Have you ever wondered what your dog’s ancestry is or if it really is the breed you were told? A DNA test could reveal all. But you may be wondering, are dog DNA tests accurate? This is a common reaction, so we’ve taken a deep dive to provide you with answers. I even tested my dogs and am excited to share the results!
Let’s get into it!
What Is a Dog DNA Test?
A dog DNA test is a scientific method used to analyze and identify the genetic makeup of a dog. It involves collecting a small sample of the dog’s DNA, usually through a cheek swab or blood sample, and sending it to a specialized laboratory for analysis. The test examines the dog’s DNA for specific genetic markers and variations. It can determine the dog’s breed and provide insights into its ancestry.
By unraveling the genetic mysteries of a dog, DNA tests offer valuable information about both its heritage and potential risks of inherited diseases.
Why Do Dog Owners Do DNA Tests?
Dog owners do DNA tests for various reasons. The main reason for people who adopt their dogs from a shelter to DNA test their dog is to find out what combination of breeds make up their mixed-breed furbaby. While shelter staff and vets make their best guess based on the dog’s looks, you’d be shocked to find out how often the guesses are surprisingly incorrect.
For example, in the video below, Rhett and Link from the popular YouTube channel Good Mythical Morning compete to see who can guess their rescue dogs’ breed the best. Watch and be ready for a shock when they find out what their dogs’ heritage really is. Most surprising is what it turns out NOT to be! As a teaser, my experience turned out to be a similar shock.
The other main purpose to test your dog’s DNA is to reveal potential health issues and genetic traits that might be present in the dog’s genetic code. This goes for mystery rescue dogs as well as for purebred dogs. Breeders have to be very careful about genetics to avoid hereditary diseases and ailments, such as hip dysplasia, heart conditions, cancers, and others that can be passed down from generation to generation, just like in humans.
It also helps the owners and veterinarians make more informed decisions about the dog’s health. The test can help prolong the life of your pet and offer it a better quality of life since you can work to prevent potential medical issues. In addition, some dog owners do a DNA test just for fun.
Suggested Reading: Learn why some Border Collies have blue eyes. Hint: It has a lot to do with genetics.
Are Dog DNA Tests Accurate?
I’ll be honest: when doggie DNA tests first started coming out years ago, I was very skeptical. While I loved the idea of finding out the “formula” for creating my beloved rescue dogs, I didn’t think it’d be worth hundreds of dollars to get potentially inaccurate information.
However, now that these tests are more affordable and widespread, they are more popular than ever. But it’s important to understand their limitations. While most reputable DNA testing companies strive for accuracy, it’s crucial to choose a reputable and reliable service. Accuracy can vary based on the specific test, the quality of the laboratory, and the database of genetic samples they’ve been able to build their analysis from. Remember, dog breeds are completely manmade phenomena created from selective breeding, often developed over generations from combinations of other older breeds or mixes.
While I’m still very skeptical that any of these tests will ever be 100% accurate, with larger sample sizes and more advancements in decoding and marker matching, they have definitely improved. In our research, we’ve found that many DNA tests can determine the primary breed or breeds present in a dog’s genetic makeup, especially if it has purebred ancestors. However, accuracy may decrease when identifying smaller percentages of mixed breeds or less common breeds.
The interpretation of results may also vary between different testing companies, leading to slight variations if you get multiple tests done. It’s important to remember that dog DNA tests rely on databases of known breed markers. So, if a breed is not well-represented in the database, it may be challenging to detect it accurately.
While DNA tests can provide valuable insights, we recommend consulting with your veterinarian to fully understand and interpret the results, especially when it comes to health markers.
Suggested Reading: Are champagne Labrador Retrievers genetically different than yellow labs?
Dog DNA Test Companies
There are several dog DNA test companies in the industry. Each has its own database and while none are 100 percent accurate, we’ve identified those that get high ratings. Let’s look at four of them along with their accuracy ratings and what they test for.
Embark Dog DNA Tests
Embark Dog DNA Tests are one of the most popular among pet owners. They have a research partnership with Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. The genetic information is paired with your survey responses to find information about your pup’s DNA.
Embark is able to provide results for over 230 genetic health risks, 35 traits, and genetic diversity. They also test each genetic health condition by using three to eight separate probes. They claim this gives their tests a very high genotyping accuracy of more than 99 percent.
Check out the Embark’s Dog Breed + Health tests here.
Wisdom Panel DNA Tests
Wisdom Panel DNA Tests have tested over four million pets in more than 50 countries. They test dogs and cats for breed mix, relatives, health, and traits. Their genetic panels include over 45 health tests and over 25 trait tests for cats. For dogs, they include over 265 genetic health disorders and over 50 traits. The Wisdom Panel DNA Tests claim to be over 98 percent accurate.
Check out Wisdom Panel DNA Tests pricing and availability here.
DNA My Dog
DNA My Dog has over 350 dog breeds in their genetic database. They also test for food and environmental allergens your pet may have. And they can determine the biological age of your pup, which is beneficial if you have a rescue. While we couldn’t find the exact accuracy rating for DNA My Dog, other resources have reported them to have a high rating.
Orivet dog and cat DNA testing is more widely used by breeders and veterinarians. They screen for genetic diseases, coat colors, traits, and ancestry. The company is well respected in the industry and uses an accredited laboratory. However, their results aren’t as detailed as Embark and Wisdom Panel, according to the Canine Journal.
Orivet screens for over 350 breeds and over 200 genetic diseases and traits. The test’s accuracy is reportedly high, but specializes more in health and disease rather than breed identification.
My Dog’s DNA Test Journey with Embark
Since we’re careful to promote the products we use, I couldn’t wait to share my dog’s DNA test journey with you. I used Embark’s Dog Breed + Health test on my two rescue pups, Luna and Solar. We believed that based on the shelter’s and our guesses that Luna was a ~4-year-old cattle dog mix. She weighs around 40lbs, is white with tan markings, has pointy ears and a slender build, and is an absolute couch potato who loves giving kisses.
We thought Solar was a ~2-year-old Miniature Pinscher/Beagle? mix. He weighs 30lbs, is Mr. Personality and king of the toys. Both likely had a bit of American Pit Bull in them just due to the prevalence of that breed in the region we adopted them from, however, we thought these would be small percentages.
From the moment I ordered the test to the day the results came, I was filled with anticipation. What would it reveal? Would my baby have health conditions I need to watch out for? And what breeds make up their DNA? There were a lot of questions floating around in my brain. I’m sure you have some of the same questions, so I’ve answered them below along with my dog’s results.
How Does It Work?
You will receive a very nicely laid-out package with easy step-by-step instructions. There is a test tube with a swab, and you just swab the inside of your dog’s cheek for 30 seconds. Then reseal the tube. The swab has an activation code on it that you put into the website to create your dog’s account. Then, drop it in the pre-labeled shipping pouch, and drop it in the mail. I found that keeping my dogs from curiously chewing on the thing in their cheek was the hardest part.
During the activation process, it asked for pictures and traits to set up my dog’s profile. I held off, as I wanted to see what the results would be without providing any other info. I don’t know if it mattered in the end, but I wasn’t giving any breed hints before I got my results back.
How Accurate is the Embark DNA Test?
Embark claims that their DNA tests are more than 99 percent accurate. They get this number based on the redundancy of genotyping, which is very high. Still, the exact percentages of the breeds are probably hard to determine. Since both dogs are pound pups who likely came from other mixed-breed dogs, I was expecting quite a mixture of breeds in the results.
When I got my results back, they were emailed to the address I’d set up with my account. I will say, Embark does a nice job of building the anticipation if you want with a “Breed Reveal” Video and a little optional quiz, which I definitely took.
Here are their results:
I was astounded by Luna’s results. No Australian Cattle Dog…and then Chow Chow and German Shepherd?? And Bulldog?? Besides the tiniest little adorable underbite and the pointy ears, I don’t see any of these breeds. I was expecting Pit Bull, but definitely not half. As for personality traits, I have a hard time seeing 3 of the most stigmatized breeds in America in my little angel.
Solar’s made a bit more sense, but I was surprised by the amount of Chihuahua in him (although he does seem to have some little dog syndrome) and the presence of Pekingese. I honestly get a laugh every time I call him my little “Pekingese mix.” It might be where he gets his curly tail. I also learned quite a bit about Staffordshire Terriers vs. Pit Bull Terriers and American Staffordshires vs. English Staffordshires.
For both, unsurprisingly, one primary breed was the “Supermutt.”
What Is a ‘SuperMutt’?
According to the Embark site, a “SuperMutt” is a dog that “descends from other dogs that were themselves mixed breed. These other dogs can give small contributions to the ancestry of your dog, so small that they are no longer recognizable as any one particular breed.”
Basically, it’s when a dog descends from several generations of others that were also mixed breeds. Embark identifies a “SuperMutt” by comparing its DNA to over 350 breeds, types, and varieties in its database. When dogs show having been several generations removed from purebred ancestors, a percentage of the DNA segments are too short to attribute to a specific breed. Therefore resulting in a “SuperMutt”. They do, however, make a “best guess” at what might have been in that legacy. For Solar, they guessed Pomeranian, Rottweiler, and Maltese. For Luna, they guessed Lhasa Apso, Boxer, and Collie. Most of these seem to be too far-fetched to be true, but who really knows?
Does the Embark Test Tell You the Age of Your Dog?
Embark has a dog age test. It estimates the calendar age by measuring DNA methylation, a biological process adding methyl groups to the DNA molecule. However, this is a rough guess of an age range and will not give you an estimated birthday. If you give them your estimated dog’s age, they will simply report that back to you.
How Many Health Conditions Does Embark Test For?
Embark tests for over 230 genetic health risks. You can do a search on Embark’s website to find which are included. Some of the major ones include bleeding tendencies, drug allergies, progressive retinal atrophy, dilated cardiomyopathy, and kidney disease. They identify a variety of eye, blood, skin, heart, and muscular health risks.
Both Luna and Solar had and indicator that their “baseline ALT level may be Low Normal” when measured, but otherwise, they were clean. Honestly, they provide a LOT of data here, but it probably will only make sense to your vet.
Pro Tip: Testing your dog for food sensitivities can prevent allergic reactions and medical issues in the future.
How Long Does It Take to Get the Test Results From Embark?
Once your swab is scanned at Embark’s facility, they say it typically takes between two to four weeks to receive your results. If you’re submitting for multiple pets, they may not necessarily get done at the same time due to how they process individual swabs in the lab.
In my experience, we swabbed on April 28th, mailed the swabs the next day, and got regular updates via email through every stage.
- April 29th – email notice that my tests were on their way to the lab.
- May 12th – email notice that my swabs were in processing.
- May 16th – email notice that both of my dog’s results were ready!
So 17 days from mailing the swabs to the results. I was pretty pleased with that!
Is the Embark DNA Test Worth the Money?
I think the Embark DNA test is worth the money. Plus, they often have sales and discounts for buying multi-packs. I thoroughly enjoyed the process. While I was bewildered about some of the results, particularly Luna’s, I enjoyed the hunt for knowledge. I also like how after you get the results, you can see and network with other people whose dogs have similar DNA results or even connect with potential relatives on your dog’s family tree! I also like the peace of mind of knowing the health information behind my dogs’ heritage and will be sharing that with my veterinarian.
Do a DNA Test to Find Out Your Dog’s Health & Roots
Curious to know your dog’s ancestry and potential health journey? Do a DNA test to find out where your pup came from and more. You might be surprised to learn your dog’s actual age or breed if you adopted it. It can be fun, especially if it’s vastly different from what you thought.
Are you ready to get a dog DNA test? If you test your pup, share your experience in the comments below!
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