Complete Guide to DNA Testing for Dogs and Pets

BySarah PritzkerApr. 18, 2019
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 4 DNA Tests for Dogs and Cats

1. HomeDNA 

Finally, a little more equality in the land of pet lovers! With HomeDNA you have options for DNA testing both for cats and dogs, and no matter which test you go with,you can expect your results within about 3 weeks.

Cat DNA Health Screen and Life Plan
$125
Dog DNA Health Screen and Life Plan
$125
Mixed-dog Breed Dog Identification DNA Test and Life Plan
$125
  • Dog DNA Health Screen and Life Plan 

This test screens your dog for over 100 genetic diseases and traits, and will prepare a customized “life plan” for your pet. It may also help you prepare more informed information for your next visit to your dog’s veterinarian. Results usually arrive within 3 weeks. 

  • Cat DNA Health Screen and Life Plan 

This test will check your cat for more than 40 genetic diseases and traits and prepare you a customized life plan that should be available to view within a few weeks of submitting your sample. 

  • Mixed-Breed Dog Identification DNA Test and Life Plan 

This test will shine a light on your dogs genetic background and uncover the most likely breeds in your pet’s bloodline. The test looks at breed percentages for more than 220 of the most common dog breeds. It will also provide you with a life plan to help meet your dog’s health. 

HomeDNA HomeDNA Buy Kit

2. Embark 

Embark is more than just a good pun. The company offers a single, comprehensive DNA test that while it’s a bit pricier than some of the other options, it really covers all the bases without any need to do additional tests.

Embark Dog DNA Test Kit
$199, shipping free in the US
The test uses a simple cheek swab to test your dog’s genetic makeup across more than 250 dog breeds, through the use of what Embark calls “research-grade DNA genotyping.” These include everything from Dachshunds to coyotes, dingoes, and even gray wolves, so if your chihuahua has been howling at the moon and escaping through the bathroom window to scour your neighborhood for caribou, well, you may now have an answer why. 

The health portion of the test checks more than 175 genetic health conditions and traits such as muscular health, gastrointestinal issues, heart and hormonal health, and the list goes on. 

Results take 2-7 weeks to arrive via email, and the test costs $199. 

3. Wisdom 

“The world’s leading dog test” is how Wisdom bills itself, and while we haven’t scoured all of the Earth for doggie DNA tests, this company does have some impressive offerings. You can either go with a test that screens both for your dog’s genetic makeup and checks for genetic disease indicators, or the more affordable test that just looks for the breakdown of your dog’s breed.

Canine breed and disease detection
$149.99
Canine breed detection
$84.99
With the combined test, you get screening for more than 150 genetic health conditions, as well as an analysis of what physical traits your dog may have based on the DNA test results. Wisdom says that the company uses the world's largest breed database, checking more than 350 breeds. 

The canine breed detection test also includes a drug and exercise sensitivity portion, which could help you figure out which types of exercise and medication works best for your dog. 

Whatever you go with, you’ll receive a handy online report that includes a visual breakdown of your dog’s ancestry by percentage points as well as an assessment of their physical traits and over 150 health conditions. 

4. HomeDNAdirect 

The sheer number of tests on the HomeDNAdirect website might have you thinking your pets are applying to college. Never fear though, your dog won’t need to get an SAT tutor, but with a simple cheek swab, you can receive a wealth of information about your pooch and what makes that little guy tick (or scratch, or bark, or shed, you get the idea). And it doesn’t stop there—with HomeDNAdirect you can also get tests performed on horses, birds, and cats—just no lions, tigers, or bears. 

Here’s a quick look at some of the options:

Dog Allergy Test
$99
DNA My Dog Breed Test
$79
Dog Parentage Test
$198
Dog Inherited disease and trait test
From $75
Feline Polycystic Kidney Disease
From $60
Avian DNA sexing
N/A
Horse Parentage Testing
$198
Horse DNA Profiling
$65
  • 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.