Is Genetic Testing a Good Idea for Your Dog?
As technological advances make it easier for scientists to look closely at an individual’s genetic make-up, genetic tests and testing companies have sprung up around the world. Our canine and feline friends haven’t been left behind with this boom in DNA testing; several companies now boast tests that can do everything from determine your dog’s ancestry to find markers of genetic diseases. Understanding the basics of genetic testing can help you make good decisions when it comes to genetic testing, and avoid unnecessary and often expensive tests.
Genetic tests are used to look closely at DNA, which are the blueprint for all the functions, structures and processes occurring in the body. An individual inherits DNA from each parent, but not all the inherited DNA is expressed.
Although genetic tests have been around for decades, the field didn’t take off until recently, when scientists announced the completion of the human genetic map. Once the basic map is in place, researchers can then compare the sequences of patients with disease to unaffected individuals.
Similar efforts currently are underway in animals, and Morris Animal Foundation has helped fund scientists who are working on assembling the cat, horse and alpaca genomes. In addition, the Foundation has been an active participant in over 100 studies looking at the genetic diseases in companion animals and species as diverse as Hawaiian monk seals and gorillas. Of course, our most ambitious genetic project is the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study, which is looking at how genetics, the environment, nutrition and lifestyle intersect to influence cancer development.
Although our knowledge of canine genetics continues to expand, the following list is adapted from the National Institute of Health’s guidelines (modified for companion animals) on what genetic tests can be used for:
- Diagnose certain diseases
- Identify gene changes responsible for an already diagnosed disease
- Determine severity of a disease
- Guide veterinarians in treatment decisions
- Identify gene changes that may increase disease risk
- Identify inheritable gene changes
- Screening tests for disease
Although veterinary medicine currently lags behind human medicine in this area, more and more laboratories offer genetic testing for dogs. Some companies offer testing to determine your pooch’s breed make-up, similar to the many ancestry testing kits available for people. Other labs test for genetic abnormalities or genetic variations associated with disease, such as progressive retinal atrophy and pyruvate kinase deficiency (an inherited disorder affecting red blood cells).
The list of available tests continues to grow as veterinary geneticists continue to identify more genetic abnormalities. Your veterinarian can guide you on what tests are right for you and your dog.