Dog genetic testing. Is it for you and your dog?

dog genetic testingYou love your dog and want to know everything about her, right? And, you certainly know her by her personality, habits and physical traits. But, do you want to know more? Like, where did she come from and, if she’s a mutt, what kinds of dogs are in there? So, is dog genetic testing for you and your dog?

About dog DNA

Nucleotides are the substances that compose DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid). DNA has a unique blueprint for every living organism on earth – from tiny bacterium to Blue Whales. Genes are segments of DNA and these code for specific proteins that have a central role in building, maintaining and reproducing a cell.

Dogs have around 20,000 to 25,000 genes and these are located along 78 chromosomes (BTW, humans only have 46).

Why run a DNA test on your dog?

Here are some of the major reasons for conducting genetic testing on dogs:

  • Determing the mix in mixed breed dogs. If you have a mixed breed but don’t know which breeds your friend is made up of, DNA testing will reveal this. When you have this information, you can make intelligent choices, based on breed, about training and healthcare. If you have a puppy, it can give you an idea of how large your pooch will grow to be. Search and Rescue organizations use genetic testing to determine if a dog’s genetic background might make them suitable for a certain kind of work.
  • Detecting inherited diseases. Breeders have a responsibility to choose dogs that have the best chance of producing healthy puppies and genetic testing helps to avoid inherited disease. Testing can actually reveal somewhere between 100 and 200 different genetic variants that are linked to diseases.
  • Confirming parentage: Law enforcement uses “Genetic fingerprinting” to identify crime suspects. Researchers can use the same technology to provide a picture of a dog’s DNA. It can identify pedigree tracking and confirmation of the parents.
  • Enforcing pet waste laws: Don’t you just hate it when a dog owner let’s their dog poop in a public place and then doesn’t clean it up? Well, it just so happens there’s a solution and that’s through DNA testing. There are companies that specialize in this. If you find dog waste in a place it doesn’t belong, a sample of cells is extracted from the feces and compared to the genetic profiles of dogs in the database.
  • Revealing hidden traits: There is genetic testing that will reveal genes for a coat color and type. So, if your dog appears to be a certain color, you’ll be able to tell if the offspring will have that or a different color.

How does genetic testing for dogs work?Dog genetic testing

Some of the early testing used a blood sample but all the testing products today extract DNA from cells swabbed from inside the dog’s cheek. If you’re doing this at home, you will put the swab inside a sealed container and mail it to the company’s laboratory, Technicians then extract your pooch’s DNA from the swab and use computers to identify and compare specific bits of it and bits taken from dogs of known lineage.

The genome of a dog contains about 2.5 billion nucleotides which are the building blocks of DNA. However, researchers focus on only about 200,000 of these individual genes.

They must have enough single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) from enough purebred representatives of each breed to have an adequate array of SNPs to compare to the SNPs of your dog. The larger the database of samples, the better .

Is genetic testing for dogs accurate?

According to Elinor Karlsson, Director of Vertebrate Genomics at the Board Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts, even though there has been a great many studies into human genetic testing for developing a certain disease, this is not so for dogs.

Veterinarian Lisa Moses says there are more and more people going to their veterinarian with results that show their dog as prone to a certain disease. Becuase of this, they want to make treatment decisions right away to prevent their dog from suffering.

But, they’re ready to pay for medical intervention that might not be necessary.

She goes on to say that genetic testing for animals isn’t regulated. And, that there hasn’t been enough discussion about the ethics related to new technologies. She worries that if the testing doesn’t improve, people are going to notice that their DNA tested dogs don’t get the diseases they’re at risk for.

Can genetic testing for dogs be improved?

To further cite Dr. Moses; she believes there needs to be a conversation that includes the international veterinary community. As part of this, the community needs to design mutually agreed upon ways to report genetic testing results, find a way to validate them and maintain transparency. There’s a consortium called the International Partnership for Dogs that is trying to do some standardization and data sharing.

Should my dog even have a DNA test?

I personally am always leery of products that haven’t been thoroughly tested or regulated so if it were me, I wouldn’t buy one of the many testing kits on the market.

That being said, the American Kennel Club offers DNA testing through their organization. The statement on their website says that “The AKC offers a comprehensive set of voluntary and mandatory programs to ensure the integrity of the AKC Registry.”

The AKC has created the world’s largest database of canine DNA profiles. They employ the same technology used by law enforcement agencies throughout the world. The technology doesn’t use actual genes. Instead, it uses other DNA sequences that are also inherited.

They are quite accurate in determining parentage of a puppy. They say, with greater than 99% confidence, whether or not a pup is from a tested parent

Conclusion

Is dog genetic testing for you and your dog? In my opinion, I think you should first ask yourself why you’d like to have your dog tested? Is it to determine the breed? To foresee any future health problems? Whatever it is, proceed cautiously because of the lack of oversight in canine genetic testing.

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