DNA tests for you dog?! What a time to be alive! What’s even better is you can test your dog’s DNA without ever leaving the house. That’s right, you can collect a saliva sample at your own home, mail it to a lab, and get the results in typically just a few weeks.
It may sound absurd to some, but there’s actually quite a few good reasons to get a DNA test done on your dog. The top reasons to get a doggie DNA test are the following –
- Finding out what breeds your dog is comprised of
- Looking for potential genetic health issues that could affect your dog later in life
- Confirming your dog is purebred (my dogs sure aren’t, but that’s ok!)
As the owner of mix breed dogs, this all sounded interesting to me so I bought some DNA testing kits for my hounds to see how well they work.
Lets talk about the top companies in dog DNA testing, and then get more in-depth with the whole testing process.
Embark vs Wisdom Panel – What’s the Best Dog DNA Test?
|Breed Testing||Uses 200,000 genetic markers and identifies over 250 unique breeds||Uses over 15,000 purebred DNA samples to identify over 250 breeds|
|Health Testing||Tests for over 160 genetic diseases||Tests for drug and exercise sensitivities in all tests, screens for over 150 other genetic health conditions (if you bought the Wisdom Panel Health kit)|
|Wait time to get results||3 to 6 weeks||2 to 3 weeks|
|Best Choice For...||People who want the most full and complete genetic information on their dog||People who are mostly interested in finding out the breed of their dog and/or want results quickly|
All things considered, both testing services operate very similarly. The process is very simple –
- Receive your testing kit in the mail and obtain a saliva sample from your dog’s cheek using a provided cotton swab.
- Mail your swab into the lab using the provided shipping materials
- Wait patiently – after several weeks, the results will be shared with you
Let’s talk a bit more about each company and their DNA tests.
Embark was founded in 2016 by two brothers, Ryan and Adam Boyko and boasts an impressive partnership with the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. With their scientific knowledge and expertise, they’re able to check over 200,000 genetic markers to give you the most accurate breed identification available. Their testing will also give an estimate as to your dog’s ideal adult body weight, which may be of interest to those getting a puppy tested.
Regarding genetic health testing, they check for over 160 diseases. The test also looks for a series of genetic traits your dog may have in their DNA such as relating to their coat type, skull shape, hind dew claws, and even some non-obvious traits like a higher tolerance for high-altitude environments. This could be relevant if you plan on breeding your dog, otherwise these results struck me as “meh”.
Another tidbit I found really cool was that all data collected from your dog will actually be used as data to further scientific research in the field of improving health of dogs. Awesome!
Embark currently only offers one type of test which includes testing for all of the above – breed, health, and traits – and it’s priced pretty high at $200.
Another major downside of Embark is that it takes a full 3-6 weeks to get the results back! In my case, the results were returned after about 4 and a half weeks. Maybe I’m being dramatic, but for me the excitement of getting the testing done died off as I was waiting for the results to return.
Embark Sample Report
Here’s a peak at Kartoffel’s breed ID report. To take a peak at his full report, check out our full Embark review.
Wisdom Panel is the other main player in this field, with a bit of a different backstory and approach. Wisdom Panel has been around since 2005 for the purpose of DNA testing to identify markers for different dog breeds. Wisdom Panel was initially only available to veterinarians, but shortly after expanded into the consumer market. Ever since, they have been advancing their Wisdom Panel tests to be more accurate and detect for more health issues.
Wisdom Panel has a database of over 250 different breeds with over 15,000 DNA samples in order to accurately identify the breed of your dog. They look at over 1,800 markers in your dogs DNA and runs millions of calculations to determine what your dog’s most likely heritage is back to three generations. Similar to Embark, this test will also tell you your dog’s estimated ideal adult body weight.
Wisdom Panel is a huge contributor to the advancement of dog genetic research with many published articles and even created a great public database, My Breed Data. The database allows you to search across different breeds they have tested and gives you common disorders found in a breed along with the occurrence rate or those genetically at risk.
When it comes to health screening, Wisdom Panel is a bit different from Embark because Wisdom Panel offers two different levels of health testing. Both the Wisdom Panel 4.0 test ($85) and the Wisdom Panel Health test ($150) test for drug and exercise sensitivities, but the more expensive Health test also runs advanced health screening to look for more than 150 genetic health conditions.
Wisdom Panel Example Report
To see a full breakdown of everything that’s in a Wisdom Panel report, I suggest you check out our full Wisdom Panel DNA test review.
Here’s a peak at Pidgy’s breed mix chart. Other sections of her report included an estimated family tree and health report.
Which Dog DNA Testing Service Should I Use?
After going through both testing services, I have to say I honestly much prefer Wisdom Panel. It’s the much more affordable option – if you’re simply looking to find out the breed of your dog, then the Wisdom Panel 4.0 is the best value to $85.
If you’re looking to get a more detailed genetic health screening done on your dog, then I would still recommend the Wisdom Panel Health kit over the Embark kit. It’s ~$50 (assuming neither are running any promos) and the results come back 3-4 weeks sooner. While Embark claims to do more advanced testing, it’s hard to tell that’s the case looking at the reports you get back. They seem to cover 99% of the same tests.
Common DNA Testing Questions
We’ve come across a ton of questions regarding DNA testing on dogs, here’s a round-up of the most frequently asked questions and answers.
Will a DNA test tell me what breed(s) is my dog?
Absolutely, with some minor exceptions.The main draw for most dog owners to DNA testing is finding out exactly what breed their pooch is made up of. If you adopted your dog from a shelter, odds are you have some rough guess what breeds your dog is, but no definitive answer. If you’d like to know once and for all, the only way is with a DNA test.
Tests on the markets today can decipher between hundreds of dog breeds and give you a breakdown of what they found makes up your dog’s unique background (20% Golden Retriever, 15% Chow, etc). The results can sometimes be shocking!
If your dog is a relatively new breed, then its unique DNA markers may not be known at this time. This is a very, very small percentage of dog breeds but if you’re curious, both Embark and Wisdom Panel list their detectable dog breeds on their respective websites.
Can my dog be tested for genetic health risks?
DNA testing has been popular with professional dog breeders for some years now as they try to combat the health issues that plague purebreds. The idea is that by identifying markers in a dog’s DNA that are believed to correspond with degenerative health issues, you can selectively breed the dogs with better genetics and move towards a healthier dog population.
If you’re not a dog breeder, you may still be interested in what your dog’s DNA says about their potential long-term health issues so you know what to watch for as they age.
This brings up another important question…
Are Dog DNA Tests Really Accurate?
I had this very question when I heard out about dog DNA tests. I was very suspicious of the scientific claims, but it turns out dog DNA testing is as legitimate as it gets! the National Institute of Health has an entire Dog Genome Project that has already mapped the entire genome of dogs and made the data public. This was done to understand evolutionary traits and genetic testing/diagnosis which may some day help humans better understand their own genome.
What it really means for you is generally yes, you can trust dog DNA tests for breed identification as they are backed by decades of rigorous study.
That being said, let’s talk about health testing for a moment.
Can a Dog DNA Test Tell Me if My Dog Will Get a Disease?
It would be nice to be able to read your dog’s DNA test results and tell the future, wouldn’t it? Unfortunately, the science isn’t to that point yet and it may never be. There’s simply too much we don’t understand right now to say just how good or accurate these health screenings are, and of course even if a test shows your dog is susceptible to a certain disease, it doesn’t mean they’re guaranteed to actually get the disease.
A 2017 German study of 1,000 German Shepard Dogs found that a new genetic test using 17 genetic markers for canine hip dysplasia could not predict what dogs actually suffered from hip dysplasia over a three year period.
Yet another study from 2011 found when comparing a wider array of genetic markers across hundreds of dogs, they were able to find several hundred markers that seemed to correlate with hip dysplasia and thus could possibly be used to predict the disease with ~70% accuracy.
So what do these seemingly conflicting studies indicate? That it’s far too early to read into specific genetic health screenings for your dog without doing deeper research yourself. If you get a report saying your dog may be susceptible to developing glaucoma, try to find out what specific marker led to that prediction and see if you can find any studies around it. You’d be amazed what scientific studies a Google search can dredge up!
Will DNA testing my dog hurt them?
Not with tests requiring only a cheek swab, as most (if not all) online testing services offer exclusively. It’s possible a DNA test done at a veterinarian may draw a blood sample instead, but there’s no difference in the DNA quality between a blood sample vs a swab, so we suggest you use a swab or saliva sample when possible.
What do dog DNA tests cost?
Anywhere from $85 to $200. Tests can range widely and vary based on what level of information you want on your dog. If you are only interested in finding out the breed, then the Wisdom Panel 4.0 is a great option that costs $85. If you want a more comprehensive breakdown of your dog’s genetic health, expect to pay over $150.
How long does a dog DNA test take to get results?
This can vary widely based on the company doing the test and how busy their lab is. It can take anywhere from 2 to 7 weeks for your test to be resulted, I would expect to wait longer around the holiday season as these tests make excellent gifts, so I’m sure the lab gets swamped.
Will a dog DNA test tell me if my dog is part wolf or coyote?
Yes! It wasn’t always the case, but the newer DNA tests you can buy today from Embark and Wisdom Panel can identify genes from wolf and coyote ancestors.