Genetics define us. Our hair color, height, body shape and even our tastes and preferences are encoded into our genetic composition. It is no wonder that so many people are curious about their pet’s genetic makeup as well. Thankfully, tests are now available to help discover your dog’s chromosomal combination. There are also genetic test kits for cats, which offer good accuracy but give far less specific information.
Other than sheer curiosity, and being able to brag that your dog is a certain breed (or three), why should you consider having genetic tests on your dogs? With information comes power. Knowing which breeds are at the center of Fido’s being allows owners to take better care of their pet. For instance, knowing that a dog comes from a breed with strong herding instincts in its genetic backbone allows an owner to seek toys and activities that provide activity and outlets for that particular instinctive drive. This could ultimately reduce the anxiety for the pet, while also allowing the family to better understand certain behaviors the dog may display at home, creating a safer/happier environment for the entire family.
Each breed also has its own list of health concerns. Knowing that a dog has Labrador retriever as part of its genetic code, may prompt the owner to have their vet screen for diseases such as hip dysplasia, Tricuspid valve heart disease or Sudden Acquired Retinal Detachment Syndrome (SARDS), which causes blindness. What’s even better is that some genetic tests also include markers for specific disease predispositions and drug sensitivities. The most common of these would be the MDR1 marker for the Ivermectin (and other drug types) sensitivity in the Collie breeds, and a test for Von Willebrand Disease, which can cause abnormal bleeding in the Doberman breeds.
There are many tests on the market that allow consumers to learn more about a dog’s DNA. When purchasing genetic test kits, it is important to consider the following: price of the kit (usually $60 -$200), ease of use, how many breeds are in the database for comparison, how many genetic markers for disease conditions are included and the time it takes to get the genetic results.
Another consideration that accompanies the “with knowledge comes power” line of thought is the potential legal ramifications that can come with genetic testing. Currently, certain breeding programs require genetic testing of both male and female animals to qualify for breeding. This process disqualifies animals with undesirable traits, ensuring that the breedings only include the healthiest specimens.
Some breeders are using genetic testing as proof that the pups being sold are from the genetic line that was promised. These same tests can also prove that the puppy being purchased is free from genetic markers that could lead to illness. This information could nullify a purchase contract if the genetics do not match. Finally, due to breed “profiling” that is occurring with rental properties and homeowner insurance eligibility, these genetic tests, if required, could make it difficult for owners of mixed breed dogs that have known ancestry from certain breeds to rent a home or qualify for insurance.
There are many positive reasons for learning the genetic map of your four-footed companion, but there may be dangers embedded in discovering this very same information. Your veterinarian can help you make this decision and keep your pet healthy and happy no matter what the breed of origin.
Dr. Gretchen Burke is a veterinarian with LakeCross Veterinary in Huntersville. The vets in the yellow house have been treating pets for more than 20 years. Details: 704-948-6300 or visit www.LakeCrossVeterinary.com.