This month we are looking at DNA testing, what’s involved and some of the benefits of knowing your dog’s heritage.
I had never really thought much about DNA testing one of my dogs until it was all I could think about.
Danny is my first cross-breed and before coming to us, we had a rough idea of his age, personality and temperament, but before going into rescue from the council pound, we know little to nothing so where he comes from will always be a mystery.
At first, the idea behind having his DNA tested was a way to settle an argument of what breeds were in his genetic make up. My husband, who fancies himself a dog expert felt there was more than Rottweiler and Doberman in his family tree. I sat on the fence (you can’t really be wrong in that case can you), but getting his DNA results back really helped to give something of a picture of his past and where he came from, settling the argument ended up as just a footnote in the whole story.
After recently convincing my sister to get a £75 WISDOM PANEL™ 3.0 DNA test done on her rescue dog, Bruce, I wanted to find out more about how the results are compiled and what happens in the two-three week period after the DNA swab is sent off before the DNA analysis comes back.
Luckily for us, Angela Hughes DVM PhD, the Veterinary Genetics Research Manager for Wisdom Health, was on hand to offer advice.
How a Dog’s DNA Is Analysed
When we had Danny’s test done, the first step after the kit arrived was to take a swab from inside his month before packaging up to send for his genetic testing and analysis to be completed.
Dr. Angela Hughes tells us a little about what happens when it arrives at the lab.
“Once your dog's sample is received at our lab it is scanned into our database and assigned to a batch for testing. DNA is extracted from the sample, then analyzed for the 1800+ markers that are used in the test.
“The results of that analysis are sent to a computer that evaluates them using a program designed to consider all of the pedigree trees that are possible in the last three generations. The trees considered include a simple pedigree with a single breed (a likely purebred dog) all the way up to a complex tree with eight different great-grandparent breeds coming together. Our computer uses the information from our extensive breed database to assign the breeds present within these potential pedigrees.
“For the millions of ancestry tree combinations built and considered, the computer gives each a score representing how well that selected combination of breeds matches to your dog's DNA data. The pedigree with the overall best score is selected and provided in your dog's individualized report.”
What a Dog’s DNA Results Can Reveal
Danny is quite an anxious dog, how much of this is down to his genes versus his past, we’ve always been unsure of, but knowing more about the breeds which make up his genes meant we could connect the dots, so when Danny’s results came back, there was quite a lot of information to process.
Dr. Angela Hughes explains why it’s important that so much is shared because in knowing a dog’s genetic history, it is possible to be aware of potential future health issues to help your vet.
“In addition to understanding your dog’s traits, recognising if there may be any health concerns is just as important.
“The WISDOM PANEL 3.0 report shares the extensive results of your dog’s analysis including a percentage breakdown of the breeds and breed groups identified, a detailed family tree going back three generations, extensive information about each breed found, a predicted weight profile, and the potentially life-saving drug sensitivity screening for the MDR1 mutation.
“For example, the MDR1 mutation that causes sensitivity to many commonly used medications in dogs is often found in many herding breeds and veterinarians are generally aware of this breed predisposition.
"However, we are seeing the mutation arise in dogs that you would not have suspected based on visual cues had a herding breed in their ancestry.
“As even one copy of this mutation can cause adverse clinical signs, it is important to test all dogs for this mutation in particular and to be aware of a mixed breed dog’s ancestral breeds so that other potential breed and disease predispositions can be taken into account as needed.
"With this information, the pet parent can work with their veterinarian to create a preventative care plan unique to that individual dog’s needs which may help the dog live a happier and healthier life!
“This information can help you and your veterinarian identify specific health issues that may arise, as well as, develop a training, nutrition, and even long-term healthcare plan that is specific to your dog’s unique traits and needs. An example report showing all these features and how they are displayed is available at www.wisdompanel.co.uk.”
So, Should You Get Your Dog’s DNA Tested?
It certainly seems to be a growing market, both in humans and canines, as Dr. Angela Hughes shared.
“Curiosity is often the main reason people chose to pursue ancestry testing for their dogs. However, it often quickly leads to those A-HA moments when they can identify a characteristic with a particular breed in their dog’s history. This knowledge can often reframe how you see certain traits.
“For example, my dog Rimsky was 9 years old when I tested him with the WISDOM PANEL™. I had thought he was an overgrown Papillon for most of his life only to find out that he was predominately American Cocker Spaniel and Maltese and it finally fell into place that many of the behavioral traits that endeared him to me were from his sporting ancestor. I am now much more aware of these traits and the spaniel breeds in general such that I plan to actively seek out spaniels in my future dogs.”
Pictured above, Dr Hughes and Rimsky
“DNA testing for ancestry is a growing area of interest for humans and this trend is definitely carrying over into the realm of our furry family members.
“We all want to understand our origins and genetic technology can enable us to do that with an easy cheek swab that we can collect at home and send off to the laboratory for answers in just a few short weeks.
“Finding out why our dogs look or act a certain way can be immensely gratifying and strengthen the bond we have.”
Taking Danny’s test settled our household argument. Thankfully, Dr Hughes tells us we’re not the first household. She tells us about one particularly memorable story that has stuck in her mind.
“I hear these types of stories regularly, but the one that stands out in my mind came from a fellow veterinarian who adopted an 18 kg dog named Watson that she thought to be a Beagle/mix.
“However, her husband wasn’t buying it since Watson did not have the typical Beagle coloration. She went ahead and tested him with the WISDOM PANEL without telling her husband – she wanted to know she was right before sharing the results with him!
“It turned out that Watson was predominantly Beagle at 62.5%, but also 25% Australian Shepherd and 12.5% mixed beyond three generations. She was right about the Beagle part but the other breeds in his ancestry were also influencing his physical and behavioral traits.
“The Australian Shepherd also shared one copy of the MDR1 mutation and this is where the veterinarian had her A-HA moment – a few months earlier, after Watson had his dental cleaning under general anesthesia which included a commonly used medication called acepromazine, he had a very prolonged recovery.
“It should have taken him less than a day to be mentally back to his “normal” self; instead it took him several days.
“His physical appearance had been hiding his herding ancestry and risk for the MDR1 drug sensitivity mutation. The WISDOM PANEL testing provided her with valuable information so that she can select more appropriate medications for Watson and provide even better care moving forward. And of course, she won the bet with her husband.”