Dog DNA Test: Taking The Guesswork Out Of Your Dog’s Breed

Unlike humans, dogs can’t tell us about their background, so until very recently figuring out what breeds made up a “mystery mutt” was mostly guesswork based on appearance. But looks can be deceiving — and even in the case of a dog that looks completely like a particular breed, there may be hidden ancestors.

You can test your dog’s DNA and save $30 off the full price thanks to Cesar and Embark. Just go to their site and use the coupon code CESARDNA.

This can be important information to know because some breeds are more inclined than others to have certain conditions. For example, German shepherds are more likely to develop hip dysplasia, and Great Danes are prone to congenital megaesophagus (ME), which can cause poor weight gain and other complications.

The Embark testing kit

Commercially available human DNA test kits first appeared around 2000 and have grown in number since then. Canine DNA tests have been available for the last decade, although there are fewer options available.

One company in the field, Embark, claims much more accurate results than other tests because of the scope of what they do. According to the company, “Embark uses over 200,000 genetic markers to accurately piece together (a) dog’s genome, chromosome by chromosome. This allows Embark to pinpoint exactly which part of each chromosome is represented by which breed.” In comparison, tests from other companies use fewer than 10,000 markers.

The Embark test also includes identifying genetic predispositions for more than 160 diseases and over a dozen physical traits. Unlike other tests, they will also periodically update your profile with new results as science of canine genetics improves, allowing you to gain more insights from your dog’s genetic profile.

A typical reason for a genetic test involves a dog’s health. One Embark customer reported, “I took the test because my dog, Milo, is a rescue. We had zero knowledge of his previous life, so I knew taking an Embark test would help us learn a lot. We were able to find out what his breeds are and if he was a carrier of any genetic diseases.”

Sometimes, the reason for the test is simply curiosity, as was the case with one Cesar’s Way staffer, Paul. He explained, “Having had our dog Bonnie for several years, we were never sure what breed she was. We thought she was a Chihuahua-corgi mix but we weren’t one hundred percent sure.”

This is Bonnie. Looking at her picture, what would you guess her breeds to be?

Bonnie, suspecting nothing

Paul proceeded to test Bonnie’s DNA. Here is a look at the process, from start to finish.

How does it work?

The kit arrives as an all-in-one box with everything you need to take and send in the test results right inside.

The kit open

Inside the inner box

For human DNA tests, the subject only has to spit into a test tube — something that it isn’t possible to get your dogs to do. The hardest part is actually doing the swabbing of your dog’s cheek, but if you can get her in a calm place it really isn’t that difficult. Here is the test process with Bonnie, the dog mentioned above.

The test swab, wrapped

Swab, deployed

Swabbing Bonnie, #1

Paul reported that the test was no trouble. “We inserted the collection swab in her cheek and under her tongue for about 30 seconds and then it was over,” he explained. After that, it was time to send the sample back to Embark to get the results.

Getting the results

The Embark kit includes a unique code to activate it online, after which owners can track the progress of the sample’s receipt and through the sequencing process. Paul also reported that email communication from Embark kept him constantly updated on the status of the sample and how soon the results would be ready.

Why do it?

Besides mere curiosity and determining possible health issues, genetic testing can help protect dogs from breed specific legislation by proving that they are not part of banned breeds. And when a potential medical problem is identified, it can give the owners a heads-up as far as where their vet can take extra care.

In the case of rescue dog Milo, the test did show that he was a carrier of progressive retinal atrophy (PRA), which can cause blindness. As a carrier, this isn’t a problem for Milo. However, if he were ever to be bred, his owners would want to make sure his mate wasn’t also a carrier, as this could produce affected puppies.

In addition to health conditions and genetic background, Embark also reports on traits likely to appear, such as expected normal adult weight, and genetic age, which is much more accurate than the approximate method of “21 for the first year plus 4 for every year after that.” So not only can it predict likely health issues, but it can give you an idea of the state of your dog’s health right now.

So what did Bonnie turn out to be? Here’s her family tree:

Bonnie’s ancestors

The big surprise here was Bonnie’s poodle background, as well as the complete absence of corgi. Other information included in the results were her genetic age, which was put at 57 years, and her likely adult weight, which was listed as 10lbs.

This one was a bit of a surprise to Paul because Bonnie actually weighs 30lbs. However, just like Embark uses customers’ genetic data to help make discoveries that impact canine health, they are also actively using input from owners to improve their weight algorithm and make more discoveries about the genetics of body size. So, we can expect the accuracy of their weight algorithm to improve in the near future to match the high level of accuracy shown throughout the rest of their testing.

You can test your dog’s DNA and save $30 off the full price thanks to Cesar and Embark. Just go to their site and use the coupon code CESARDNA.

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