Dog DNA tests - useful or not?
Currently, the consensus points to "it depends".
Dog DNA tests can be helpful for owners that have a mixed bred pup and want to understand their needs better.
By knowing what breeds your dog is mixed with you have a bit more knowledge of what the dog requires in terms of temperament, physical activity, training, etc.
For example, if tests reveal that your dog has Border Collie AND Cattle Dog, you'll know that the dog will likely need extra physical activity.
Is Your Shiba Inu Really a Purebred??
Now this is where DNA tests could possibly be useful.
Due to the extraordinary "hype" of Shiba Inus SO MANY unknowing new dog parents are getting their Shiba Inus from backyard breeders and puppy mills.
And sadly, most of these Shiba Inus do not conform to Shiba Inu standards and are much more likely to suffer from future health issues - many of them serious.
In many cases, the Shiba Inus are not purebred - even those that come with "papers".
These types of Shiba Inus often look "kind of" like Shibas but not really... They have incorrect proportions, wrong head shape, off coat colors, etc.
This is the very reason why it's SO IMPORTANT to research breeders before deciding on getting a Shiba Inu.
A pure Shiba Inu of decent quality is very hard to find and the cost is much more than a typical backyard breeder / puppy mill Shiba Inu.
A dog DNA test could be helpful if you are interested in knowing if you really got a purebred Shiba or not.
In fact reputable and quality breeders like Suzanne Ozasa of Jogoso Shiba Inus INCLUDE the puppy's parents Embark DNA results with any of her pups.
Before any planned breeding Suzanne DNA tests her Shiba adults to check if they're carriers of any undesirable traits and any possible health issues.
Just remember, there's no way to guarantee 100% accuracy.
What is a Dog DNA Test?
A dog DNA test is much like a human DNA test. Using DNA collected from a swab or other method, the DNA is then examined to determine the dog's lineage.
Different companies may use various methods, and to date, not one company has had their process peer-reviewed for accuracy assessments.
However, Mars Petcare does their own internal testing which they say shows that there tests are 93% accurate.
Are the tests monitored or regulated by any governing body?
No. Since these tests aren’t monitoring humans, the FDA doesn't regulate them like they would Ancestry or 23andMe tests.
However, companies like Embark and Wisdom Panel are letting their research and discoveries gain consumer trust and interest.
Embark's pioneering work in research and development uncovered the origin's of the domestic dog near Central Asia over 15,000 years ago and the history of dog populations around the globe.
They have made it their mission to unlock the secrets of the canine basis for dog diseases and traits.
By offering dog dna tests to consumers worldwide, companies like Embark and Wisdom Panel are amassing an invaluable amount of data that will surely lead to future discoveries and innovation.
How Do Dog DNA Tests Work?
Once you've decided on which Dog DNA test company to use, simply order a test kit and follow the instructions on how to best obtain a sample from your pup
Now, this can be tricky, depending on how obedient your dog is when it comes to having their mouth handled. (one of the many reasons why it's so important to incorporate handling lessons at a young age)
Bribery, a.k.a. something delicious, may be needed if you have an especially reluctant participant.
However, if you use treats to bribe to your pooch to hand over saliva, don't let them eat the treat right away. Doing so could cause false results with the test.
Just use the treat to quickly get your dog’s attention, swab their cheek, and then reward!
Now just mail in the sample and wait for the results.
The company will take the sample, compare the DNA to other breeds in their database, and then they send you the results.
You'll often get a PDF or a link to the online profile. Some companies will even personally reach out to you to discuss worrisome results.
Are Dog DNA Tests Accurate?
This one is definitely up for debate.
Since the tests aren’t regulated, you are more or less relying on the company’s internal quality control—and their honesty.
Each company has a different methodology for how they complete the test, so while the results might be spot on for one dog -- they could be totally wrong for another.
At the present, there are little to no peer-reviewed publications about dog DNA testing; nor are there tests pertaining to the accuracy of such kits.
Furthermore, some companies will refrain from publishing their processes due to proprietary methods that they want to keep secret. So keep that in mind if you opt to test your dog’s DNA.
In our opinion the more expensive testing kits may provide greater accuracy, since the database of breeds is far larger.
Leading DNA test providers like Wisdom Panel understands that the lack of regulations does not bode well for their industry in terms of consumer confidence.
Because of this they along with other leading DNA companies have joined forces to collaborate in the Harmonization of Genetic Testing for Dogs Project (HGTD).
HGTD aims to be a comprehensive and standardized genetic portal.
Reasons You Should Test Your Dog's DNA:
Here are some reasons why you may want a dog DNA test done:
- You are getting a new Shiba Inu puppy and you want to check their DNA breed and / or health profile (especially if you'll already be forking over thousands of dollars)
- You have a mixed breed dog and want to learn more about their ancestry. Dog DNA tests, especially the more expensive ones, are relatively accurate at figuring out which breeds your pooch is made of.
- You want to know how large your new puppy could grow. This could be useful for people who live in apartments with weight restrictions.
- You want insight into why your dog behaves a certain way. Once you have learned about the breeds that make up your mixed breed buddy, you may have a better understanding of their quirks.
- You’re worried your dog might be at risk for a certain disease. If you know what your dog’s family tree but not what that entails, a dog DNA test could shed some light on that for you. That way, you and your veterinarian can pay attention to their health and make adjustments as needed.
- Dog DNA test kits are relatively easy to use.
Reasons You Should NOT Test Your Dog's DNA:
Here are some times when a canine DNA test is not worth it:
- You’re worried about the privacy of your data. Since these companies conducting the tests are not regulated, they can sell the information about your dog.
- You’re concerned about accuracy. Some tests are not entirely accurate, and that can provide false information.
- You might concentrate too much on a possibility. Let’s say the test comes back and says your dog is at risk for hip dysplasia. Even if they’re perfectly healthy, you might end up spending hundreds on tests for no reason. Remember, just because a DNA test says your dog is at risk for something, it doesn’t mean they’re absolutely going to get it.
- There's a danger that incorrect test results regarding a dog's health could lead serious consequences.
- Dog DNA test kits are pricey
How Much Does a Dog DNA Test Cost?
The cost of a canine DNA tests varies depends on the company.
You can find a number of DNA test kits online that start around $60, however that price can increase depending on what’s included in the test or the kit.
Typically, the lower the cost of the test, the less accurate it's likely to be.
In the DNA testing realm - you really do get what you pay for.
On average, you can expect to pay between $85 and $175 for a dog DNA test.
Dog DNA Test Companies
Out of all of the DNA testing companies, Embark is clearly the the frontrunner in being one of the most accurate and more importantly - trusted DNA testing companies.
Embark has a massive database of 350 breeds and even includes wild canines, like dingoes and wolves.
The company checks for more disease markers than any other DNA testing company.
Embark is partnered with the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine in order to develop a proprietary research-grade DNA genotyping platform.
This type of advanced technology will allow to researchers to expand the pool of genetic information that will surely lead to new discoveries and treatments in veterinary medicine.
Embark is a sponsor (2020-2021) of the Harmonization of Genetic Testing for Dogs Project (HGTD).
What sets Embark apart from the other DNA testing companies is the fact that they'll typically reach out personally to their customers when they discover a possible health issue in their results.
We think that's pretty cool.
You can choose between two Embark kits: one for a standard DNA test and another with an additional health screening.
Check out the current price of Embark DNA tests here.
Developed by Wisdom Health (formerly Mars Petcare) - Wisdom Panel tests compares the DNA of your pooch to the DNA of 350 breeds.
Although Wisdom Panel will not review exactly how they complete the testing, they stated that internal testing with mixed breeds has been up to 93% accurate.
Wisdom Panel was developed by geneticists and veterinarians over the past 20 years and has the world's largest breed reference database
Furthermore, Wisdom Health is one of the few Animal DNA testing companies that are collaborating in the Harmonization of Genetic Testing for Dogs Project (HGTD).
The aims of HGTD is to be a be a trusted portal of genetic information (breed verification, disease markers) that is rigorously standardized across the board.
Compared to Embark, Wisdom Panel has a bigger database of dog breeds while Embark tests for more disease markers.
Since Embark costs a bit more, we'd recommend Wisdom Panel if you're simply interested in your Dog's pedigree.
You can select between two products: a standard and premium version, which contains a health screening.
Check out the current price of Wisdom Panel tests here.
Final Thoughts on Dog DNA Tests
You’ve got to admit: canine DNA tests are an enticing concept for dog owners. But is it the best option for your dog?
Maybe. Since DNA testing isn’t harmful to dogs, the answer depends on your specific reason for wanting a test, and of course, your budget.
Some of the information might be useful, but there are definitely limits to what a DNA test can tell you.
Behaviors, for instance, are difficult to pin down to one breed though health concerns are much more discernible.
Basically, the necessity of a dog DNA test boils down to you wanting to know your dog's pedigree OR any health issues that "could" be an issue down the road.
If you’re not interested or you own pedigree, then you probably don’t need to purchase one.
BUT, if you do decide to try out DNA testing, for now, we only recommend the two companies mentioned in this article.
There are many "cheaper" tests available - but because accuracy and quality / rigor is not apparent - it's simply not worth the time nor the cost.
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