12 different dog breeds

How Accurate Are Dog Breed DNA Testing Kits? Learn The Science

Are you wondering how accurate are dog breed DNA testing kits? Do you want to find out your pup’s real ancestry? Here’s what you should know about the newest trend in doggie genetics.

8 different breeds of puppies

Dog DNA - What You Need To Know

Have you heard about DNA testing kits for dogs? It’s one of the latest do-it-yourself kits for at home genetic testing. Owners of mixed breeds in particular are starting to use these services more often. 

But should you really splurge? And how accurate are dog breed DNA testing kits? Our experts reviewed what you need to know.


Why Would You Want A Dog DNA Test?

Almost 4 out of every 10 homes in Australia have a dog, and many of those are so-called mutts or mixed breeds. With the rise of ethical considerations in the breeding of pedigree dogs, and the need for more adoptive homes for rescue pups, it’s more common than ever to have a unique-looking pup.

But having a clearly labelled dog has its benefits, particularly when it comes to their future health. Some breeds are prone to specific health conditions and knowing that beforehand you can make sure to visit the vet. But crossbreeds or mixed pups have an unclear family tree, or you flat-out don’t know anything about it.

Many owners choose to do dog breed DNA testing kits at home for fun, but also to figure out if their pups have genetic predispositions to specific diseases.


Why Your Dog’s Genetic Heritage Is Important

Your dog’s genes are responsible for more than their looks. Since humans started selectively breeding them, there are more than 400 different dog breeds that can be as different as chihuahuas and Great Danes… all within the same species.

But this consistent in-breeding has also reinforced specific behavioural and health variations. Certain breeds have carefully selected personality traits such as herding, hunting, retrieving, guarding, detecting scent, or providing companionship. Having your dog tested can help you discover some of its heritage, but also the possible health concerns that come with it.


How Accurate Are Dog DNA Test Kits?

The short answer to this is, it depends on the company. The long answer is that DNA is a complex phenomenon, and a single database might not give you every answer you needed.

Dog DNA test kits work by comparing your dog’s sample with the company’s database. The resulting report mentions the matching DNA segments, meaning, the genetic heritage of your dog.

Every company uses a different database with slightly different information. In general, most companies use databases with information from 95 to up to 350 dog breeds. Using computational analysis, the company creates a report that explains the percentage of every dog breed or category within your dog’s DNA.

The larger the DNA percentage, the higher the chances for your dog to look and act like that breed. On the other hand, a larger genetic similarity to well-known dog breeds can also point out genetic predispositions that could affect your dog in the long term.

PRO TIP: Bigger, better-known companies tend to have larger databases, so they might be a good starting point.

In some cases, these dog DNA tests look for specific genes that vets know are linked to certain diseases. Just like some types of cancer or Alzheimer’s disease, your dog can be more likely to suffer from specific diseases if they have certain genes.

However, the accuracy of your dog’s DNA results will change according to the company’s database. Plus, many diseases have a genetic cause but don’t have a single gene that causes them. This means that your dog could test negative for that gene but still get the disease or test positive for a gene and never develop a condition. For most chronic diseases, researchers simply don’t know whether there is a definitive genetic component, so testing is not available at all.

So, what can you use your dog DNA test kit for?


Are Dog DNA Tests Useful?

These kit’s effectiveness will depend on what you want them for. They can point out the breeds that make up your dog’s family tree and might offer some insight into their genetic predispositions. But these results shouldn’t be used to diagnose or clear your dog of any health issue.

In general, these tests are useful to have more info, but never to make health decisions. In fact, all of these providers have a disclaimer stating that testing is for informational purpose only, i.e. avoiding inbreeding. Keep in mind; even with an accurate result pointing at a genetic disease predisposition, this doesn’t mean your dog will definitely get that disease. Plus, remember that your pup’s lifestyle matters just as much in their long-term health, and having a balanced diet, consistent exercise and regular health checks will improve your dog’s outlook.

PRO TIP: Remember that just because your dog tested positive it doesn’t mean they’ll develop that health condition. Keep them healthy in other ways!


How To Perform A Dog DNA Test With A Kit

These are general directions. Remember to read your kit’s prospect and make sure to follow official instructions before opening the kit.

  • Decide what you want to know: While most of the providers offer to tell you your dog’s ancestry, health screenings sometimes aren’t offered or need a longer wait. Decide what you need from your test and choose your kit accordingly.
  • Get the kit and take a sample from your dog: Most tests require you to take one or two mouth swabs from the inside of your dog's mouth. Some companies offer free shipping for the sample, or even free replacement if the sample arrives damaged.
  • Wait for your report: After a few weeks, you will get the report and genetic health certificate.
  • Discuss the results: Most companies offer some level of customer service to help you understand and discuss your dog’s DNA report.

Final Thoughts

Dog DNA test kits can be fun to do, and results might surprise you! However, be careful not to rely too much on their health information. If you’re worried your dog might have specific conditions, talk to your vet about it. They are the best option to offer adequate testing and imaging to diagnose health issues. 

References
  1. Velie, B. D., et al. (2021). Inbreeding levels in an open-registry pedigreed dog breed: The Australian working kelpie. The Veterinary Journal, 269, 105609. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1090023321000046?casa_token=pe_0OWi9_IQAAAAA:SNWueNIK5doSVdzPSub-WO56v0lx28Jzm-JBMg5d7WJqxYBysuH5ob-UZXY3ucJesQ5_uRo4ng
  2. Holland, K. E. (2019). Acquiring a pet dog: A review of factors affecting the decision-making of prospective dog owners. Animals, 9(4), 124. https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/23ec/e2c463e42581407212c7e89bf9b00cf93bb4.pdf
  3. Donner, J., et al. (2018). Frequency and distribution of 152 genetic disease variants in over 100,000 mixed breed and purebred dogs. PLoS genetics, 14(4), e1007361. https://journals.plos.org/plosgenetics/article?id=10.1371/journal.pgen.1007361  
  4. Asher, L., et al. (2009). Inherited defects in pedigree dogs. Part 1: disorders related to breed standards. The Veterinary Journal, 182(3), 402-411. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1090023309003645?casa_token=1kMOE5Ygmg0AAAAA:Uz1DRAW4_4vQxbg7baZsA6F_clieRVoRvfpjSFpAnSEHEeJ1AMj5oavCWl4DP8QGmRRaRUd5pw
  5. Summers, J. F., et al. (2010). Inherited defects in pedigree dogs. Part 2: Disorders that are not related to breed standards. The Veterinary Journal, 183(1), 39-45.  https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1090023309004407?casa_token=FfeX4uqR2aAAAAAA:TjlBujFX2jw6Qojbcs1o_PdncJqcBi6hWDzYjBsZ4SXHJW63IiFeoUkQbigR3rGJsM4h5vrtkw
  6. Mazrier, H., et al. (2016). Canine atopic dermatitis: breed risk in Australia and evidence for a susceptible clade. Veterinary Dermatology, 27(3), 167-e42. https://europepmc.org/article/med/27188769
  7. Teng, K. T. et al. (2016). Trends in popularity of some morphological traits of purebred dogs in Australia. Canine genetics and epidemiology, 3(1), 1-9. Available here.
Eloisa Thomas

Eloisa Thomas is a dog lover & anthropologist. She enjoys writing content that will actually help people understand their dogs better. Eloisa is able to use her expertise to write informative posts on canine behaviour and training.

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