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Dog DNA Tests: What you should know

Marcela OteroMar 30, 2017

What is DNA testing?

DNA testing, or mixed-breed analysis, is a method for analyzing your dog’s breed ancestry. When performed on puppies, DNA tests can predict potential adult size, temperament, genetic predisposition to certain health issues, and exercise needs. Some residential buildings and insurance companies have also started requiring breed documentation.

How does DNA testing work?

Once you purchase your DNA kit, the process is very straightforward—simply swab the inside of your dog’s cheek to collect cell samples, place the swab in the provided baggie, and mail to the lab, where it’s compared against a database of thousands of breed genetic markers. In three to eight weeks, depending on the test, you’ll receive the results.

Typically, companies include the following information in your results:

  • Ancestry information
  • Breed descriptions
  • Predicted weight and size profile
  • Behavior and training insights based on breed
  • Possible health concerns based on breed

How accurate are dog DNA tests?

The accuracy level of dog DNA tests depends on the size of their database—companies that test for 150 breeds, and have larger samples of genetic markers will have far more accurate results than one that only has 84, for example. This explains why the same dog may have considerably different results with different tests.

The most thorough companies will also test for genetic mutations specific to your dog, and include wolf, coyote and village dog ancestry in their results.

What are the benefits of DNA testing?

Aside from the obvious benefits of being able to predict with a reasonable degree of accuracy the potential adult size and activity level of your new puppy—which is why many shelters are incorporating DNA tests—you can also find out about possible health concerns. Knowing about the risks to your dog’s health ahead of time can save lives.

For a relatively low investment, you can anticipate possible problems down the road and take the appropriate measures with their diet and health. Many people consider their pets a part of the family, and enjoy knowing their genetic background.

How much does dog DNA testing cost?

The cost of dog DNA testing can range anywhere from $70 to $200. On the more expensive end of the spectrum, you’ll receive more accurate results and wider knowledge about your dog’s genetic makeup and potential health issues. The less expensive tests can be fun, but their results should be taken with a grain of salt, since they tend to have much smaller databases from which to draw on.

Does pet insurance cover DNA testing?

Pet insurance companies don’t cover DNA testing, since it’s considered an optional procedure that’s not essential to your dog’s healthcare. However, since the test is relatively inexpensive, it can be worth it just for the peace of mind.

What are the best or most popular DNA tests?

These are the main dog DNA test providers. Bear in mind that the larger the dog database, the more thorough the results. Different companies provide different types of reports, so it’s worthwhile asking how thorough the results are before purchasing a test. Finally, don’t expect 100% accuracy — testing centers can only classify your dog according to its closest genetic relative they have on file.

  • Embark - Though this is one of the most expensive DNA tests at $199, it’s also one of of the most comprehensive. It includes more than 160 genetic tests, the most breed markers of any DNA test, checks for coyote, wolf or village dog ancestry, and provides free updates for life.
  • Wisdom Panel 4.0 - Mars Veterinary has been in the dog DNA testing business for ten years, and the latest version of the Wisdom Panel test comes with more bells and whistles than ever before, with a smaller price tag than Embark ($84.99). It also detects for coyote and wolf, has a 250 dog breed database, and tests for some genetic mutations and traits.
  • DNA my Dog - This is a bit more economical at just $68.99. It’s also the least complete, even though it’s in the same price range as Wisdom Panel. Though it does test for dominant breeds, personality traits, and health concerns—based on breed only—it doesn’t test for any genetic mutations, and customers report complaints with its accuracy. For $20 extra, you can add a test for coyote or wolf ancestry as well.
  • PetConfirm - This is made by Confirm BioSciences, which concentrates mainly on human DNA testing. It’s nearly identical to DNA my Dog, offering a breed percentage report, breed analysis certificate, outline of generic health concerns and personality traits for the breed in your dog’s profile. This test is the least expensive of all the tests we reviewed, ($51.99 at Petco).