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Canine DNA tests can tell you a variety of things about your dog, starting with what breeds make him who he is. Pam Becker of Lake Forest, California, discovered from the Mars Wisdom Panel that her dog Roxy was 50 percent Cocker Spaniel and 25 percent each Lhasa Apso and Shih Tzu. Becker had Roxy tested primarily out of curiosity. Roxy’s groomer had suggested that the dog was a Cockapoo (a Cocker Spaniel/Miniature Poodle cross). Becker said the Cocker part made sense to her based on Roxy’s size but that her dog’s other physical characteristics seemed more like those of a Lhasa than a Poodle. The results bore that out.
“I think it was pretty accurate, and I’m happy I did it,” she says.
But DNA tests may be able to tell you more than just what your dog is. Besides an individualized report on the breeds that make up your dog’s ancestry, some tests now provide genetic health information as well. That’s the future, says Urs Giger, DVM, a canine geneticist at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine and co-author of a study on the potential of genetic panel screening as a diagnostic and research tool in veterinary care, research and breeding published last August in the journal PLoS One.
According to Dr. Giger, genetic disease screening that was originally done for specific diseases in certain breeds is now expanding to these panel tests. As panel screening tests become more common, researchers may discover, for instance, that known disease alleles (alternative forms of genes caused by mutations) are more widespread across different breeds than previously known.
Embark screens for 160 genetic diseases. They range from common conditions such as MDR1 sensitivity, von Willebrand disease and progressive retinal atrophy to some you might never have heard of, such as complement 3 deficiency (which can make dogs highly susceptible to infections and kidney disease) and polyneuropathy — a neurologic disease that can cause generalized limb weakness, difficulty walking and other signs that get progressively worse.
Roxy’s Wisdom Panel test found that she had two normal copies of the MDR1 gene, meaning she wasn’t at risk for side effects from certain drugs. She’s also free of the gene mutation that causes exercise-induced collapse. That makes sense because her ancestry doesn’t include any of the breeds that tend to be prone to those problems.
The results aren’t the same as a true diagnostic test, Dr. Boyko says, but the information these tests provide can help owners and veterinarians predict or rule out certain conditions. “Our goal is to give you and your veterinarian comprehensive genetic information in an accessible way," he says, "so that you can avoid needless laboratory tests and get to the right diagnosis more quickly or even avoid certain diseases before they start by knowing your dog is at risk and taking appropriate measures.”
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