Genetic Testing for Your Pooch!

DNA, whether human or animal, it is the blueprint of the body. It determines things as superficial as coat length and color, in addition to things as serious as diseases or disorders. With the help of scientists tests have been developed to assist owners in discovering the mysteries within their dogs DNA. More recently these tests have become commonplace, especially when it comes to determining the breed of dogs. This type of testing for breed of dog has become very common for owners who have adopted a dog and want to know what type of dog they may have. These tests can even be found in local pet stores. Another less common, but equally useful type of test, is the genetic test for various diseases or disorders. These tests are usually offered through your vet and tend to be breed specific.

dogsGenetic testing for diseases or disorders although a relatively new frontier for science is amazingly accurate and important. These tests work by looking for a special gene in the DNA and highlighting it if it is present, much like a person would search for a specific word or person’s name in a book and highlight it. The presence or absence of the gene determines whether a dog has a disease or not. As previously mentioned many of these tests are breed specific, this is because due to inbreeding (in order to keep breed lines pure) diseases that were not present to begin with started becoming more common due to the limited gene pool. An example of this would be degenerative myelopathy in German Shepherds. This is a neurological disease that is still surrounded in mystery; no one really knows what exactly is causing it but plenty of theories exist and research is being done. The one thing everyone can agree on about the disease is that it is horribly debilitating to the animal. Myelopathy causes trouble in mobility that eventually results in paralysis of the hindquarters of the animal, and sadly this has no cure. By being able to test for this genetic disease an owner can find out if their pet has a problem and then plan how to proceed. In many cases, knowledge is the best tool towards your pet’s happiness; by knowing if there is a possible problem, you may be able to takes steps to ensure a healthier life for your dog.

Anyone who has rescued a dog from a shelter, or surfed through petfinder.com, will know that more times than not it is hard to determine what breed of dog you are bringing home with you. Many people who have brought home a dog from a shelter could care less about having a specific breed of dog, but in some cases curiosity gets the better of owners and they want to know. Gemma, a rescue that my friend found by the road is one of the best dogs I have ever met. She never barks or begs and is patient, but for the life of us we cannot tell what breed of dog she is. Her owner and I have discussed possible breeds based on her appearance, maybe part Shepard, maybe part Aussie, but we aren’t sure. A genetic breed test would let us know with a small percentage of inaccuracy what type of breeds she may be a mix of. Another reason to get a genetic test for your mixed breed if you are not sure of the breed is once again for knowledge. Some diseases are very prevalent in certain breeds and if you know your dog is part Golden Retriever, you can be more vigilant about monitoring for certain cancers. On a lighter note, knowing your dog is part beagle and has a tendency to over eat will help you know to keep an eye on your dog’s weight so that they stay healthy.

There are an enormous amount of genetic tests out there so it all comes down to which test you should choose and trust. I always recommend going to your vet when it comes to any kind of medical test because they are trained to deal with these tests in a way that prevents contamination and will give you the most accurate test result as well as interpretation. VetGen veterinary genetic testing is one company’s test to consider. This company specializes in genetic testing on various pets both canine and equine, so if you happen to be a horse owner their website can help you as well. Using their test, you can identify breed specific diseases and also breed type for your four-legged friends. You can even browse specifically by your dog’s breed and test for specific diseases you may be worried about. It is $85 for a mixed breed test, one that determines your dog’s breed and is about $65 for most genetic disease tests. If you still have doubts though talk to your veterinarian and see if they offer a genetic test and if not what they recommend; some may work with a lab that specializes in this testing. The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals site offers information on breed specific diseases and which DNA testing is available in labs nationwide. Wisdom is a popular test; this test just screen for segments on your pet’s DNA to narrow down its breed make-up.

Whether it is simply curiosity about the specific breed of dog you may have or wondering if your precious pet may have a genetic disease, genetic testing is the code to decrypting the message in your dog’s DNA. These tests are beneficial for owners looking for more knowledge to better provide specialized care for their animal’s needs. On the surface some of these tests may seem superficial, after all, breed testing only tells you the breed of your dog.  However, by applying this knowledge, the ability to monitor for breed-specific tendencies  such as chronic ear infections or hip dysplasia using the results becomes valuable. If you already know what breed of dog you have then you can do further tests to discover if your dog may have a genetic disease associated with the breed and then learn how to manage the problem early. As much as we can learn from genetic testing, the field is still relatively new and it will be interesting to see what other diseases or conditions scientists will be able to test for in coming years. Although your dog has a genetic blueprint that could fill even the thickest George R.R. Martin novel, genetic testing highlights the parts that really matter to you and your vet. Knowledge is power and with genetic testing you can gain more knowledge about your pet, helping you and your vet make informed decisions that will keep your pooch happy and healthy longer.

Danielle DiFusco- pre-vet Student with Dr. Lisa McIntyre