Genetic Testing for Dogs

by Susan Paretts
Trace your dog's lineage through DNA testing.

Trace your dog's lineage through DNA testing.

Dog and Puppy image by Philip Date from Fotolia.com

Just like people, each dog has a unique genetic code that determines his characteristics. Genetic testing is now available for dogs and involves taking a sample of their DNA by brushing a cotton swab inside their cheeks or by taking a simple blood sample. While some tests determine a dog's lineage, many are used for medical purposes to diagnose, treat and prevent the passage of hereditary conditions.

Genetic Tests for Breeding

For pedigreed dogs registered with the American Kennel Club, some are required to submit to DNA testing. These dogs include those who are frequently used to sire pups, imported dogs and the dam and puppies from a multiple-sired litter registration. If you are planning to have a potential sire's semen frozen for breeding, that dog will also need to be tested by the AKC. These tests involve a simple swab of the inside of the dog's mouth. The swab is sent to an AKC lab for testing and genetic profiling. The AKC also randomly requires genetic testing of certain kennels to ensure the parentage of the litters is being reported correctly. For breeders, some tests are available to predict coat colors for litters of sires or dams, making breeding more predictable, according to the Veterinary Genetic Services website.

Tests for Medication Issues

A genetic mutation of the MDR1 gene in some dogs can cause sensitivity and adverse reactions to certain medications. To prevent these reactions, Washington State University's College of Veterinary Medicine offers a genetic test through its laboratories to detect this drug-resistant gene. The drugs that can cause these reactions include antiparasitic medications such as ivermectin and milbemycin, antidiarrheal agents such as loperamide and some anti-cancer medications. If your veterinarian has recommended any of these or related drugs to treat your dog, consider having him tested and submitting the results to your veterinarian. Either a swab of the dog's cheek or a blood sample is used to perform the test. If the gene is found, adjustments can be made to the medications to prevent adverse reactions.

Genetic Disorder Testing

If you or your veterinarian suspect your dog may suffer from or carry a genetic disease, have him tested through a veterinary laboratory for the condition to confirm the diagnosis. Tests can also be performed on dogs that will be used for breeding to prevent any hereditary diseases from being passed on. Labs such as OptiGen offer genetic testing for diseases specific to certain breeds including progressive retinal atrophy, cerebellar ataxia, canine multi-focal retinopathy and ichthyosis. Testing is done by breed, focusing on conditions that are more prevalent in those breeds. Some tests require blood samples drawn by your veterinarian, others a cheek swab. Some companies will provide a testing kit, while others will not.

Genetic Breed Profile

Find out about your dog's genetic makeup by submitting a sample of his DNA to a lab that specializes in breed profiles. These services typically request a cheek-swab DNA sample and a picture of the dog; kits include collection materials. The Wisdom Panel Mixed Breed test determines the breed makeup of a dog by comparing his genetic markers against those of more than 185 dog breeds stored in the company's database. Wisdom Panel offers various other tests, some specific for purebred or designer dogs and others to test for diseases; each is a separate test and tests different genetic markers. Once you know your dog's breed history, you can also tailor his health care to those characteristics, recommends the Wisdom Panel website. The Canine Heritage Breed Test is similar, comparing your dog's genetic makeup to a database containing 120 breeds.

Considerations

If you want to know your dog's lineage, kits can usually be ordered online and usually cost $60 to $95, depending on the options you select. These tests do not require a veterinarian; follow the directions provided in the kits. Rubbing the inside of your dog's mouth for about 30 seconds should obtain the proper amount of genetic materials to perform the tests, recommends Wisdom Panel. Tests for hereditary diseases typically require a veterinarian to order the test and to draw blood. Before and after swabbing your dog's mouth, keep the swabs themselves free of contact with humans and other dogs in the collection area; other DNA can contaminate them. Seal them in their protective sleeves after collection and drying. Results for genetic testing usually take two to three weeks to be returned to you or your veterinarian.

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About the Author

Based in Las Vegas, Susan Paretts has been writing since 1998. She writes about many subjects including pets, finances, crafts, food, home improvement, shopping and going green. Her articles, short stories and reviews have appeared on City National Bank's website and on The Noseprint. Paretts holds a Master of Professional Writing from the University of Southern California.