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How Dog and Cat DNA Tests Work

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mixed breed black and white dog with a pink collar smiling in a backyard in front of a wooden fence

Are you curious about your pet’s ancestry? You can use an at-home pet DNA test to discover your four-legged friend’s roots.

Why Get a Dog DNA Test?

A dog DNA test might give you some insight into your pup’s quirky behaviors. For instance, you might find out your dog is part Spaniel. These dogs were bred to flush out birds for hunters. Now you have a better understanding of why your dog chases after anything with feathers.

Or you might discover your dog has some Terrier in them. This breed was developed to dig out small prey, which can help explain the fact that your dog is always digging at the carpet.

Some DNA tests also include health screenings. These can tell you if your dog is predisposed to a hereditary condition based on their genetic make-up.

Knowing your dog’s breed can help you enrich their environment with activities they’ll love, such as toys that let them dig safely indoors.

Are There DNA Tests for Cats?

DNA tests for cats are available. They haven't been around as long as the ones for dogs since there hasn’t been as much interest in cat DNA testing. This is due partly because of how dogs and cats were domesticated.

Humans actively domesticated and bred dogs. They developed breeds for specific skills, such as herding sheep or retrieving birds from the water for hunters. They also selected dogs with certain traits like a friendly nature or small size as companions.

On the other hand, cats domesticated themselves. They started hanging around agricultural communities to feast on the plentiful rodents that were attracted to grain stores. People appreciated the free mouse catchers and let them stay. Eventually, they brought cats along with them as they traveled and created new settlements.

Humans only began developing cat breeds, like Persians and Maine Coons, a couple hundred years ago. That’s not far back enough to create a robust and differentiated genetic pool of breeds to test.

So, cat DNA testing isn’t going to give you information on breed that will explain your feline’s quirky behaviors. But they can reveal some interesting things about our feline friends. For instance, your cat’s genetic markings can indicate the geographic area where their ancestors lived. They can also provide information on their wild cat relatives and risk of certain diseases.

Interested in learning about a certain breed? We’ve got articles on all kinds of different dog and cat breeds for you to explore.

How Do Pet DNA Tests Work?

You may have used an at-home DNA test like Ancestry® or 23andMe® to learn about your family. For these tests, you spit in a tube and send it off to a lab for processing. Pet DNA tests are fairly similar, but you won’t need to fill a tube with saliva. You just rub the inside of your pet’s cheek with the swab included in your kit.

Make sure you read all of the instructions in the kit before you get started. Some kits may ask that you keep your pet away from other animals for a certain amount of time to avoid cross-contamination. You may also need to make sure your pet doesn’t eat or drink for a certain amount of time before swabbing.

Once you’ve got your swab, follow the steps to package it up and ship it to the company. After the lab receives it, their technicians will extract and process the DNA. They’ll use a computer algorithm to match the chromosomal patterns of your pet’s DNA to a breed database.

It can take a while to get the results back—sometimes up to 6 weeks or more. It varies by service. Your kit should have an estimate of the lab turnaround time.

close up of a dogs mouth

Cheek Swabbing Tips

Of course, swabbing a pet’s cheek is easier said than done with some of our four-legged friends. Not all pets like the idea of you putting something that’s not food or a treat in their mouth. Some might take it as an invitation to play and try to bite at the swab. These tips can help:

  • Wait until your pet is in a quiet and relaxed mood to swab your pet’s cheek. But don’t attempt it while they’re sound asleep. They could wake up startled and nip at you.
  • Let your pet know that there’s a treat in it for them if they comply. Keep the treat in your hand until they allow you to swab their cheek.
  • Be patient and try again later if it’s not working. Avoid scolding your pet. It’s not their fault they don’t understand the process.

You may also want to enlist a friend or family member to help out. They can distract your pet or gently hold them still while you focus on getting the swab done.

How Much Does a Dog Breed DNA Test Cost?

Dog DNA tests can cost you anywhere from around sixty to a few hundred dollars. The more expensive tests typically include extra features, like health screenings or advice on behavior, training, and care based on breed. If you’re not interested in these add-ons, you can go with a cheaper kit.

How Much Does it Cost for a Cat?

Because there has generally been less interest in DNA testing for cats, there isn’t as much selection when it comes to choosing a kit. Available options can run anywhere from around $45 to $130. Like dog DNA testing, you’ll pay more if you want advanced features.

Pet insurance doesn’t cover pet DNA tests, but it can cover treatment needed for hereditary conditions. Learn more about what’s covered.

How Reliable Are Dog DNA Tests?

Your dog DNA testing kit may include an accuracy percentage. It’s hard to gauge these claims since the industry isn’t regulated. They’re provided by the company who may not reveal their data or methodology for competitive reasons. That said, you can probably feel confident if you choose a reputable company with good reviews.

Are Cat DNA Tests Accurate?

Like dog DNA tests, tests for cats are not regulated, so there’s no way to judge accuracy claims. Look for a well-respected company with positive customer reviews when you shop around.

Health Screenings Results

Health screenings are more complicated than breed information. If your pet is genetically predisposed to a disease, that doesn’t mean they’ll necessarily develop symptoms of the condition. There are other factors, such as lifestyle, diet, and exercise, that come into play.

You also can’t assume your dog won’t get sick if they get a clean DNA health screening. These tests can only detect certain conditions. Fortunately, the list of diseases that can show up in a screening continues to expand every year.

Keep in mind you shouldn’t rely on a pet DNA test to make important decisions about your four-legged friend’s health or care. If something concerning comes up in a pet DNA test, talk with your veterinarian about it.

How to Choose a Pet DNA Test

If you’d like to test your pet’s DNA, these questions can help you pick the right kit:

  • How much does it cost? You’ll want to balance price with quality and features to make sure you get what you want out of it.
  • How many breeds are in their database? More breeds can improve accuracy. If your pet has a breed that isn’t in their database, it can’t show up in the results.
  • How long does it take to get results? If you’re the type who doesn’t like to wait, look for a kit that offers a faster turnaround time.

You can also browse through reviews online to help you make up your mind. Whichever one you choose, share your results with your pet-loving friends and have fun with it.

The information presented in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute or substitute for the advice of your veterinarian.


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