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Pet DNA tests: Why get one, and how accurate are they?

pet DNA tests
(Image credit: Getty)

Pet DNA tests might seem like a step too far for some. While it’s fun to find out the ancestral secrets hiding in our own DNA, sending off our cat or dog’s cells feels like it might be entering a new realm of obsessive ownership. But it turns out that there can be some interesting health benefits when it comes to finding out the genetic makeup of your furry friend. You might also finally get an explanation for that behavior, which you always thought was entirely irrational. 

Let’s take a look at the science, the different tests available, and why you might be tempted to invest. 

What does a dog DNA test actually do?

Much like the human products offered by services such as MyHeritage and Ancestry, dog DNA tests require a cheek cell sample so are absolutely painless. You just need to make sure that your pet hasn’t eaten anything for a couple of hours or you might be sending off more food than anything else. 

It’s important to note first of all that regardless of the test you choose, this science doesn’t look at the full genome of your pet. Instead it analyses a set of key markers. These vary depending on the test you have chosen but can identify genes, mutations, breeds and specific traits. Even more important to remember is that these can be inaccurate – it all depends on the test. These are largely investments for the curious, not to solve health problems.    

You also might find some surprising results regarding different pet behaviors. A study last year reported on Sciencemag.org revealed that dog personalities are heavily linked to breeds and therefore DNA. After a survey of more than 50,000 dog owners, Evan MacLean from the University of Arizona, and Noah Snyder-Mackler from the University of Washington, discovered that 15% of a dog’s personality comes from its breed. Even if you use a dog DNA test for breed identification alone, you might be able to work out why your best friend insists on chasing everything in the park or why they were such a nightmare to toilet train.   

pet DNA test

(Image credit: Wisdom Panel)

What pet DNA tests are available? 

Let’s start with dogs. One of the biggest and most popular pet DNA tests is from Wisdom Panel, which offers up two main types of test. The first is the Wisdom Panel Essential version, which tests for more than 350 breeds, types and varieties, 25 genetic conditions, and more than 35 traits. The more expensive Wisdom Panel Premium, meanwhile, says it’s the most comprehensive dog DNA test available as it scans for more than 200 genetic conditions. 

Wisdom Panel explains that the DNA of a Chihuahua and the DNA of a Great Dane are 99% identical, and says that its tech looks at 100,000 DNA locations to find the exact breakdown of your pet. Whether you’re looking to find out the exact mix of your mutt or to make sure that they’re as pedigree as you were told, this can make for an exceptionally useful tool. 

A significantly cheaper option is the US-based DNA My Dog, which sends out a certificate printed with your canine’s breed composition, unique personality traits, health concerns, and predisposition to disease. However, if you find out that your dog is predisposed to a certain condition, there’s no guarantee that this will develop. These tests are only as good as the database to which they are compared, and even then this can be a complex and inexact science.    

But what if you’re looking for a cat DNA test? There aren’t as many feline tests available, but the US-based Basepaws Breed + Health DNA Test will break down your cat’s breed, health, traits and habits. Whether you want to know if your purry friend is more Siamese than Burmese, or find out just how much Ragdoll makes them that lazy, Basepaws claims to have a world-class database of feline genetics for DNA comparison. 

Wisdom Panel Dog DNA Test  $79.99

The best-known dog DNA test with two different analyses available to check your dog’s breed composition, genetic conditions and traits. Wisdom Panel is available in both Essential and Premium versions. 

DNA My Dog $68.77

With a certificate breaking down your dog’s exact genetic breed makeup, the DNA My Dog test discovers your canine’s heritage as well as personality traits.

Basepaws Breed + Health DNA Test $129

For our feline friends, the Basepaws DNA test discovers the breed makeup of your cat to explain those slightly curly ears or penchant for climbing. 

Do you need to buy a pet DNA test? 

In short, if you’re curious to know just how much Yorkie is in your Chorkie, or why your Jack Russell has been climbing on your shoulder, a pet DNA test makes for an interesting purchase. Given that these results come from databases, though, it’s definitely always worth taking the breakdowns with a pinch of salt.  

Pet Tech Week on PetsRadar
Pet Tech Week is brought to you by PetsRadar.com. Throughout this week we'll be showcasing the new tech that will make your pets happier and healthier. Whether you want a smart cat flap, a canine camera or the best vacuum cleaner for pet hair, we've got you covered.