Editor’s Note: Healthy Paws is a column sponsored and written by the owners of Clarendon Animal Care, a full-service, general practice veterinary clinic and winner of a 2017 Arlington Chamber of Commerce Best Business Award. The clinic is located 3000 10th Street N., Suite B. and can be reached at 703-997-9776.
Have you ever questioned what your mixed breed dog is mixed with, or if your pure-bred dog is in fact a pure breed? There are multiple DNA tests out on the market, and we decided to run a little experiment in the clinic to see how we felt the test measured up to our clinic pets.
We used the most popular test — the Wisdom Panel 4.0, which consists of a simple cheek swab. Several Clarendon Animal Care staff members swabbed their dogs and sent the swabs off the the Wisdom Panel laboratory.
Once the lab receives the swabs, they extract the DNA from the dog’s cheek cells, which is then matched up against 1,800 markers used in their tests. They then send those results to a computer, which uses an algorithm to analyze your dog’s DNA and determine what is the most likely pedigree for your dog, up to the last three generations.
In addition to looking at pedigree, the Wisdom Panel also tests for several genetic health abnormalities, such as the MDR1 genetic mutation (which leads to certain drug sensitivities in herding dogs), and can also tell you the estimated weight and color for your full grown dog.
We ultimately ended up testing seven different dogs in our office – four purebred dogs, and three mixed breeds. First we tested our LVT Sam’s Bloodhound, Gunner, who, despite us making fun of him for his tiny head, came back as 100 percent purebred Bloodhound. Our receptionist Charnita tested her Long-Haired Chihuahua, Teko, and his results were also 100% Chihuahua.
Next was Dewey, Dr. Ungerer’s purebred English Pointer. Dewey’s results showed that he was 75 percent Pointer, but one of his parents was likely mixed with a German Short-Haired Pointer — still in the Pointer family, just a slight variation. Dr. Ungerer’s reaction was, “surprised, but not after I thought about it for a bit, based on his lineage.”
We also tested Uma, a purebred Scottish Terrier who belongs to our receptionist, Ashley. Uma’s results showed that she was 75 percent Scottish Terrier, and 25 percent West Highland White Terrier, which came as a bit of a surprise to her owner.
The three mixed breeds we tested were our LVT Leslie’s dog Weebles, labeled an Affenpinscher mix, our LVT Alex’s dog Frankie, labeled a Pit Bull mix, and our Practice Manager Sara’s dog Peyton, labeled a Pointer mix.
Weebles had initially been labeled as an Affenpinscher mix, but his DNA test showed a mix of Miniature Poodle, Pug, Pekingese, Shih Tzu and Miniature Pinscher — a true mix! Frankie had generally been referred to as a Pit Bull mix, but his DNA results showed that he was 90 percent American Staffordshire Terrier, and the other 10 percent was likely an American Staffordshire mix, so not so much of a mutt after all.
The last staff pet we tested was Peyton, who was initially labeled as a Pointer mix. Her DNA results came back as being 50 percent German Short-Haired Pointer, and 50 percent American Staffordshire Terrier, which makes sense — she looks like a stocky Pointer.
We also recently had one of our clients run a Wisdom Panel test on her dog and send us the results. Her dog Parker has always been labeled as a Labrador mix. His results came back pretty well mixed, and showed that his pedigree included Labrador Retriever, Golden Retriever, as well as German Shepherd.
For the most part, we thought that this was a fun, fairly accurate tool to learn a little more about your dog. It does highlight that in general, visual breed prediction/guessing without genetic background is actually not that great, and this can become important with certain breed restrictions (and pit-bull type dogs are often the most discriminated breed – for reasons that are not based in any actual evidence) in various localities.
Studies have shown that the ability of visual identification of these breeds is quite poor, even among experts. It will be interesting if this kind of genetic testing would become admissible in legal disputes over breed restrictions.
Beyond breed testing, the really nice thing about some of these genetic tests such as the Wisdom 4.0 panel and the Embark Dog DNA Test is not just that there is breed information (because, let’s be honest – it doesn’t really matter what breed your dog is, just that you love them!) – but that in working with Washington State University (Wisdom) and Cornell University (Embark) they are able to look at certain disease risks based on genetic predisposition.
This is really cool because it may allow us to manipulate the environmental triggers (such as diet, exercise, certain medications, etc…) and screen for at-risk diseases earlier in life to prevent or mitigate illness later in life.