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Doggie DNA test . . . worth the cost?

Image of DNA in a test tube.
DNA in a test tube image

Previously, you might remember that we spent some time discussing the ancestry and breed relations of our favoritie PetPalsTV precious pooch, Mabel. If you missed her big reveal, you can see some of that information here.

Like all science, the technology of DNA testing improves year by year and PetPalsTV was presented with a unique opportunity to not only learn about the ancestry of another dog, but also do some comparison shopping with DNA test kits. In this case, we received a saliva/cheek cell test kit marketed by EmbarkVet and another test marketed by Royal Canin, the Genetic Health Analysis, which is a blood based test. Both tests show more the ability to ascertain more than 250 breeds as well as test for around 150 genetic disorders, and both were similarly priced. So, we thought, hey . . . we can answer the question of which test is better, blood or saliva AND see if we got comparable results.

Mixed breed dog Daisy

Meet Daisy, our newest PetPalsTV superstar and long-time friend of PPTV reporter, Susan Hobbs. Susan obtained Daisy from our local community animal shelter and saw that Daisy was listed as a "Brussels Griffon mix". Daisy has made herself a queen in Susan's household and Susan never really worried about her ancestry other than to claim that Daisy was "part brillo pad, part dust bunny and part pizza crust."

Daisy came in for her special day and our team was able to collect about 3 cc of blood plus her saliva sample/cheek swab. We sent the samples off to their respective labs and waited the requisite 4-6 weeks for results. There are pros and cons to both tests . . . for the cheek swab, the pro is simply that you can do it at home, but you do run the slight risk of contamination if you have a multiple dog household (sharing of toys, bowls, etc). For the blood test, the pro is having a sample that is strictly obtained from one unique pet, but the con is that you will likely need your veterinarian's assistance.

Sample PCR test

At the labs, Daisy's DNA was extracted from her cells and many copies were made via amplification in a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) machine. This step allows both companies to have enough DNA on hand to test via their proprietary techniques and algorithms. By comparing Daisy's DNA to their library of genetic markers, both companies could then make educated guesses as to her ancestry as well as look for any markers of inherited diseases.

These genetic libraries contain samples from a wide variety of individual dogs and breeds. When the sample DNA is compared to the library of markers, the companies are looking at single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) (unique mutations in specific stretches of DNA) as well as haplotypes (a specific set of genes inherited from one parent and often includes many SNPs) and haplogroups (similar haplotypes that share a common ancestor with a specific SNP). Confused yet? I would recommend checking out Embark's blog as a follow up to this one!

Anyway, once the comparisons have been made, the computers can then create the best scenario for the make up of the pet's ancestors. And, this is where most people start exclaiming "WHAT??" when they get the results. "My precious Fluffy doesn't look like a (Insert breed here)!!"

Miniature Pinscher dog on a leash outside
Miniature Pinscher

There are two important things to remember: first, genetics is a game of chance, you get some genes from mom and some from dad. Second, many of the breeds we recognize today have been developed from ancestor breeds that may look slightly or significantly different. A great example is the Miniature Pinscher, whose ancestor breeds include the Italian Greyhound and the Dachshund. Again, there is a great write up on this to help further your education.

OK . . . now that you have the scoop on how these things work, you are probably anxious to know what results we got for Daisy. Well . . . PSYCH! We can't share that yet (you gotta go watch the show), but we can tell you that both tests gave comparable results for the breed ancestry. We can also share that Daisy does not have any markers for genetic disease -- that's a good thing!!

When I compared the data from Embark and the Genetic Health Analysis, to me, the Embark test comes out on top. The Embark library of genetic markers is in excess of 200,000 while the Genetic Health Analysis is closer to 3,000. This does not take anything away from the validity of the Genetic Health Analysis, but for my money, I would want the test that compares more markers.

Don't worry, we will update this blog just as soon as we get the OK from the top dogs!

Have you had a DNA test run for your pet? What did you think??


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