Mutts are marvelous! Shelter and rescue dogs have spiked in popularity and for good reason. Not only does adopting a dog mean that you’re giving a pup a second chance at life but you might also be getting a wonderfully unique dog. Whether you call it a mutt, a heinz 57, or mongrel, a mixed breed dog can be strikingly beautiful and sometimes even healthier than their purebred counterparts.
With more dog enthusiasts owning mixed breeds than ever before, pet owners are interested in finding out just what’s in the genetic mixing pot that makes up their mixed breed pooch. DNA testing is a commercially available option for pet owners to do an at-home test to figure out the list of breeds that their dog might be.
How does a dog DNA test work?
You can learn so much from your dog’s DNA. To put it simply, DNA is the genetic code that determines all the components of a dog’s make up. DNA is a biological molecule found in the nucleus of almost all body cells and is responsible for a dog’s own unique genetic code. DNA is responsible for coding proteins from genes (sections of DNA that code individual proteins), which are essential to the growth and development of cells and in turn a whole individual. For dogs, specific DNA sequences can actually tell you the genetic breed breakdown of a specific dog.
DNA for testing can be collected from a number of individual cells in the body including:
Buccal cells (cheek or mouth cells)
Tissues from internal organs (including brain)
Bodily fluids (like saliva and semen)
For most commercially available dog DNA tests, they use a buccal cheek swab to collect DNA. This is because this form of collection is almost completely non-invasive and easy for owners to collect. The DNA usually includes a sterile nylon swab which you use to gently rub the inside of your dog’s cheek pouch and under their tongue to collect saliva and buccal cells for 30-60 seconds.Then all you need to do is simply cap the swab and send it back to the lab for DNA analysis.
The cells collected from your dog’s sample provide the laboratory workers with DNA that they can then sequence to determine your dog's genetic makeup. Your dog’s genetic code is then compared to a database of pedigrees to determine their exact breed makeup. DNA testing takes an average of 2-4 weeks before you receive the results.
From this, you can learn much more about your dog than simply just their breed mix. Testing your dog’s DNA can also provide you with information like temperament, certain breed characteristics and can even predict the future health status of your dog.
Where can I get a DNA test for my dog?
Dog DNA tests can easily be purchased online through a number of websites. A few that we recommend are:
Embark is the leading dog DNA testing in the world. They are even partnered with the research department at Cornell University.
After you collect saliva from inside your dog’s cheeks and mail the swab, it arrives at Embark’s laboratory for processing. The DNA is extracted for analysis under and is then run on Embark’s custom-made genetics chip. Embark uses a DNA testing platform that uses more than 230,000 genetic markers which produces a detailed view of the dog’s genome.
This company began as a helpful test offered to shelters and rescue organizations, quickly expanded into a service for pet lovers across the world to gain greater insights into the unique background of their dogs. It is also the least expensive option for dog DNA testing.
DNA my dog not only tests for breeds but can also give you both an allergen test and the breakdown of your dog’s genetic age as well.
Are dog DNA tests accurate?
Manufacturers of dog DNA tests claim that their testing methods are 90% accurate, but is that really true?
DNA testing for humans has been around for a while and is considered to be relatively standard and accurate, however dog DNA testing is a relatively new science. While dog DNA testing functions relatively similar to human DNA testing, it takes time to build up a detailed DNA database.
For breed testest, dog DNA tests are relatively accurate for dog breeds recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC). Embark claims its tests scan for over 200,000 genetic markers for different breeds. However, for dogs adopted from other countries it may be a little more difficult to identify their exact breed makeup. This is because they may not be mixed with any breed at all. Street dog and wild dog (wolf, coyote, dingo, etc.) DNA may not be identified by the laboratory’s database.