DNA dog tests backfire! Owners are shocked to find their pedigree pooches are not what they seem - so do the £140 home test kits actually work?

DNA dog tests backfire! Owners are shocked to find their pedigree pooches are not what they seem - so do the £140 home test kits actually work?
By: dailymail Posted On: July 08, 2024 View: 82

  • Dog owners are paying for pet DNA tests to learn more about their pooches
  • But experts warn they might be being set up for disappointment and stress

Childless millennials are often accused of treating their dogs as if they were their own children.

Certainly not helping to beat those accusations, the latest trend among DINKWADs (Double Income No Kids With a Dog) is the doggy DNA test. 

Just like a human ancestry test, there are now a number of these genetic testing services that claim they can reveal your pooch's breed lineage.

But a few eager dog lovers have been left disappointed, as they discover their pedigree pooch is really a common mutt

And experts say that taking a looking into your dogs DNA might just be setting yourself up for disappointment.  

The latest trend for DINKWADs (double income no kids with a dog) is getting a DNA ancestry test for their dog, but are they really getting value for money?
How do dog DNA tests work?

Dog owners order a kit from one of the DNA testing companies.

This kit will contain a swab which they use to take a sample of cells from their dogs cheeks.

The cells are sent back to the lab which extracts and sequences their dog's DNA.

Segments in the dog DNA are compared to a breed database.

Matching sections and similar genetic mutations give an indication of what the dog's breed lineage might be. 

At the cheaper end groups like the Kennel Club offer simple tests for specific genetic conditions starting at £60 per test.

And at the higher end, leading brands like Wisdom Panel charge up to £140 for a full breed test and health screening.

While £140 isn't exactly cheap, these lower costs have opened up genetic testing as an option for far more pet owners than ever before.  

When Zofia Wasiak from adopted her rescue dog Stolas from a shelter in Colorado, she and everyone believed the puppy was almost certainly  a German Shepherd.

However, after a few weeks, Zofia says she became curious about Stolas' 'funky' looks.

She told MailOnline: 'Everywhere I took my pup people would say how much he looked like a Shepard. 

'My pup also has a lot of classic German Shepard behaviours, such as the stubbornness, being the fastest learner and he seems to be trying to find tasks to do, such and bringing his toys to his crate!'

However, much to Zofia's surprise, when she got Stolas' DNA tested the results came back very different to how she had expected.

According to Wisdom Panel, one of the most popular DNA testing services, Stolas was only 1 per cent German Shepherd.

Instead, Stolas was 17 per cent, Australian Cattle Dog, 14 per cent Siberian Husky, and 11 per cent American Bulldog.

In a post on the Reddit forum r/DoggyDNA, Sofia asked: 'Is my test accurate?'

She continued: 'I got my wisdom panel results back, and my pup not being more German Shepherd seems fishy!' 

Stolas' owners were certain that he was a German Shephard when he was adopted
However, results from Wisdom Panel revealed that Stolas was only one per cent German Shephard

Nor is Zofia alone in finding her dog's DNA test results to be something of a surprise.

In fact, social media is filled with stories of proud pet parents being perplexed by their pooch's pedigree.

In a post on X, formerly Twitter, one outraged dog owner was baffled by their results from Embark, another DNA test provider.

They wrote: ' SHAR-PEI? REALLY?????? This makes no sense. Biggest plot twist of the year coming in hot from @embarkvet dog breed test.' 

Another poster on Reddit said that their dog Lucy had no Labrador DNA whatsoever despite having been adopted from a Labrador Retriever Rescue Foundation

Another poster on r/DoggyDNA Adopted their dog Lucy from a Labrador Retriever rescue foundation seven years ago.

However, to everybody's surprise, after getting Lucy's DNA tested, the results revealed that she was in fact half American Pitbull Terrier – with no Labrador DNA at all.

In a post sharing the results on Reddit, the owner wrote: 'Guess I need to stop calling her a lab!' 

In one particular hilarious video on TikTok, a dog owner named Kaylin held a 'breed reveal party' for their father's dog.

Yet, despite her father's absolute certainty that the dog was an Anatolian Shepherd, the results revealed this could not be further from the truth. 

Instead, the results revealed that the 'Uncle Wally' was actually 28.7 per cent Great Pyrenees, 26 per cent boxer, 14.1 per cent lab retriever, and 8.2 per cent mini schnauzer.

One outraged dog owner said that Embark, a provider of dog DNA tests, delivered the 'biggest plot twist of the year'
One of the biggest new trends for dog owners is hosting 'breed reveal parties' for their dogs to reveal the results of their DNA test

But in some cases, discovering these unexpected results can help owners to better understand their mystery mutts. 

Alison Barefield and her husband Neil from Birmingham, Alabama, adopted their puppy, Bash, at six weeks old after he was rescued from a hoarder's home alongside 60 other animals.

Since Bash was found with two adult Chihuahua-Jack Russell crosses, Alison assumed that Bash must have been one of their puppies and would remain fairly small.

But, after a few weeks went by, Alison started to question whether that was really case.

Alison told MailOnline: 'At only 4.5 lbs, he was also the runt of his litter, and the foster suggested that he would likely not get bigger than 10-12 lbs. 

'We did not question the dog's DNA, until Bash reached about 12 weeks of age, and was already at 18 lbs.'

When Alison Barefield adopted her Chihuahua and Jack Russel Mix she expected him to stay small, but he soon grew to a far larger size than expected. Pictured, Alison's husband, Neil, holding their newly adopted puppy

But to Alison's total surprise, when the results came back Bash had neither Chihuahua or Jack Russell DNA – he was really a quarter Siberian Husky and 16 per cent Chow Chow.

'We were extremely surprised,' Alison says, adding: 'We do agree with and trust these results, although I am still holding out hope that he will not reach the size of a full grown Husky or Chow!

'We are interested to see how large Bash gets, because living with a 60 lb dog is a lot different than living with a 10 lb dog!'

But while these results might baffle their owners, the experts say this is entirely to be expected. 

All dogs cells contain DNA – the strands of amino acids that form the biological blueprints which are responsible for everything from your dog's coat and length of their snout to any hereditary diseases they may suffer from.

By rubbing a swab on the inside of the dog's mouth pet owners harmlessly collect a small amount of cells from which DNA can be extracted.

Despite starting small, Bash soon grew up to be far larger than his owners had expected
Bash's DNA test results revealed that he was actually a quarter Siberian Husky, which explained his unexpected size

After the DNA has been extracted and sequenced, companies like Wisdom Panel sort through the genes to try and work out your dog's ancestry. 

A spokesperson for Wisdom Panel told MailOnline: 'We compare the dog’s genome to over 27,000 dogs from more than 365 known breeds or populations and assign each segment of the dog’s DNA to what it most closely matches.

'Finally, we add up these individual segments to compute the dog’s overall ancestry (breed background).'

This process identifies patterns in the genetic code which are common among different lineages of dogs – however, this is quite different to what we call pedigree.

Pedigree, or being 'purebred', is defined by the recorded breeding history of the dog and the associated paperwork rather than what is recorded in their DNA.

The Wisdom Panel spokesperson says: 'Wisdom Panel looks at dogs in an entirely different way, based on genetic markers that are shared or isolated across breeds during their continuing history of development.'

Alison says she agrees with the results from Wisdom Panel, but hopes that Bash will not get as big as his DNA suggests

However, according to Dr Dan O'Neil of the Royal Veterinary College, this mixed DNA is exactly what we should expect testing to reveal.

Dr O'Neil told MailOnline: 'We think about modern dogs being crossbreeds or purebreds – well most purebreds are just crossbreds that have many years of breeding.

'We created breeds, and often we create them by mixing two or three different breeds together and then we inbreed them for a number of generations.'

For instance, dogs such as cockerpoos or Maltipoos which many would not consider to be a specific breed are really just mixed as mixed as any other mongrel. 

On X, formerly Twitter, one commenter complained that their dog, Morty, turned out to not be as purebred as they had thought

Dr O'Neil adds: 'It does raise the issue that if you're doing this you may well be finding information that you might prefer not to find.

'You may well find that your dog is not as purebred as you think it is, which can cause distress to some owners.' 

Finding out breed information is not all these tests are for, however, as many owners use the genetic tests as a way of screening for certain hereditary diseases.

Many of the genetic mutations due to selective breeding are harmful to dogs and many breeds have a high risk of congenital health defects.

For instance, dogs with high amounts of Chihuahua genes could be predisposed to 'slipping kneecap' while Golden Retrievers are highly prone to epilepsy. 

Some DNA testing companies also offer screening for genetic risks that can be associated with a single gene, giving owners an early warning of any potential issues.

Many dogs contain mixtures of many breeds in their genetic heritage due to the way that breeders have selected for different traits. DNA testing picks up on those genetic markers often associated with the dog's appearance

Zofia, for example, told MailOnline that her Wisdom Panel test revealed that Stolas had a gene called MDR1 which may make him much less responsible for certain types of medication.

Dr Joanna Ilska, Genetics Research Manager at The Kennel Club, told MailOnline:  'These services can have a huge impact on dog health by providing vital information for those who are thinking of breeding and want to avoid passing on inherited conditions to puppies.'

Dr Ilska believes this is a big part of the reason for the increasing popularity of dog DNA testing.

She adds: 'Genetic health testing in dogs is becoming a large part of personalised medicine, as it is in humans where knowing the genetic predisposition of a dog allows the owners to give their dogs the best possible care'

However, not everyone is convinced that these tests really offer good value for money.

Dr O'Neil says that, for the most part, genetic breed testing is essentially a 'parlour game' for owners. 

Collecting DNA samples from your dog might be able to reveal a predisposition to some illnesses, but experts question whether the tests are worth the cost (stock image)

'The problem with the majority of canine disorders is that they're based on complex genetics,' Dr O'Neil says.

'The most common disorders in dogs are bad teeth, sore ears, limping osteoarthritis, diarrhoea, vomiting, anal sac impaction, obesity, and all of those are complex – there aren't single genes controlling them.'

As for learning about your dog's breed history, Dr O'Neil says most owners would simply be better off taking their furry friend to the vet.

Dr O'Neil says an experienced vet should be able to tell you, with a fairly high degree of accuracy, what breed your dog is just by inspecting them.

Combined with a physical examination, that should reveal whether there are any health risks you need to be worried about.

While Dr O'Neil says vets themselves can make good use of genetic testing in specific cases, for most people genetic testing might just be a route to more stress. 

'By and large, these are a form of human entertainment and my advice would be that if you want to understand the genetic risk to your dog's health you should speak to a vet,' he told MailOnline. 

'If you've got £100 to spare, that's absolutely fine, but for me, I would put the £100 in my bank and wait until my dog needs it.' 

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