Complete Guide to DNA Testing for Dogs and Pets

Sarah Pritzker
DNA testing for pets
DNA testing isn’t only for humans anymore. Pet owners who are curious about their dog’s breed or cat’s ancestry can turn to DNA testing to learn more about their pet’s history. Our comprehensive guide to dog and pet DNA testing covers all you need to know to find the best DNA test for your pet.

What is a DNA Test for Animals?

Just like humans, our pets also have a unique DNA profile which is inherited from their parents. By analyzing a cheek saliva swab or the cells in a hair sample or blood sample, scientists can break down details about an animal’s species, genetic health, and other important details.

Here Are the Top 5 DNA Tests for Dogs and Cats:

1. HomeDNA 

Best for mixed breeds

  • Price: $125 for each of 2 dog tests
  • Collection method: Bristle cheek swab
  • Results in: 3 weeks, via email

HomeDNA offers 2 DNA tests for dogs: the DNA Health Screen and Life Plan, and the Mixed Breed Dog Identification DNA Test and Life Plan. Both include easy cheek swab collection, comprehensive screening, and actionable results that will help you appreciate your dog’s past and improve their future. 

The health screen covers more than 150 genetic diseases and traits, while the mixed-breed identification kit detects more than 200 breeds in order to determine your dog’s origins. Both options include a life plan, which HomeDNA encourages you to share with your veterinarian. This helpful guide to your dog’s health could include health alerts, genetic diseases your dog may be at risk of, plus nutritional, workout, and training suggestions. 

HomeDNA HomeDNA Buy Kit

2. Embark 

Best for new dog owners

  • Price: $199
  • Collection method: Cheek swab
  • Results in: 4-8 weeks

Embark’s comprehensive dog DNA tests cover 175 dog breeds including wolf, coyote, and dingo. The results will paint an eye-opening picture of your dog’s ancestral heritage, and clue you into why your dog may have certain behaviors or tendencies. Educational as well as actionable, Embark’s results tell a story through time but hone in on the specific traits, needs, strengths, and weaknesses of your dog. They also link you to other dogs in the database that share the same DNA so you can set up playdates with your dog’s relatives. 

New dog owners in particular can appreciate this because the results will tell them which behaviors are natural to their breed and ancestry. This can help them to create a more fitting training program that harness the dog’s innate strengths and tendencies. Additionally, dog owners will come away with a more tolerant and understanding view of behaviors, such as overexcitement or chasing, that they otherwise might try to change.

3. Who’zTheDaddy?

Best for breed-specific health testing

  • Price: $75-$125, 3 test types
  • Collection method: Cheek swab
  • Results in: 7 days - 3 weeks

Who’zTheDaddy? screens for 8 of the most common inherited diseases in dogs. These include  Multidrug Resistance and Degenerative Myelopathy, and can, like the other diseases on the list, be avoided with early care. The inherited disease test analyzes SNPs (single nucleotide polymorphisms) for signs of risk. The collection process is a simple cheek swab and the DNA is analyzed in an AABB-accredited lab. With a speedy turnaround time (as little as 7 days), dog owners can get to work learning about any’ potential health risks and seeking the preventative approaches. 

Before ordering a kit, check the website to make sure your dog is on the list of breeds that can be tested. In addition to the inherited disease test, Who’zTheDaddy also does a dog parentage test and a more general dog DNA test. 

4. HomeDNAdirect 

Best for allergy testing

  • Price: $99 for allergy test
  • Collection method: Spittle tube
  • Results in: 2 weeks

Home DNA Direct’s allergy testing can save you and your dog a lot of trouble. Though it does not test DNA, the allergy test analyzes proteins in your dog’s system for more than 100 common allergens. The results can reveal a wide range of problematic ingredients and products your dog should avoid, as well as offer healthy alternatives. 

The test kit includes 2 plastic tubes: an empty collection tube and a smaller tube with liquid. To collect a sample, hold the tube inside your dog’s mouth for 15 seconds to 2 minutes, and then fasten it to the second tube of liquid so it can absorb. Results will inform you of food and environmental allergies that are commonly found around the house, for example soaps, shampoos, and common dog food ingredients. In addition to the allergy test, Home DNA Direct also offers breed and parentage tests. 

5. International Biosciences 

Best for dog parentage test

  • Price: $198 for parentage test
  • Collection method: Mouth swab
  • Results in: 10 working days

International Biosciences’ parentage test, a popular test with breeders, can reveal the pedigree of your dog through testing 16 genetic markers. The method is known as PCR (polymerase chain reaction, which produces results with 99.99% accuracy. 

International Biosciences also offers DNA breed, allergy, and health tests, as well as a unique genetic age test that measures a special cap at the end of a chromosome whose length reveals life span. This test can predict how old the dog is at a genetic level so owners can adapt their diet, activity, and lifestyle plans to foster healthy aging. 

  • The Dog Parentage Test 

Have you ever wondered about which dog sired your pup? The Dog Parentage Test uses 16 genetic markers to determine your dog's parentage. This test costs $198 and takes 10 business days to process, and is 99.9% accurate, according to HomeDNAdirect. 

  • DNA My Dog Breed Test

There’s just something about a mutt that stirs the hearts of dog lovers everywhere. With the DNA My Dog Breed Test, you will receive an in-depth analysis of your dog’s genetic makeup, which can give you insights about your dog’s health tendencies, temperament, and personality traits. It can also help you get some advice about what your dog should be eating, and what types of obedience training could be more successful than others. The test costs $75 and in 2-3 weeks you should have your results. 

  • Dog Inherited Disease and Trait Test 

Home DNA Direct’s Inherited Diseases Test checks for 9 common inherited diseases, which are often hard to detect, at least with the naked eye. It costs $75 for the first test but only $39 for every additional test for the same dog, and you’ll have to wait 7 days for the results. 

  • Dog Allergy Test 

Sure, watching a Shihtzu in the midst of a sneezing fit may provide some comic relief, but for dogs, allergies are no laughing matter. This highly-sensitive test looks at more than 100 of the most common allergens including foods and environmental factors, and will provide you results in around 2 weeks. This can help you determine if there’s anything your dog can avoid to make their lives a little easier. 

  • Feline Polycystic Kidney Disease

Within 10 business days, this test can tell you if your kitty is in danger of developing this kidney disease, which has no cure or long-term therapy. 

  • Avian DNA sexing 

As you may imagine, it’s not easy to determine the gender of a bird. This test is a great way for breeders and everyday bird owners to understand their bird’s behavior and also have more info in the event they need to go to the veterinarian at some point. And don’t worry, you don’t need to do a cheek swab (do birds have cheeks?), a simple feather or blood sample will do. Regarding the price, you’ll have to contact the company to get a quote. 

  • Horse Parentage Testing 

A horse parentage test can be of crucial importance, especially in the big-money world of horse breeding, where you want to know which stud is the real father of that foal. All it takes is a hair sample, which should make things a bit easier. 

  • Horse DNA Profiling 

With a simple hair sample you can get a clear, accurate record of your horse’s genetic profile, which can be a real lifesaver if you need to prove ownership in the event a horse goes missing or is stolen. It can also be a very important tool for breeding. 

How Do You Perform a DNA Test on Your Pet?

Once you’ve decided to do a DNA test on your pet, the process is pretty straightforward.

  1. Buy a DNA testing kit and read the instructions carefully.
  2. Swab the inside of your dog or cat’s cheek with the enclosed brush or scraper to get a saliva or cell sample.
  3. Carefully package your pet’s DNA sample according to the instructions. You might need to pack it in a tube, let it air dry, or wrap it in a particular way to preserve the genetic material.
  4. Send your pet's DNA sample to the company's address, and prepare to wait. It commonly takes about 6-8 weeks to get a reply, usually via email, about your pet’s genetic makeup.

What Can You Learn from a Pet DNA Test?

A pet DNA test can tell you more than you'd expect about your furry or even feathered friend. Here is some potential information you can discover from your pet DNA test:

  • Your dog or cat’s breed. If you own a rescue cat or dog or just have a simple ‘mongrel’ mutt, a pet DNA test can tell you the main types of dog or cat—do you have a Persian Blue in disguise or a playful Labrador-cross?
  • Your pet's sex. This is particularly relevant for birds since it's often difficult to tell if you have a male or female. DNA testing uncovers male or female chromosomes to give you a definitive answer.
  • Your pet’s genetic health profile. Persian cats have a tendency to develop Polycystic Kidney Disease (PKD), and some dog breeds like collies are likely to react badly to certain common medicines. Knowing your pet’s inherited health issues means that you’re better able to be proactive in treating them.
  • An animal’s potential size and characteristics. If you’re thinking of adopting a rescue dog, you might want to know how big it will grow and its potential temperament.
  • Your pet’s health needs. Knowing your dog or cat’s breed means that you can make sure that they get enough exercise and the best kind of pet food for their type.

What’s the Difference Between Dog DNA Tests and Other Pet DNA Tests?

All DNA tests are similar in that they all analyze DNA samples for unique genetic markers. But, dog DNA tests only test for canine markers, so there’s no use testing the system by sending your cat’s DNA instead. Cat DNA tests look at feline markers, but they usually also use a cheek saliva swab. There are also equine (horse) DNA tests, which use the root of the horse’s hair, and bird DNA tests, which analyze the bird’s toenail clippings or feather root.

Are Pet DNA Tests Accurate?

Everyone wants to know whether they can rely on the results of their dog DNA test. Like human DNA tests, some are more accurate than others. Most pet DNA tests are pretty accurate, but their reliability depends on a few issues:

  • The quality of the DNA sample, so it’s important to follow instructions correctly
  • The number of genetic markers examined by the test company
  • How many breeds are in the test company’s database—the more breeds, the more accurate the results will be
  • Whether your dog is a first or second generation from a purebred. The purer the breed, the more reliable the results

Embark on Your Pet's Journey

Whether you’re curious about your mongrel’s breeds, want to know more about how to keep your pet healthy, or need to check your puppy’s sire, there’s a dog DNA test that provides reliable and accurate results. Indulge your curiosity today.

Sarah Pritzker
Sarah Pritzker is a content writer with years of experience and a keen interest in the vast world of online consumer products. She enjoys helping readers make sense of the options on the market in a variety of fields.