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Uncovering the truth: The reality behind canine DNA testing

In the world of pet care, DNA tests are increasingly used to trace our pets’ ancestry. However, a University of Colorado study led by Dr. Casey Greene and Dr. Halie Rando has revealed significant inaccuracies in canine DNA testing. This raises concerns among dog owners about the reliability of these tests.

Questioning the methodology

The catalyst for this study was a curious observation: some DTC companies requested a photo of the dog along with the DNA sample. This peculiar requirement led Greene to the question: “Are they actually doing a DNA test at all?”

To explore this, the team embarked on a study with 12 purebred dogs from across the United States. Each dog was eligible for registration with a breed organization. This ensured a clear expectation of their genetic background.

The research process was meticulous. For half of the DNA samples, the researchers included an accurate photo of the dog and sent them to six DTC testing companies. For the other half, the researchers accompanied the sample with a photo of a different dog.

This ensured a stark contrast in appearance and genetics. Consequently, the strategy aimed to determine if the visual representation of the dog influenced the test outcomes.

When dog DNA tells a different story

Surprisingly, the study unveiled significant discrepancies in the test results. In an extreme case, one company inaccurately identified Lila, a registered purebred beagle, as having no trace of beagle ancestry. Instead, it suggested she was a mix of poodle and bichon frisé. This inconsistency was not isolated.

Another test mistakenly linked a bulldog to wolf hybrid ancestry. The researchers have observed similar inaccuracies across all tests, underscoring the troubling inconsistency in their reliability.

Real-world consequences

The implications of such inaccuracies extend beyond mere curiosity. Specifically, with breed-specific legislation and housing or insurance policies that discriminate based on breed, inaccurate DNA test results can have financial consequences for dog owners.

Moreover, the experts noted instances where dogs were wrongly labeled as “dangerous” breeds. Consequently, such misidentifications could greatly affect a dog owner’s living situation and insurance rates.

Using caution with canine DNA testing

The researchers emphasize the need for caution and skepticism towards DTC dog DNA testing services. As Greene succinctly puts it, “Not all tests are created equal.”

Subsequently, the investigation highlights the need for independent, scientific scrutiny to identify the strengths and flaws of canine genetic testing services.

Moreover, the study did not examine the health or trait analyses provided by some companies. The researchers flagged this as an additional concern for pet owners and veterinarians.

Misinterpretation of genetic information can have dire consequences on the decisions pet owners make regarding their pets’ health and well-being.

A call for informed decisions

The study serves as a wake-up call to dog owners and the broader community about the reliability of canine DNA testing. While the allure of uncovering our pets’ genetic heritage is undeniable, the findings call for a more informed and cautious approach to utilizing these services.

Consequently, as we navigate the complex landscape of genetics and pet ownership, it’s crucial to remain vigilant about the tools and tests we employ to understand our beloved animals better.

The study is published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association.


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