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Top 10 Ways a Pet DNA Test Can Help You Understand Your Pet

Nicky Lowney
A cat and a dog sit next to each other
If you’ve been toying with the idea of buying a DNA test for your dog or cat, you know that you may finally get some answers for your curious neighbors and friends.

There are a variety of genetic tests on the market today, and they provide detailed breed information, along with a host of other useful facts about your best furry pal. Here are the top ten things a genetic test can tell you about your pet.

1. They can solve the mystery of the mutt

The American Kennel Club recognizes more than 200 dog breeds, and several international organizations include more than 300 breeds. The International Cat Association recognizes over 70 breeds of domestic cats. Every breed has segments of DNA not found in others. If you have a mixed-breed pet, you know that each individual is unique and that even littermates might not resemble each other. Just looking at visible traits or following the educated guesses of vets or the word of unregistered breeders, you may not get the whole story of your pet’s lineage. When you have your pet’s DNA tested, you’ll get to satisfy your curiosity with a detailed report of the percentages of each breed present in your pet’s DNA. Some cat tests, like the Basepaws DNA test available on Chewy.com, even provide a ranking to show how closely your kitty’s genes match with wild cats!

2. They help you understand your pet’s risk of genetic diseases

Certain breeds are susceptible to particular genetic conditions. Dog DNA tests include screening for 200 genes that are markers of inheritable diseases, and cat tests screen for up to 45 genetic markers of feline disease. Genetic testing can provide valuable information on your pet’s risk of a variety of conditions, including bleeding disorders, diabetes, gastrointestinal problems, and many others. Some tests also include screening for genes that can indicate potential adverse reactions to certain medications. Your pet’s DNA report will let you know if your pet is clear of a certain genetic marker, a carrier of a recessive gene for a disease, or at risk of developing a disease. This information can be extremely valuable when discussing your pet’s health with your veterinarian. Catching a genetic disease early enough – before symptoms develop – can make a world of difference in managing it effectively.

3. They help you learn more about your pal’s personality traits

When you get your dog or cat’s DNA tested, you’ll receive a report chock-full of information on the breeds found in his lineage. When you take a deep dive, you may find some insight into why your pet does certain things. Does your pup seem more playful, less excitable, or more territorial than her friends? Some of these traits may go along with her breeds, as many dogs have personality traits and triggers that can be traced to those bred into their ancestors.

4. They let you make an informed plan for training

Whether Fido is a puppy or a full-grown dog, genetic testing can provide some valuable insight into the best ways to approach his training. Different breeds have traits that respond to different types of training. Knowing your pup’s dominant breeds can take some of the guesswork out of teaching obedience and other important lessons. Finding out that he’s more of a terrier than a herder can make all the difference in discovering his likes and dislikes, triggers, and motivations. Some breeds respond better to the human voice, and others to body language. Some breeds are better suited to certain types of work, like hunting, searching, guiding, or comforting. When you identify the strengths and weaknesses associated with your dog’s breeds, you’ll start your training plan from a place of knowledge.

5. They give clarity on your pet's lineage

Pet DNA tests can provide detailed lineages that go as far back as great-grandparents. Your test report can tell you whether Fluffy’s grandmother was a mixed breed herself, or a poodle whose DNA profile lines up with fancy purebred pups. You can browse photos of breeds that exist in your pet’s family tree to look for similar traits. And what’s more, some test companies, like the Embark test offered by Chewy.com can help you connect with your doggy’s living relatives if they are in the company’s database. If you think it would be fun to meet Rover’s siblings, cousins, and distant relatives, look for a test with this benefit.

6. They help you verify information from a breeder

If you purchased your pet from a breeder, you have hopefully done your homework in getting references and checking that the breeder follows all standards for safe and healthy breeding. The best way to confirm that your pet is purebred is to make sure the dog’s pedigree is on file with accredited associations. If the breeder claims that your pet is a purebred or a specific type of “designer mix,” a DNA test can provide some additional information, but it is not an exact enough process to confirm this with 100% certainty. Test companies look at specific markers in the pet’s genetic makeup (rather than analyzing every piece of DNA) and compare them to markers in a reference group of registered purebred dogs in their databases. Your dog’s profile will be matched with those of other dogs on file to designate a breed or breed mix, but because of variations in genes across geographical locations and other factors, a registered purebred dog might not exactly match the genetic signature of others in the database.

7. They help you understand the hidden traits that could get passed to the next generation

Like humans, dogs and cats get half their genes from their mothers and half from their fathers. If they carry a dominant gene or two recessive genes, they will exhibit that trait. (for example, two human parents with brown eyes can each carry a recessive blue-eyed gene, and if those are both passed to their child, that child will have blue eyes). A pet DNA test can provide interesting information about the recessive genes that your dog or cat carries, for traits like coat texture and color, that may come to light in the next generation. And of course, if your pet is a carrier of a recessive gene for a disease, this can negatively affect the next generation.

8. They help you optimize your pet’s dietary needs

When you receive a DNA report with your pet’s breed profile, you can dive into the information on her dominant breeds to determine her ideal weight range. Whether she is a puppy or an adult, you can get valuable insight into the amount of food to give her every day. In addition, if you know in advance about her risk of certain hereditary diseases, you can work with her vet to customize her diet accordingly. Sometimes, choosing a food made specifically for your dog’s breed can help you avoid sensitivities associated with that breed.

9. They help you make a responsible breeding decision

When combined with your pet’s health history, the information provided by a genetic test can help you make an informed decision about whether or not to breed your pet. If the genetic health screen shows that your pet is at risk or is a carrier of a hereditary disorder, it’s best to avoid passing the genes to the next generation through breeding. And if you’ve found that your pet is a potential healthy breeder, knowing some of the recessive traits of each parent – like hair colors, patterns, and textures – can make for fewer surprises in the next generation.

10. They contribute to the growth of veterinary science (and maybe public hygiene as well)

DNA testing is a rapidly growing field. In addition to the new facts, you’ll discover as a pet owner, you will also help contribute to future discoveries: your pet’s information will be added to existing genetic databases, which can help scientists develop future advances in veterinary care. Modern DNA testing technology can also come back to bite some dog owners, however: certain towns and housing authorities are starting to require pup owners to file DNA tests as part of the licensing process, in order to track down and fine owners who don’t clean up their dogs’ messes!

Conclusion

With several options on the market, make sure the kit you choose has the features you’re looking for. Whether you are considering a DNA test to satisfy your curiosity about your mixed-breed pet, to learn about potential health problems in your cat or dog, or to plan a doggy family reunion, there are a variety of testing options available that make scientific advances accessible to pet owners.

Nicky Lowney
Nicky Lowney has been writing about health and medicine for more than 15 years. With a master’s degree in health communication, she specializes in translating complex medical information into readable, engaging content. Nicky has written for top10.com, Tufts University School of Dental Medicine, Decision Resources Group, and EBSCO Information Services, among other clients. In her free time, Nicky enjoys cycling, hiking, and performing with her local community theater.