Guessing Games vs. Genetic Testing

Guessing Games vs. Genetic Testing

“What do you think he is, Doc?” 

The squirmy brown-and-white puppy kisses my face. Immediately after his pet parent asks me this all-too-frequent question, my brain jumps to answer it. Maybe a little beagle with some chihuahua? Although that coat could be some type of terrier….

I stop myself. The truth of the matter is that I don’t know what breeds combined to make the adorable ball of kisses and tail wags, and research shows that my best guess, even as a veterinary professional, will only be about 25% accurate. 25%! 

For pet parents who really want to know, I recommend genetic testing. These tests are still not perfect, but with an accuracy of 84-90%, that’s a lot better than my off-the-cuff guess. 

More importantly to me, if we do genetic testing we can also get information about an individual’s genetic health and disease predisposition. This can help us plan for a lifetime of health, since most diseases are best managed with early identification and intervention. 

Of course, for responsible dog breeders, genetic testing is essential. Knowing if your animals are carriers for a particular disease impacts breeding decisions. For example, my border collie, Cora, is a carrier for trapped neutrophil syndrome. Because she’s a carrier, she doesn’t have the disease herself, but she can pass on the trapped neutrophil syndrome gene on to her puppies. Therefore, when I decide to breed her, it has to be with a dog who is NOT also a carrier for trapped neutrophil syndrome so that her puppies won’t get the disease. 

If you’re like most people I know, in that last paragraph you probably got distracted by the fact that you’ve never heard of trapped neutrophil syndrome (lol). I bring this up not because I need you to know about trapped neutrophil syndrome, but because it’s important to acknowledge that there are thousands of genetic diseases that you’ve never heard of and it’s entirely possible that your dog could be affected! 

If you’re looking for a fun way to torture yourself with too much information, check out www.mybreeddata.com, which will enable you to see a list of all the diseases that have been scientifically established in a particular breed as well as new potential diseases in a breed. This data comes from Wisdom Health/Wisdom Panel, which is one of the most popular DNA testing kits on the market today. Personally, my preferred genetic testing service is Embark, as they are partnered with Cornell University and use over 200,000 genetic markers in the analysis (over twice their competitors). However, they’re also one of the more expensive panels, and I’ve also had a good experience with Wisdom Panel if people are looking for a more cost-effective option. 

If there’s a particular disease you need to have tested that’s NOT covered in one of the above panels, PennGen, the database of testing centers managed by the University of Pennsylvania, can help you find where to get testing for particular diseases. 

In summary, it might be fun to guess your dog’s breed combinations, but you’re probably not right! Genetic testing is a much more accurate way to get information specific to your dog’s genetic makeup, and it often gives you the benefit of health data as well!

Yours in healthy, responsibly-bred puppies,

2 Responses

  1. Does Embark’s test give you what breed(s) the pet is, too?

    1. Yep! They have different versions – breed(s) vs. genetics vs. both so you just have to make sure that you’re getting the one you want.

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