DNA testing is now available that claims to tell us about our pets' ancestry. Canine DNA testing is an intriguing concept for many pet lovers who have speculated endlessly about their pet's questionable ancestry and tried to attribute their behavior to breed traits. For vets, the appeal of such testing is learning which mixed-breed dog is genetically predisposed to hip dysplasia, such as German shepherds, and which breed to watch for eye problems (a common complaint in collies).
Several different packages are available, but all of them work on similar principles. The dog owner or veterinarian takes a sample of DNA-laden tissue (cheek swab or blood sample) and sends it to the company from whom the test was purchased. The company isolates the DNA from the sample, analyzes the dog's DNA sequence, compares it with DNA sequences from a large database of various purebred canines, and uses computerized algorithms to determine the predominant breed or breeds based on specific similarities in the DNA sequences.
Various Testing Kits
Several over-the-counter kits are available from online and pet retailers. BioPet, Canine Heritage and Wisdom Panel Insights test are the three most widely available kits. All of these kits retail for between $60 and $90, as of 2010.
Wisdom Panel also offers a blood DNA test that is only available through veterinarians called Wisdom Panel Professional. The veterinarian draws a small blood sample during a routine office visit; that sample is used in place of the cheek swab used in the over-the-counter kits. The cost of this test to the dog owner will vary depending on the veterinary office that draws the blood.
BioPet's DNA analysis draws from a database of canines from 62 breeds, while Canine Heritage's database contains 100 breeds. The Wisdom Panel Insight draws from a database of 170 plus breeds, while the Wisdom Panel Professional claims to test for similarity to 200 breeds. BioPet is the only one of these three companies that offers confirmation of pure breeding (for 38 breeds); the other two are strictly for identification of mixed-breed dogs. The Wisdom Panel Professional uses a blood sample, whereas the others use a cheek swab; both contain the same DNA.
All of the packages offer a certificate of testing that provides, in one format or another, the dog breed(s) that the test has detected and a non-quantitative estimate of how much of each breed might be present in the dog. Most packages also include fact sheets on the characteristics of purebred dogs of the breeds detected. Because of the limitations of DNA testing and the nature of the DNA databases, the more mixed a dog is, the more difficult it is to detect the ancestral breeds. If a dog does not have any purebred parents or grandparents, for instance, it is possible that the report will return with no breed detected.
Since the true lineage of most mixed-breed dogs is undocumented, it is difficult to assess the accuracy of these tests. The Wisdom Panel website claims 90 percent accuracy in determining the parentage of a dog with two purebred parents of different breeds. Before investing in a doggie DNA test, it may be advisable to read reviews of different tests to see whether customers of more strongly mixed dogs have been satisfied with the results they have received.