I just took a DNA test turns out, I'm 100% that b-
But wait, before you shell out $100+ for a DNA kit to decode the genetic makeup of your beloved pet, let's answer some common FAQs surrounding pet genealogy kits. Do they work? How do they work? What are the most reliable brands? Stay tuned.
How do dog DNA kits work?
Typically, any dog DNA kit you purchase will come with a few items, packaged into a box, with a return label. You'll likely notice a swab included, which is the preferred method for gathering that sweet sweet doggy DNA. You'll use that swab to collect saliva, place it in a tube and return it via mail to the lab for testing.
In the lab, a technician will begin sequencing your pet's DNA. They will analyze each sample based on what is included in your particular kit; breed identification, health predispositions, genetic age, and more.
According to Embark,
All DNA is made up of four letters: A, T, C, and G. DNA is double-stranded, which means it has two strands of letters that bind to each other. These letters are like matching puzzle pieces. A always matches with T, and C always matches with G. This is important because the matching rules allow us to “read” your dog’s DNA.
By itself, that string of A, T, C, G is meaningless. We compare your dog’s DNA—their ATCG sequences—to dog DNA that scientists have already analyzed, called reference genomes. If there’s a match between your dog’s DNA and the Golden Retriever reference genome, we know that your dog has at least some Golden Retriever ancestry.
Are pet DNA tests accurate?
Dog DNA tests are considered to be between 95-99% accurate. That's not bad considering how many products in the unregulated pet industry sport dubious claims.
When it comes to accuracy, the secret is in the database. The larger the sample size, the more accurate the test will be. The top two brands on the market, Embark and Wisdom Panel, boast the largest sample sizes.
Another factor when it comes to accuracy is your dog's unique genetic makeup. If you adopt a dog that is highly mixed, with parents who are also mixes of many different breeds, it becomes more difficult to estimate the percentage of each breed within your pet's lineage. However, mixed-breed dogs with one purebred parent can be sequenced with high accuracy.
And of course, when it comes to Purebred pets, you may be surprised to find that your breeder puppy comes back as a mix instead of the Pedigree Golden Retriever that you were promised. This practice is unfortunately common in the industry - and DNA tests can help determine how honest your breeder was with you.
Remember, no matter the results, all dogs (mixed or purebred) deserve loving homes. If you suspect that a DNA test may alter your feelings toward your soulful sidekick, we recommend putting that purchase on the back burner.
Are cat DNA tests accurate?
When it comes to testing your feline family member, the results can be a little less clear-cut. While DNA kit brands are quick to claim that their products are just as accurate for cats as they are for dogs, that may not truly be the case.
Remember when we said that sample size is a huge factor when it comes to accuracy? As you can imagine, the database for cats is much smaller than the one for dogs. This means the sample size your kitty's DNA is being compared against is going to be a little more limited.
Additionally, according to Hepper.com, "while dog breeds are typically clear-cut due to breeding for certain traits, behaviors, and skills, cats are not. Cat breeds were only identified and developed a few centuries ago. Therefore, there’s a lot more information and data on dog breeds and less on cat genetics."
Ultimately, cat DNA tests can be a fun way to learn a little more about your curious copilot. While they may not be *as* accurate as their canine counterpart, it can be helpful to know their health predispositions and estimated genetic makeup.
Should I test my dog's DNA?
If you're okay with spending the money, I think pet DNA tests are a fun and interesting way to learn more about your dog or cat. When I tested my dog Greta, I was convinced she was some sort of pit mix. She turned out to be 100% American Bully - a newer breed I had never heard of before that's technically a pitbull, bulldog mix.
After receiving the results, I did a bunch of research and found that she did indeed share a ton of traits with this breed. I also was able to look at relatives of hers in the Chicago area. Did I do a doggy meet-up with her cousins? No, for a few reasons. But it was still fun to learn more about Greta, the health predispositions she may encounter, and become an official American Bully lover.
What are the best pet DNA testing kits on the market?
Embark, Wisdom Panel, and DNA My Dog are the top three most popular brands on the market today. When deciding which test you'd like to purchase, the Dog Advisory Council recommends measuring for the following three factors:
Accuracy: As mentioned above, the size of the database will greatly impact the accuracy of the test. Look for larger databases for more accurate results.
The Comprehensiveness Of The Test: Depending on what you're looking for, each test has a variety of tested factors included. You may just want to determine your dog’s lineage, but certain brands are also able to test for health issues, medical sensitivities, genetic age, etc along with the basic DNA test.
Speed: Depending on how rushed you are to get results back, take note of how long you will have to wait after you submit your sample. If you're pressed for time or just less patient, the quicker the turnaround time the better.
Embark claims to have an "accuracy of over 99% for mutation tests and most linkage-based tests". They have a unique "canine genetic testing platform called the SNP (single nucleotide polymorphism)" which enables more accurate results than competitors.
Embark offers a wide variety of products, including breed only, breed + health, genetic age testing, breeder testing, purebred testing, and testing for veterinarians.
According to Embark, "typical turnaround time from when we get your test kit returned to us is 2-4 weeks."
According to Wisdom Panel, their "dog breed detection system is over 98% accurate." They boast the biggest database for the best breed detection among millions of possible breed combinations.
Wisdom Panel offers breed-only testing, breed + health testing, breeder testing, and cat breed testing.
Wisdom Panel promises a turnaround time of 2-3 weeks.
DNA my Dog
DNA my Dog does not have as comprehensive a database as Embark or Wisdom Panel, however, they do claim to produce results that are 99.7% accurate. Reviews are a bit mixed, but as the most affordable option on the list, it may still be worth trying if you're considering your wallet.
DNA my Dog offers health testing, genetic testing, deceased dog testing, wolf-dog testing, and allergy testing for pets.
According to DNA my Dog, "results are normally available in 2 weeks or less from the receipt of your sample. Your report will be emailed to you immediately."
Lizz Caputo is a Content Strategist at Figo, animal enthusiast, and owner of a rescued senior American Bully. Her hobbies include checking out new restaurants in her area, boxing, and petting dogs of all shapes and sizes.