You can now test your dog’s DNA in the comfort of your home for as little as £60.
Following the mapping of the dog genome in 2005 and the growing popularity of human DNA kits like 23andMe and Ancestry, a number of start-ups have released dog DNA kits that can reveal information about your dog’s health and heritage.
How much dog DNA tests cost
The cost of DNA kits varies between £40 and £200. The cost depends on what they are designed to test for.
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This type of test is purely for the purposes of identifying a dog and will not tell you about the breed make up.
DNA profiling tests are used for identification if your dog is ever lost or stolen. Some kennel clubs require DNA profiling as a form of identification.
These tests are offered by Cellmark Forensic Services and cost £74.99**.**
Ancestry and breed analysis
This test can help mixed-breed owners identify what breeds make up their dog, or confirm the pedigree of a pure-bred or designer dog. Breed-analysis-only DNA test kits usually cost around £100.
Some companies, like Embark and Wisdom, have over 350 breeds in their databases, which helps ensure the accuracy of the results. Embark allows you to find your dog’s relatives among all the other dogs it has tested. But as it's based in the USA, it's likely that most dogs in its relatives database will be American.
Inherited and gene-specific diseases
These tests identity genetic mutations that might cause health problems. They can tell you whether your dog carries a genetic disorder that it can pass on to its offspring, or whether it might develop the disorder later in life.
The number of diseases screened for vary among companies. Embark can screen for the largest number of genetically inherited diseases (210) and the DNA kit costs £95.
Dog DNA home kits and how much they cost
Wisdom Panel Essential – breed analysis – £89.99
Embark Dog DNA Test – ancestry and health, 210 diseases – £113 (Converted from its US price of $149)
DNA My Dog – breed analysis – approx £52 (Converted from its US price of $68.99)
DNA My Dog – breed analysis and genetic age test – approx £76 (Converted from its US price of $99.99)
DNA My Dog – breed analysis on a deceased dog – £143 (Converted from its US price of $189)
Pet Genetics Lab – Foresight Health – checks for 160 inherited diseases – from £125
Pet Genetics Lab – Foresight Health single tests – a test for a specific disorder – from £40
Cambridge Canine DNA dog breed test – breed analysis and health and wellness suggestions – £79.95 and allergy pre-dispositions test – £59.95
Cellmark Forensic Services DNA Protected - DNA identification – £74.99.
Embark and DNA My Dog are based in the US. The prices in pounds will depend on the currency rate at the time of buying if you order them from the company directly.
You might also need to pay shipping fees. Embark will charge $20 to ship your kit while DNA My Dog will ship for free. You might have to cover the postal expenses to send them your dog's DNA sample.
So, are these tests any good?
PC magazine UK conducted research to determine the accuracy and quality of a few kits and cross-referenced the data they supplied.
Wisdom and Embark emerged as their favourites because of their large breeds databases and the high number of genetic disorders they test for. They identify Embark as the kit that supplied the most accurate results and DNA Affirm the least accurate.
The overall conclusion was that the cheaper kits were not as reliable and the more expensive kits usually screen for a larger number of genetic disorders and tend to be more accurate.
How dog DNA test kits work
Testing your dog's DNA using one of the kits is simple:
1. Order your kit - some companies will ask you to register it by setting up an online account, as soon as you get it. This will help you view your results and other available health insights.
2. Swab the inside of your dog's cheek with the cotton stick provided in the pack. The cotton head will soak in your dog's saliva which the company's laboratory is then going to use to extract your dog's DNA.
3. Seal and send the sample back to the company. The price of postage will be included in most packs if the company is based in the UK. If it's based in the US, you might have to pay to post your sample.
4. Most companies will return the results within a month. Whether you'll get the results via post or online will be set out in the instruction manual of each kit.
This should apply to most kits but always read the guidance included in each pack as there will be slight differences between brands.
Should we test our pets’ DNA? The ethics
DNA testing raises some concerns, such as how owners interpret the results and what breeders could do with the data.
DNA testing can lead to selective breeding that can significantly change well-known breeds. This also means, however, that in the hands of ethical breeders, we might be able to reverse the debilitating effects of selective breeding.
Researchers at Cambridge University are already looking at the genes that cause brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome (BOAS) with the hope that identifying it would allow scientists to alter or eliminate them. The hope is that if we can test for BOAS genes, we can help breeders avoid breeding dogs carrying those genes.
On the other hand, this poses another concern about misinterpretation of the data. While the presence of a particular gene cannot with absolute certainty reveal how ill a dog can get or whether it will become ill at all, some owners might be tempted to do something to curb their pet’s suffering before it’s started.
For example, in 2018, the journal Nature reported that an ill pug was euthanised because her owners believed her DNA test results showed she has a rare neurodegenerative disorder, whereas the condition may have been something else, potentially easier to treat.
If a disease-related mutation is identified in your dog's DNA, it may be stressful living with the knowledge your pet might develop a serious illness. On the other hand knowing your dog carries or has a mutation, such as multi-drug resistance, can help you and your vet provide the best care possible. It's a choice owners will have to make.
Whatever your dog's genetic background, you can take steps to look after their health by making sure you have the right level of pet insurance to help pay for any future treatment they might need.