K-9 DNA testing: What it can tell owners about their four-legged friends
The vet’s office
By Dr. Elizabeth Knabe, DVM
Wildwood Animal Hospital and Clinic LLC
Through thousands of years of selective and random breedings, the dog has become the most varied species on Earth. We have dogs as small as the Yorkshire terriers weighing as little as 3 pounds and dogs as large as mastiffs weighing over 300 pounds. They are all dogs genetically but have very different physical and behavioral characteristics.
Many major health issues are seen more commonly in certain breeds versus others. Some breeds have genetic predispositions to develop certain conditions. Knowing what a mix-breed dog’s ancestors were can give an owner information on health issues and risk factors that came along with the breeds. Veterinarians can provide counseling on early identification of diseases, nutritional advice, and even tips on working with behavioral tendencies of the breeds identified.
Since 2007, commercial tests have been available for K-9 DNA testing. There are kits for cheek swab analysis as well as blood sampling done through a veterinarian. One testing company tests for over 250 recognized breeds and can analyze to the dog’s great grandparent level. This information may give an owner an idea of expected adult weight range in the case of a young puppy as well as behavioral traits a dog may likely develop.
Commercial tests also offer information on the presence of the MDR1 gene mutation present in some of the herding breeds. This mutation can make a dog more sensitive to certain drugs and would be useful information for veterinarians.
The exercise-induced-collapse genetic condition of some Labradors can also be tested for. Dogs affected by it can experience sudden collapse when exercising at high intensity, making them less likely to be top hunting partners.
There are dozens of other genetic markers that can be screened for, and this list is likely to grow as research continues. Because dogs get many of the diseases that people do, the K-9 genome is very intensely studied now in human medical research institutions. This information will come back as improved genetic screenings for dogs.
A nonclinical reason to do genetic screening is for curiosity as to the lineage of a mixed breed. A dog might inherit a large portion of its DNA from a particular breed or breeds. But unless that DNA codes for observed features such as head shape and coat color, you may not see any outward sign of those breeds. Behaviors might also be more understandable as certain traits — such as excitability and overall activity level — are commonly breed specific.
Overall, use the information of genetic testing wisely and with the counseling of your veterinarian to get the best results.
Wildwood Animal Hospital and Clinic LLC is located at 210 Airpark Road in Marshfield and online at wildwoodanimalhospital.net.