While Embark offers very advanced testing services, the very high cost along with the very slow turnaround time takes a lot of the fun out of it. Wisdom Panel is a cheaper and faster alternative that covers almost all the same tested areas, so I’d recommend that instead.
It’s a sign of the technologically advanced times we live in that getting your dog’s DNA tested is affordable to the masses (or somewhat affordable, at least). Embark claims to be the most accurate DNA test available and with the data they collect they can give you a breakdown of your dog’s breed composition as well as various genetic health markers your dog may have that could indicate future health concerns (or maybe not?).
Before we go any further, lets address the science – is dog DNA testing even legitimate?
Do Embark Dog DNA Tests Really Work?
The short answer is: yes. The canine genome is actually mapped just like the human genome, and it’s heavily researched as a project of the National Institute of Health. With hundreds and hundreds of published papers researching dog genetics, you can rest assured that the science behind dog DNA testing is legitimate and will give you real, accurate information about your dog.
Specifically, Embark will tell you about the following main categories –
Embark can identify over 250 unique breeds of dogs (full list here) and will even give you an estimated lineage of your dog’s ancestors back three generations. This is an awesome way to visualize just how your dog’s unique mix came to be! By looking at over 200,000 genetic markers, Embark claims to offer the most accurate breed identification available.
Genetic Health Testing
Embark will examine your dog’s genetic sequences for any markers that are associated with over 160 diseases that can affect your dog during their lifetime. It’s important to note that these markers aren’t a guarantee that your dog will get such a disease but the information can still be very useful to share with your vet.
The health testing dips into every part of your dog that you can imagine from blood to all the major organs and even the neural system. Some examples would be drug sensitivities (negative reactions to certain medications), enlarged heart, and glaucoma.
Other interesting info Embark will give you is related to the genetic traits of your dog, such as their coat color and type, muzzle shape, body size, genetic age, and estimated adult weight. This information may be most interesting to those testing puppies or those that plan to breed their dog.
If you’re interested in purchasing an Embark kit, the best place to do so is through the official Embark website. If you use the code “PAL20” at checkout, you can get $20 off! That certainly helps as the price tag is quite expensive at $200 (or $180 by using the coupon), but shipping is free and you only need to get your dog’s DNA tested once in their life. Still, you may want to peep our guide to the best dog dna tests before dropping such a chunk of change!
One nice thing about Embark is as they learn more information about canine genetics, they will give you free updates whenever they can tell you more about the DNA they already collected from your dog.
Unboxing Your Embark Kit
The Embark DNA kit comes in a neat little package and arrives pretty quickly. I ordered directly from the Embark website and had it to my house in 2-3 days.
The first surprise do the Embark kit came when I opened the box and saw a “unique tag” for my dog’s collar. This metal dog tag was an Embark logo on one side, and a tiny URL on the other where anyone can go to look up your dog’s genetic information. On their profile there’s also a button someone can click that says “Did you find [dog’s name]? Click here to contact their owner”, which is a nice feature to have.
With the kit fully opened and unfolded, it lists out some details about the testing kit and gives you your 4 easy stops to collecting a sample and getting your results.
Activating your Embark Kit
The first thing you need to do is go to embarkvet.com/activate to register your kit. On this website you’ll fill out some basic information about you and your dog as well as enter in the number listed on your swab tube and the code listed on the provided dog tag. This lets the laboratory know who’s DNA they’re testing and who they need to notify when testing is complete. The whole process took about 5 minutes or less for me to complete on my phone.
Swabbing Your Dog
Next up, it’s time to get that DNA sample by swabbing your dog. It’s important that you don’t swab your dog after they eat anything or the sample can be tainted. I waited until the next morning from when I got my kit and swabbed my dog first thing in the morning.
The Embark swab is more soft, like a sponge. It seems the DNA sample here is going to be taken from saliva, and you need to swab your dog’s lower gums for 30-60 seconds. Overall the process wasn’t very hard, but 60 seconds might be a long time to swab if your dog doesn’t want to cooperate.
Looking at the Embark swab you’ll also notice there’s a tube with some purple liquid inside. Once you’ve completed swabbing your dog, you unscrew the swab from the tube and flip it around so the swab is now inside the tube with the purple liquid, screw it down tight, and shake about 10 times. I believe this will keep the DNA’s integrity during transportation so the lab has a good sample to work with.
You seal the tube in a provided clear plastic bag, then place it back in the same box you received the kit in.
Send in the Results – and Wait!
Once you have everything back in the back, you use the self-adhesive strip to re-seal the package and simply drop it off at any USPS location or leave it in your mailbox for your postal worker to pick up – no payments or stamps needed.
While this part of the process is very nice and simple, what sucks is what comes next – the wait! The current wait time for an Embark kit to return results in 3 to 6 weeks. My results took about 4 and a half weeks to return. For comparison’s sake, Wisdom Panel takes 2-3 weeks – in my case, right about 2 weeks exactly.
Once the lab receives your kit, they will send you an email notifying you which is nice, and another email will come when the results are ready to be viewed.
What Does a Embark Report Look Like? Reading the Results
When your results eventually return, you can log back into the Embark website with the account you signed up with to view four main tabs – Research, Health, Breed, and Advanced.
The first tab is called “Research”, and it’s less about the DNA results for your dog and more about you contributing to advance canine genetic research. You can fill out a variety of surveys about your dog’s activities and behaviors if you choose to, but you won’t get anything from it other than good karma from contributing.
Next up, the Health tab has the results to the testing of possible genetic conditions your dog could at “At Risk” or a “Carrier” of. 165 tests were done at my time of testing, but it’s possible they add more in the future and may even be able to update your existing results with more health tests as research continues.
You can scroll down through any conditions that returned a positive, as well as everything that returned a negative if you’re curious.
One other neat feature of Embark is the ability to print out a Vet Report to share with your dog’s veterinarian. This is a roughly 8 page document that includes the basic genetic testing data and results that your vet may be able to use to better serve your pet.
Next up, the Breed report which is the main attraction for most people. The most interesting parts of the breed report are the genetic mix breakdown (above) which is the estimated makeup of your dog’s DNA based on what they found in your pet’s sample.
These results are a bit interesting for me, as they don’t seem to be fully accurate. I’m fairly certain Kartoffel is 50% Golden Retriever (correct above), and roughly 25% Bernese Mountain Dog, 25% Australian Shepard. You can see the results above are skewed quite a bit, and none of the dogs listed would explain his Aussie-like color or markings.
One possible explanation is my DNA sample I swabbed from Kartoffel was somehow contaminated with my other dog’s DNA who is over 50% Husky (check out her Wisdom Panel results in my Wisdom Panel review). I was very careful during the swabbing process, but maybe Kartoffel somehow had some of her hair in his mouth which led to some contamination? It’s hard to be certain.
Here’s another interesting section of the Breed panel. This shows you the estimated hereditary line of dogs that may have been bred to create your dog’s unique mix.
Last up, the Advanced panel. This section is more for data nerds or anyone who wants to really dive deep into what we know about dog genetics. Things like your dog’s inbreeding %, which chromosomes are coming from which dog breed, what your dog’s DNA says about their physical attributes like coat color, muzzle shape, etc and more.
You can also download the raw data which could be useful if you want to have a backup of the results, just in case.
Is Embark worth the money?
After going through both the Wisdom Panel and Embark testing processes, I can’t recommend Embark over Wisdom Panel at this time. Wisdom Panel is much, much faster at getting the results to you, the sample collection is about the same, and the results seem to give pretty near identical information all at a cheaper cost.
The only reason I would see to buy Embark over Wisdom Panel today is if you’re really into the “contributing to research” aspect of getting your dog’s DNA tested. Embark does partner with Cornell to do ongoing canine genetic research, of which your dog’s DNA will be contributing to. You also have the chance to further that involvement by filling out the surveys about your dog. To me, that’s not worth the added cost and wait time, but you may see it differently.