packet (and try not to get anyone else’s DNA on it!)
  2. Firmly twirl the swab on the inside of your canine’s cheek for around 20 seconds. (Your dog will probably not understand or enjoy this part of the procedure)
  3. Place the swab into the insert in the packaging and allow for it to air dry for around 5 minutes and then repeat steps 1-3 with the second swab
  4. Activate the dog DNA test online (with whichever company you are doing the test). You will receive an activation confirmation number, which you need to write onto LABEL #1
  5. Apply LABEL #1 to the swab sleeve
  6. Insert the swabs back into the sleeve and DO NOT SEAL IT. (All kinds of things will grow in there if it doesn’t stay dry)
  7. Put the sleeve with the swabs into the box (or envelope) and seal it
  8. Apply the shipping label to the front of the box, mail the dog samples, and wait for the results

Useful tip: The Embark Dog DNA test kit instructions advise you to wave a treat in front of your dog to get that saliva flowing for an easier DNA harvest. This is especially useful for dogs that don’t drool a lot.

Dog DNA Test Cost

The dog DNA testing kits range from $50 up to around $200. 

As with most things in this day and age, the more you are willing or able to spend, the better the tests are, and with that, the more information you will receive.

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Some dog DNA tests cost much less than others but have a much smaller canine breed database. This is absolutely perfect for anyone who wants to have a better idea of what breeds were poured into their doggo, but it might not be enough for someone wanting to detect genetic mutations in order to prevent their pups from getting sick.

The Best Dog DNA Test: A Comparison of Brands

There are many Dog DNA Test kits out there, but three of the most popular choices are:

  • Wisdom Panel
  • Embark Vet
  • DNA my Dog

Products they offer can differ greatly, and one might offer more information about your dog’s breed (if that’s what you’re after), whereas the other might shed important light on potential health risks or conditions which your dog might have.

Wisdom Panel

Wisdom Panel offers 4 different canine DNA Testing Kits. The 2 most popular ones are the Wisdom Panel 4.0 (which goes for $84.99), and the Wisdom Panel Health kit (which goes for $149.99).

The main difference between the two is that the Wisdom Panel Health kit tests for all the breed information as well as doing genetic screening for over 140 genetic variants associated with increased disease risk.

The Wisdom Panel 4.0 tests mostly for breed information with an added bonus of testing for 2 genetic mutations:

  • MDR1 – knowing whether or not your dog has this genetic mutation is very useful as it determines whether or not your dog will experience negative side effects associated with certain medication
  • DNM1 – Carriers of this gene might suffer from Exercise-induced Collapse, which can be fatal.

Wisdom Panel is a good choice for the more impatient dog owners who want to know more about their pup’s genetic makeup because you can expect to have your results after 2-3 weeks.

Added bonus: Both products test for Coyote and Wolf genes without an additional charge.

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Embark Vet Dog DNA Testing

The Embark Vet test is a solid all-inclusive DNA test. It costs $199, and although it has a smaller breed database, including 175 dog breeds, it screens for over 160 genetic mutations.

This is the perfect DNA test for anyone who wants to know about their canine’s breed but wants a more extensive genetic health screening done on their dog.

Embark Vet DNA tests take a little longer to produce their results, so be prepared to wait 1 to 2 months for the results to arrive.

DNA My Dog

Coming in at the low cost of $68.99, the DNA My Dog test is definitely the best option for anyone who is on a tight budget and is ok with a rough idea of their dog’s breed.

They have a wonderfully fast turnaround time and present your dog with a certificate (with a photo of your dog) which declares what he or she is made of. DNA My Dog’s database only consists of 95 dog breeds, but if your pup has any of those in it, the test is sure to pick it up!

Dog DNA Test: What Factors Count to Ensure Accuracy

Dog DNA testing is not an exact science, but in the pursuit of accuracy it is not an entirely futile one when you take certain factors into consideration.

One very important factor is the number of breeds included in the breed panel.

Some tests have a breed panel of 95 and others have one of 250. The more expensive tests generally include more breeds, which allows for more accurate breed specific results. Those 95 breeds might include the most popular breeds, but the test won’t yield satisfying results if one or more breeds aren’t in that database.

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A more comprehensive database will also help untangle the genes of a mixed breed born of mixed breed parents who in turn were sired by mixed breed grand and great-grandparents.

To be sure, the tests are always more accurate the more purebreds were involved, but as it goes with pavement specials, this is not always a given.

Without getting too mathematical, superior algorithms trump the not so good ones every time. Even without a math degree, with enough research, you will be able to tell which brands are backed by the better science, and that should be one of the big boxes to tick when choosing a brand.

Possible User Error of Dog DNA Testing

The term “User Error” is a polite way of telling people that the failure of something is entirely their fault, and although companies go out of their way to make sure that margin for (human) error stays as small as possible, people will always find a way to mess things up.

The accuracy (read: success) of Dog DNA tests can be brought down to zero if users do not read the instructions and follow them to the T.

It may seem self-explanatory, but your dog might not be too keen on your stealing his DNA, so the cheek swab might go all over the place and fall on the floor where your other dog might have been drooling while chewing on something.

It happens.

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Instructions also advise for you to wait for a certain period of time before or after your dog has eaten to take the test.

Those swabs need to go from the sleeves to your dog’s cheek, into the insert to dry and then into the sleeve.

You might be tempted to seal the sleeve in order to contain all that DNA, but all you will have achieved is create a bacterial playground, as well as probably ruining any chance of extracting enough DNA to successfully run a test.

Dog DNA Test: Purchasing the Right Brand

Whether you decide to test your dog’s DNA out of pure curiosity for knowing what breed(s) he or she consists of, or whether you are doing it to rule out or pick up on potential health risks, it is a very exciting process no matter what brand you choose.

Most owners of mixed breed dogs would (should) want to know as much as possible about their fur-children to better provide them with the best possible care, and doing a DNA test on your dog is a big step in the direction of Dog Parent Level: Expert.

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In the end, most brands will provide you with the basic amenities and information you need to figure out your dog’s family tree, but always be aware of what you’re buying and if what you’re paying is the right price for the product.

You may be completely surprised by the result, or have your suspicions confirmed.

Either way, all of these dog DNA tests will provide ample information about the breeds involved and will likely explain not only your dog’s appearance, but will also help you to understand their behavior. Plus it’s always fun to learn more about your dog’s ancestry!

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