DNA Testing for Pets?

By Noelle Adams

When I first discovered that you could get a DNA test for your dog, I was intrigued.  I couldn’t really see any immediate application for spending $60+ on a DNA test for your pet, so I did what any self-respecting millennial would do. I went to the internet for answers. Talk about an eye-opener!

Turns out the applications for DNA tests in Dogs are the same ones we use them for in humans. For example, determining genetic ancestry or, in dogs, finding out exactly what type of breeds make up your adorable adopted mutt are the same as in most human DNA tests. This is the primary reason most people get their dogs tested.

Statistically, there are around 3.2 million shelter animals adopted each year according to a survey done by ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals).  Some of these are pure-bred animals, but the vast majority of them are mixed breeds.  Everything from a dog’s predisposed behavior patterns to its exercise and health needs is determined by breed. So, knowing an animal’s specific breed makeup is pretty critical to making sure that the animal’s needs are being met. Which leads to the other reason people get their dogs tested.

Loving pet owners tend to take their animal’s health seriously and, for some, a DNA test is a perfect way to help them prepare for any future health issues that may crop up.  Certain genetic mutations can be indicators for serious diseases and a DNA test could be helpful in determining your pet’s risk factor.

Here comes the “BUT”……

Human DNA tests have several major advantages over animal ones. The first, and I cannot emphasize this enough, all DNA tests sold in the USA are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (or FDA).  This means that there are certain criteria that a test and its process have to meet in order for it to be safely and reliably used by the public.  Animal DNA tests have no government regulations, which means that there is no common standard for these tests to adhere to.

A couple of other big differences are that Humans have been testing their DNA for decades, giving us a HUGE database to draw from for comparison.  Also, the human genome has been mapped and studied extensively for over twice that length of time. All of this means that when genetic mutations crop up, they’re more easily recognized. Animal DNA tests don’t have those advantages. Does that mean that they’re not worth doing? Not necessarily.

Elinor Karlsson, an assistant professor of molecular medicine at the University Of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, is the Senior Author of a paper published in Journal Nature that addresses the issue of Animal DNA testing. She states that

“If you take the results with a grain of salt, meaning you realize that they might be an indication but not an absolute picture of your pet’s health, then go for it,” (https://www.livescience.com/63164-pet-dog-genetic-tests-misleading.html )

While tests from different companies vary on percentages of the breed, they can still identify which ones exist.  That can give pet owners a big advantage in caring for their pets. However, it’s important for owners to understand that the science of animal DNA testing is still in its infancy and will need more time before using them for diagnosing your pet’s health.

 

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