"IDK, just a mutt," the answer half the dog owners in the US give when asked what their dog is. According to the 2017-2018 APPA survey, 51% of household dogs are mixed breed. With more pet parents adopting their pet, many of us are in the dark about our pup's ancestry, breed mix, and inherited health conditions.
DNA is a way to get to know your dog better
While we love our pups the way they are, knowing your dog's genetic history is great not just for that small talk at the dog park. It can also help address potential health risks, nutritional and behavioral needs, as well as explain a lot about your dog’s personality and activity level. For purebred dogs', DNA can back up parentage and help breeders try to eliminate certain diseases.
The WISDOM PANEL test has been a pioneer and a leader in the field of DNA testing for over a decade. With a simple cheek swab, you can uncover DNA-based insights that may help you understand your dog's unique appearance, behaviors and wellness needs.
We spoke with Dr. Angela Hughes, Veterinary Genetics Research Manager at WISDOM PANEL, about how DNA testing can help pet parents understand their dogs better.
What kind of information does a dog DNA breed test provide?
Dr. Hughes: The WISDOM PANEL tests include breed detection for 350+ breeds, types, and varieties going back to the great-grandparent level, screening for up to 150+ genetic health conditions – depending on the test type chosen; analysis of over 20 genetic traits including coat colors patterns, and types, as well as, body morphology traits like ear erectness and leg length, and a weight prediction calculated on genetic markers and the breeds identified in your dog.
Why consider DNA Testing for Your Dog?
Dr. Hughes: Most owners decide to do the WISDOM PANEL test out of curiosity about their dog’s breeds – they often want a breed “label” to give when asked what kind of dog they have. But they are also impressed by getting so much more valuable information that can inform their dog’s training, nutrition, and healthcare.
How is WISDOM PANEL different?
Dr. Hughes: Since the launch in 2007, we have expanded the WISDOM PANEL test to include over 15,000 purebred dogs representing 350+ breeds, types, and varieties – the most of any test on the market, to cover up to 150+ genetic health conditions and 20+ genetic traits, and be available in markets around the world including the US, Canada, Australia, UK, France, and Germany. The WISDOM PANEL test has analyzed over 1.1 million dogs in that time.
How is testing carried out?
Dr. Hughes: Testing your dog with the WISDOM PANEL test is simple and begins with using the cheek swabs to collect a DNA sample from inside a dog's cheek, the swabs are then sent into the laboratory. Once the sample is received at our lab it goes through processing to extract the DNA from the dog's cells, which is examined for the thousands of markers that are used in the test. The results of these markers are sent to a computer that evaluates them using a proprietary algorithm that considers all of the pedigree trees that are possible in the last three generations of the dog's ancestry.
Our computer algorithm uses samples from the WISDOM PANEL’s extensive breed database to analyze these potential pedigrees and calculate which one is the best match. The data is also evaluated for the dog’s trait and genetic health results.
How long does it take to get results?
Dr. Hughes: It typically takes about 2-3 weeks from the time the sample is received at the lab to when a customized, online report is emailed to the client.
How can pet owners use the information they receive?
Dr. Hughes: Pet owners can use the information to better understand their dog’s healthcare, nutritional, and behavioral/training needs. It is certainly helpful to share the findings with your veterinarian as certain health mutations and/or breed-predispositions can be taken into account as you work together to create a care and wellness plan specific to your dog’s unique needs.
The weight prediction and breed profile can also help you select among foods designed for different sizes to meet your puppy’s or dog’s nutritional needs for developing into or maintaining a healthy size, whether it’s a large or small dog or any size in between.
Also understanding the different breeds in your dog, their temperaments and instinctual behaviors can help you understand what makes your dog “tick” – why they may do certain things and facilitate obedience training and behavior modifications. Tapping into those natural predispositions (such as herding tendencies) allows owners to understand their pet’s motivations and respond accordingly, as well as identifying the activities the dog will likely enjoy most, thereby enhancing the enjoyment of quality time with a pet.
What’s the future of canine DNA testing?
Dr. Hughes: On the horizon, I can see new tests for genetic disorders, as well as, the potential to better control genetic diseases through counseling and even technologies like gene therapy.
Can you share your favorite pet story?
Dr. Hughes: I really believe that many times our pets find us - the pets that I have had in my life have all sort of found me (or my family). There is something in their eyes that communicates with us and tells us we belong together.
My first dog, Rimsky, who I adopted while I was still in veterinary school when he was about an 8-month-old puppy, was a very special soul. For the next 16+ years, he was my co-pilot through thick and thin, graduate school, new jobs, new loves, and a family, road trips and plane trips. He set a very high bar and I can only hope to have another pet that I can share such a bond with.