Genetic Testing for Dogs

Mail-in genetic test kits are a health trend that claim to offer users remarkable access to individualized information on their health at a molecular level. You may know that a sample of saliva can reveal the secrets of your genetic code, but did you know that such kits can do the same for your dog?

These genetic tests for dogs allow pet owners to trade a sample of their pooch’s saliva for information on the pet’s breed, ancestry, health risks, and more. The concept may seem like it’s straight out of a science fiction novel, but these services are readily available at pet supply stores and online.

Dr. Gus Cothran, a professor emeritus at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences (CVM), explains the benefits and drawbacks of such tests.

“Pet owners should always be cautious, as these tests do not actually address specific health issues but rather indicate a breed,” Cothran said. “Members of the same breed may carry a specific genetic disease that is known to be in the breed, but not all will have it. Tests for specific genetic diseases may be available for use if there is concern.”

At the CVM, Cothran works with the Animal Genetics Laboratory, which utilizes DNA genotyping to determine genetic information for horses, goats, sheep, donkeys, and cattle. These tests are similar to those offered to consumers through mail-in services.

“There is no real difference between tests done by these services and tests done by laboratories, although most commercial tests are patented,” Cothran said.

Cothran adds that these tests can be useful to owners who know little about the background of their pet and wish to learn more about their breed. However, owners should be aware that the accuracy of these tests is not absolute.

“Most breed tests are based upon probability so that even though a particular breed is indicated, there is always a possibility that the result is not correct,” Cothran said. “The physical traits of the animal should be compared to the breed standard and, if they match, then the probability is that the test’s assignment is correct.”

Cothran advises that pet owners who do opt for such testing should share the results with their veterinarian. Though these tests on their own are not sufficient to diagnose your dog with a condition, they provide more information on your pet that, if you have, doesn’t hurt to share with the veterinarian.

While these tests might provide an interesting peek into the genetic makeup of your furry friend, it is important to remember that there is no substitute for responsibly monitoring your dog’s habits and proper veterinary care.

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the web at vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.