DNA testing for dogs explodes in popularity but beware misinterpretations

- Genetic testing for dogs has increased in popularity over the last decade. More than 1 million dogs have been tested in just over a decade.

Human DNA testing led the way, according to Erin Chu, a senior veterinary geneticist with Embark.

"I think it's really mirrored the increased popularity in how humans want to learn more about their ancestry," she said.

Embark is the official dog DNA test of the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.

"Westminster's decision to partner with a genetic testing company really speaks to their desire to use all the tools available to dog breeders to further the health of dogs," Aaron Sams, a senior scientist at Embark, said.

Similar to human DNA tests, a swab of a canine cheek can supply valuable information about a pet's genes.

"I'm going to be able to tell you about genetic variance that might contribute to health risk and I'm going to walk you through all of that information," Chu said. "And I can tell you why your dog looks the way they do, based on the texture, the length, the curl, the color of their hair, how tall they're supposed to be, how wide their face is, and how long their noses are."

Marcie Boomsliter found the testing of her Australian shepherd to be useful.

"He's 100 percent clear and not a carrier of any of the diseases that have been genetic markers in our breed," Boomsliter said.

The technology has been used in unconventional ways, such as to identify dogs whose owners don't pick up their droppings.

"People are looking at the DNA that you can find in fecal matter and attribute it to a dog with this breed

Sams added, "Genetic testing can be used in ways to help dogs—clear them from legal trouble, potentially."

Sometimes results can be misinterpreted, which is why dog owners should discuss the results with their veterinarian.

"I want to make sure you're breeding healthy, happy dogs for generations to come," Chu said.

Embark's DNA kits start at $199. The results come back in two to three weeks.


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