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Blog /Dna Testing Explained
Breed and Genetics March 11, 2024

DNA testing explained

How the genetic sample you collect is translated into actionable insights about your pet.

When you discover DNA insights about your pet that help you understand them better and tailor the care you give them, it can feel like magic. But in reality, we have science to thank for helping to demystify our furry friends. So let’s take a few minutes today to break down how DNA testing works and why it’s important to choose a reliable testing company.

Orange and white dog trotting on the grass.

Overview of DNA testing

At a high level, pet DNA testing is broken down into 5 steps.

1. Sample collection

This step can be done at a veterinarian’s office or by a pet parent using an at-home kit. For example, Wisdom Panel uses a simple mouth swab to collect DNA from a pet’s cheek cells and sterile sleeves to mail the sample to the testing lab.

2. DNA extraction

Once the lab receives the sample, the DNA is extracted, cleaned, amplified, and placed on a special laboratory chip, called a microarray, for genotyping.

3. Genotyping

A genotype is like a pet’s genetic fingerprint. During the genotyping process, the DNA is analyzed to determine the unique genetic make-up of that particular pet based on a set of predetermined genetic markers within the genome that are known to differ between  Individuals. These are called single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs).

It’s during genotyping that a pet’s DNA is screened for any genetic health tests the product includes. This is also the point in the process where variants for physical traits, such as coat color or ear shape, are identified.

4. Breed detection

Once the genotyping process is complete, the results are run through a breed detection algorithm that compares the pet’s genetic profile against a breed reference library. This allows the pet’s DNA to be tested against the (in some cases millions of) possible breed combinations, purebreds, or populations. The bigger the reference library, the more results there are to compare against (and the more accurate the results).

5. Results delivery

The results you receive are only helpful if you know what they mean. DNA results are typically shared in a report that’s broken down into several categories, depending on what the individual test offers. These may include breed mix, family tree, traits, relatives, and genetic health (which highlights if a pet is a carrier, at risk, or all clear for a particular genetic condition).

Each section should contain an explanation of the results so you can use that information to guide choices you make about your pet’s care.

Close-up of a gray and white cat's face.

Not all tests are created equal

There are several consumer options available for pet DNA testing, but they don’t all deliver the same degree of accuracy. In fact, a recent CBC article compared dog DNA results from four prominent companies, including Wisdom Panel, to see how the results stacked up. While some of the other products tested misidentified a human DNA sample as a mixed-breed dog, Wisdom Panel’s results were deemed the most in-depth.

When shopping for a pet DNA test, it’s important to choose a reputable company that has the resources and in-house experts to deliver reliable results consistently.

Red flags to watch out for:

  • A small breed reference library. A sizable reference library of known dog DNA breed samples from around the world is needed to capture genetic diversity across dog populations and deliver accurate breed detection results. Small reference libraries offer less points of comparison and thus less accurate results. By contrast, Wisdom Panel has the world’s largest breed reference library for both dogs and cats.
  • Companies that require photos of your pet in addition to the DNA sample. Results should be based on a pet’s DNA sample alone. A photo is not necessary for DNA testing, and in fact, may be a sign that a company is relying on visual identification to determine breed results—a method that is extremely unreliable, even when done by veterinarians or breeders. Wisdom Panel never uses photos or other information provided by pet parents when delivering breed results.

Ready to know your pet better than ever?

Wisdom Panel’s line-up of dog and cat DNA tests are the most comprehensive available. Find the test that’s right for your pet and start unlocking insights that will help you take the care you provide them to a whole new level.