What to know about DNA testing for your dog

Q: I adopted a dog from a shelter and want to know more about what breeds she may be, so I’m looking for recommendations on a pet DNA test.

I personally think rescued mutts make the best pets, but the trade off is that you’ll get little or no information on your pet’s actual breed.

Knowing the genetic makeup of your pet can be helpful in understanding how big they may get, some general life expectancy info, and any breed specific behaviors or medical issues that may exist.

“It’s mostly just for fun or to gain insight into breed-specific medical issues,” according to Katrina Krings, a professional dog trainer in New York City. Avoiding medications that are known to be problematic to specific breeds is one of the greatest benefits, Krings added.

How accurate are they?

Pet DNA tests aren’t quite as sophisticated and accurate as human DNA tests, especially if you have a pet with a lot of different breeds.

Genetic testing is really an exercise in sophisticated scientific comparisons, so the purer and more common the breed of your pet, the more accurate the tests tend to be. If your pet has a large mix or rare breeds in them, it can generate less accurate or, in some cases, inconclusive results.

Before deciding on a specific test, it’s best to have clear goals in mind.

What to look for

Since this is an elaborate comparison of your dog against a known database of genetic markers, finding a test with a large number of breeds and genetic markers will generally provide the most accurate results.

The American Kennel Club currently recognizes 190 breeds, which you can use as a benchmark for test comparisons.

Keep in mind: the more elaborate the test, the more expensive it will be as well.


One of the most comprehensive options you have is from Embark, which also makes it one of the most expensive at $199.

Embark tests for 175+ breeds, 200,000+ genetic markers, 160+ diseases and provides results on breed, genetic ancestry, health and physical traits by using a cheek swab.

They also incorporate genetic mutation testing to determine your pet’s health conditions as opposed to cheaper tests that merely list conditions based on individual breeds, and Embark will update your results as new tests are added.

Wisdom Panel

If you’re looking for a less expensive option, Wisdom Panel offers two tests: Wisdom Panel 4.0 ($85) and Wisdom Panel Health ($150).

Both tests, also using swabs, will provide you with ancestry percentages, ancestry tree, physical/behavioral traits, and a basic genetic health panel that screens for drug and exercise sensitivities.

The Health Panel adds advanced health screening that includes results for 150+ genetic health conditions.

Cat vs. dog DNA tests

If you’re interested in DNA tests for cats, you’ll want to start by making sure you’re using a service specifically designed to analyze cat DNA, such as Basepaws or Orivet. Cats haven’t been studied through the years nearly as much as dogs, so the associated information based on the breed is likely not to be as extensive, but still helpful.

Ken Colburn is founder and CEO of Data Doctors Computer Services. Ask any tech question on Facebook or Twitter.

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