Pet Health Articles

Genetic (DNA) Testing

genetic_testsWhat is genetic testing?

Genetic testing is a simple way to find out more about our pets. There is a wealth of information contained within an individual’s genetic code, or DNA. Through collection of a sample of your pets DNA-containing cells, a myriad of tests can be run, either individually or as part of a profile, that provides valuable information about your pet’s genetic make-up.

Genetic testing might sound exotic, but it has been used in pets for over twenty years. It is easy and convenient to do, and with modern technological advances has become quite affordable. In fact, the cost is often on par with standard blood profiles,so it is becoming a more common test to provide for early detection and prevention of disease.

 

What can genetic testing tell us?

 

Breed

  • If your pet is a mixed breed, genetic testing can identify the breeds that contributed to the mix

Genetic condition predispositions

  • Different breeds are known to be prone to certain conditions, so knowing the breeds in the mix can help determine the approximate risk for a variety of conditions
  • Even if tests for specific genetic conditions are not available, screening with other types of early-detection testing can promote better preventive care, and lead to earlier diagnosis and treatment of conditions.

Better understanding of pet/physical and personality traits

  • Every purebred has certain established physical and personality traits that provide owners with an idea of the type of pet they are getting. Knowing the breeds that go into a mix can help the owners make better guesses about the size, temperament, energy levels and exercise requirements their unique pet may have.

Diet and wellness plans

  • Knowing breed mix and potential condition predispositions can help an owner develop a more accurate diet, wellness and preventive care plan for their pet.

 

 

What has to be collected for genetic testing? Will it hurt my pet?

DNA tests can be run on samples of any body cells that contain a nucleus (which in turn contains DNA). Genetic testing requires collecting a small sample of your pet’s cells, most easily by rubbing a small sterile nylon brush along the inside of the pet’s cheek to collect epithelial cells from the area. The sample is then submitted to a lab for DNA analysis. This process is quite simple and can be done by the pet owner or a veterinarian. Some veterinarians prefer to submit a blood sample, where they can be assured that large amounts of DNA are present. While the needle prick of blood collection may upset your pet for a moment, overall the process will not hurt your pet.

Many companies that perform genetic testing encourage pet owners to order collection kits online, perform the collection at home, and send the sample back to the lab in the provided mailer. The owner will receive a report, either by mail or email, within a few weeks with a full explanation of the results.

 

What genetic tests are performed?

Once the sample has been collected and submitted to the lab, a large number of tests can be run, either individually or as part of a profile.

  • The DNA mixed-breed ancestry profile can help determine which purebreds likely contributed to a pet’s mix.

  • Full genetic attribute profiles can be run on purebreds, hybrids, and mixed-breed pets. This provides the most valuable information, evaluating for dozens of medical conditions, as well as for certain traits.

  • Specific breed profiles can be run, evaluating only for conditions common in a specific breed.

  • Individual genetic tests can be conducted where there is only concern about a single medical issue.

With new technologies, it is as inexpensive to run a complete profile with dozens of tests as it is to run a handful of tests common in a specific breed. In almost all cases, it makes more sense (financial and otherwise) to run the complete profile rather than try to predict which tests might be most relevant. Forewarned is forearmed: With the genetic testing available, a pet doesn’t have to get ill and start showing symptoms before a diagnosis can be made and treatment, or preventive measures, can be started.

Lowell Ackerman DVM, DACVD, MBA, MPA
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