The science behind doggie DNA is progressing rapidly beyond most pet parents’ imaginations. The question is: Should you have your dog’s DNA tested? What can these tests tell you, and how accurate are they? Great questions with gray answers.
Digging up DNA
Pet parents can purchase a test without a vet’s prescription, and testing requires a simple (and painless) cheek swab – once you can get past your pup’s kisses! Results provide a breed analysis, revealing what percentage of a certain breed makes up your mutt. (It’s also interesting to check if your purebred is, well, pure-bred.) But are these tests accurate?
Accuracy is nearly impossible to determine at this time, even in time-tested human DNA analysis. When the canine tests have been independently compared head-to-head (er, cheek-to-cheek), they seem very similar. My own dogs’ DNA breed analyses seem pretty believable.
As a veterinarian, the breed analysis is the least interesting option. I’m more excited about the health implications.
Pet health predictor
Currently, some tests like Embark screen for 160 health conditions, while others screen for a handful of genetic conditions like MDR1 mutation (“ivermectin sensitivity”). As more genetic research is conducted and connections made between gene sequences and disease, the number of potential problems we can identify will surge.
Before pursuing doggie DNA tests, ask yourself if you’re primarily interested in breed makeup or want to track potential genetic disorders in the future. Though it’s less expensive today if you stick with simple breed analysis, you won’t get the expanded health information.
Your dog’s DNA is made up of a unique protein code, so once you’ve acquired that sequence, you’ve got it for life. This means that as the technology progresses and our understanding of genes advances, so will your knowledge.
You won’t need to re-test until other genetic biomarkers are discovered, if ever. I receive periodic updates from 23andMe on what my family’s DNA means as new research is published. This is coming soon for dogs.
A glimpse at the future
Over the next decade, I predict we will see an explosion in the ability to decipher DNA and predict diseases, longevity and tips to extend and enhance quality of life for both humans and pets.
In a few years, these tests will tumble in price (well below $100 for the most thorough and advanced results) and expand in scope. I see a time in the near-future when you’ll walk into your Dr.’s or vet’s office, donate a small saliva or cheek swab sample and, within minutes, have your ailment identified and a precise treatment prescribed.
Further, you’ll be able to foresee any genetic curveballs that could cause disease or morbidity in the future. You can then choose or refuse to begin combat against these ailments.
We’ll be faced with a multitude of bioethical quandaries, but this technology is unstoppable. In fact, in high-tech labs around the globe, many of these technologies are nearing completion. What an exciting time to be alive! But let’s get back to present day.
So, are dog DNA tests worth it?
I think so. As a doctor deeply involved in enhancing longevity in people and pets, the more data I have to advise lifestyle and avoid risks, the better.
If I’m an animal shelter looking to place dogs in forever homes, I think DNA testing helps connect the right dog with the right home. As a futurist, I know that our abilities to detect and predict disease earlier and more accurately are just around the corner.
What an exciting time to be a pet! (Check out www.Project25.vet to see how I’m working to increase the life expectancy of dogs and cats.)
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