(Dr. Iulia Miha, DVM) Mixed breed owners often ask themselves all kinds of questions about their four-legged friends: Why does my dog like to dig? Where does the length of their fur or their ears come from? Why is my dog so territorial?
Thanks to DNA tests, these owners can now find the answers to their questions. DNA tests not only provide answers to questions related to the physical traits of your pet but also information about behaviors, potential health problems, and even their ancestors.
In this article, you will find out what DNA testing can tell you about your mixed breed dog, how it is done, the role of genetics, and much more.
What Does a Dog DNA Test Tell You?
DNA testing of your dog can provide you with essential information about:
- Ancestors and Breeds
- Potential Health Concerns (genetic disorders)
1) DNA Testing Can Tell You a Lot About Your Dog’s Ancestors and Breed
DNA tests can tell you about your dog's ancestors (their great-grandparents). Perhaps most owners are not interested in this aspect, but knowing what breeds your dog is mixed with can give you information about potential genetic disorders that can be inherited (hip and elbow dysplasia, cancer, progressive retinal atrophy, etc.). Becoming more aware of your pet's potential health risks can help you understand which clinical signs to pay attention to in the future to detect an illness early.
Additionally, DNA testing will help you find out why your dog exhibits certain physical traits or behaviors. After all, these traits come from your dog's parents and ancestors. With the help of DNA testing, you can find out why your dog has long ears, why they exhibit a herding instinct, why they are so energetic, and so on. In addition, by finding out the breeds that make up your dog genetically, you can customize their diet and wellness plan or choose the perfect training method to suit your pet’s needs.
2) DNA Testing Can Tell You a Lot About Your Dog’s Behavior
Predicting certain behaviors can be done through genetic testing of your dog. For example, if your dog has 80% genes from a hunting breed, such as the Jack Russel Terrier, then your mixed breed dog has a high chance of being energetic and expressing their hunting instincts.
If you understand the breeds that make up your dog's genetic makeup, you will be able to anticipate and manage these behaviors better and give your dog a more balanced life through training.
3) DNA Testing Can Tell You a Lot About Your Dog’s Health Status and Possible Diseases
As mentioned earlier, DNA testing can give you information about your dog’s predisposition to developing a breed-linked health concern or possible genetic disorder. Some of the most common genetic disorders in dogs are:
- Hip and elbow dysplasia
- Heart disease
- Bladder stones
- Canine degenerative myelopathy
- Atopic dermatitis
- Progressive retinal atrophy (PRA)
- Von Willebrand disease
- Luxating patella
Genetic tests do not actually detect all of these disorders - they give you a starting point of what to look out for with breed-linked traits. Knowing the issues you may face in the future will help you monitor your dog and watch for early clinical signs. This information will also allow you to plan physical exercises, diets, and other aspects related to the health of your pet. You will know what to expect with passing down certain inheritable traits if you want your dog to have puppies of their own.
How is DNA Testing Done?
Collecting DNA samples is simple and non-invasive, especially if you do it at home. It usually involves the use of a cheek swab kit but there are veterinarians who prefer to collect blood so that the results are as accurate as possible.
When you order a cheek swab test at home, you will receive instructions and all the tools needed to collect your dog's DNA sample. Gently rub the swab from the kit on the inside of your dog's cheeks. This step helps to collect cells so the DNA inside can be sequenced. After collecting the sample, the kit is sent to the laboratory according to the instructions included with purchase.
The turnaround for the results depends on the company from which you purchased the test. Results can come either by mail, email, or smartphone app. Some companies even offer consultations from specialists who will explain the results to you in detail.
What Is the Role of Genetics in Your Dog’s Behavior?
DNA testing is essential, especially for mixed breeds, to see which breeds make up your dog and how these traits will express themselves. Physical and behavioral aspects are given by dominant and recessive genes. Dominant genes are those genes that prevail over recessive genes. A recessive gene has an effect only when both genes in the pair are recessive. An example of a recessive gene would be eye color.
Your dog's behavior is influenced by both genetics and the environment in which they live. Studies show that certain behaviors (excitability, territoriality, or play) are strongly influenced by genetics. If you find out ahead of time what kind of behaviors your dog is genetically predisposed to, you will be able to take measures to manage them. Some behaviors, such as territoriality, can become annoying for the owner because the dog can become aggressive or destructive.
DNA testing will help you understand your pet better. Through genetic testing, you will find out who their ancestors were, what breed their parents were, their potential behavioral characteristics, and what possible health problems may arise throughout their life. DNA testing is a simple process that you can easily do at home without the need for specialized knowledge.
Knowing what genetic basis your dog has and what diseases and behaviors they are prone to, you will be able to:
- Better care for your pet - Knowing which diseases your beloved four-legged friend may be prone to, you will be able to monitor them better and be more attentive to potential early clinical signs. In this sense, you will be able to collaborate with the vet to give your dog the best care.
- Personalize their training - Knowing what kind of behaviors your dog is prone to, you will be able to choose the best training techniques that match the characteristics of their breed(s).
Dr. Iuliana Mihai, DVM, Masters In Small Animals And Equines Pathology
Iuliana graduated from the University of Agronomical Sciences and Veterinary Medicine in 2012, Romania. She has a Master’s degree in Small Animal and Equines Pathology and a strong affinity for Veterinary Parasitology and Laboratory. In 2013 she started her Ph.D. in epithelial cancer in dogs and cats. She volunteered at the faculty’s clinic in her 3rd year of study, and continued her career in small animal pathology and laboratory. She has one cat and eleven rats. Her interests outside of work include traveling, writing, and crafting.