Tech Savvy: Dog DNA test kits promise ‘tailtell’ clues about breed, relatives

Most dog DNA test kids also offer health screenings, so if a dog has a predisposition for a genetic disorder, perhaps there are preventative steps that can be taken.
Brainerd Dispatch reporter Frank Lee takes a selfie with "Brownie," a Labrador Retriever mix at the Heartland Animal Rescue Team (or H.A.R.T.) animal shelter in Brainerd. Frank Lee / Brainerd Dispatch

When we adopted our cat, it’s because his previous owner had surrendered him for reasons unknown, but none of that mattered because once we held him, he became family.

It soon became apparent he had a personality all his own. While my nieces tell me, “Cats don’t talk. They meow,” he has a lot to say when he doesn’t get his can of wet food first thing in the morning.

He also had a life before he came into ours because he wasn’t a kitten when we rescued him -- and maybe a hard one at that because he’s constantly eating, as if he knew what it was like to starve.

About the only tantalizing clue as to his backstory was that it was listed on his adoption papers he had a sister, a littermate, who was taken in by another family. And naturally, it made me wonder.

Thanks to the popularity of the 23andMe ancestry/health DNA test kits for people curious about their family or genetic history, owners of pets that are less than purebred can get on the act, too.


If I were to expand my four-legged family, I’d consider a dog, whether from a local dog breeder or an animal shelter, but chances are it would be too costly for me to have a purebred.

And like many who have so-called mutts, it’s usually the dog’s personality rather than its parentage that matters the most, but sometimes curiosity gets the best of us.

Fortunately for those with enquiring minds, among the popular dog DNA test kits available on the market include Embark Dog DNA Test, DNA My Dog and Wisdom Panel Canine DNA Test, none of which I’d call inexpensive, but as someone once told me affordable is a relative term.

Inside the box for the test is cheek-swabbing equipment and instructions on how to properly collect the dog’s DNA. It’s recommended swabbing the dog’s cheek for 20 seconds to a minute before placing the sample in the provided test tube and mailing it to the lab.

Most dog DNA test kids also offer health screenings, so if a dog has a predisposition for a genetic disorder, perhaps there are preventative steps that can be taken.

The Embark Dog DNA Test, which retails for about $199, screens for more than 170 genetic health conditions, pinpoints the dog’s breeds and can connect owners of related dogs when both have taken the Embark Dog DNA Test.

Representatives from the three dog DNA test-making companies said their results are 95-99% accurate, according to a recent Good Housekeeping article, with Embark’s database of more than 250 dog breeds, Wisdom’s of about 350 breeds, and DNA My Dog’s of about 100 breeds.

Here’s how the basic biology works: Dogs have two copies of every gene, one inherited from the mother and one from the father, and labs can trace your dog's maternal and paternal line all the way back using the test samples collected from swabbing a dog’s cheek with a DNA test kit.


Human and dog DNA test kits were the first to come on the market, but DNA tests for cats are now available through Basepaws, which promises to provide cat owners with breed and health information comparable to what is available to dog owners who tested the DNA of their pets.

Would I ever test my “fur baby,” as some pet owners prefer to refer to their four-legged family members? Probably not, although I will admit if it weren’t for the cost I find prohibitive, I might.

Does it matter if he’s related to Ernest Hemingway’s renowned polydactyl (six-toed) cats? No. And last time I checked, he had the expected number of toes (and claws) of a traditional feline.

Would we love him even more or less if he his littermate is now the pampered pet of a reality TV celebrity Kardashian? Highly doubt it, although we’re open to making a guest appearance.

We’ve spent more on our cat than what it originally cost to adopt him, but for a lifetime of love and affection, it was a small price to pay, and though we’re not related by blood, we’re family.

I cover the community of Wadena, Minn., and write articles for the Wadena Pioneer Journal weekly newspaper, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.
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