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How a Dog DNA Test Helped Save Molly’s Life

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A Keeshond dog runs through a field outside.

When she brought Molly to the veterinarian for a regular physical exam, Sue Benner didn’t expect to find a genetic health risk. That surprise finding may have saved Molly’s life.

Sue took Molly, her 4-month old purebred Keeshond puppy, to see Dr. Sharon Minninger at Telford Veterinary Hospital in Souderton, Pennsylvania for a physical examination and preventative care discussion. Sue chose to enroll Molly in the Embark/Telford Vet partnered pilot program. Through this program, Embark provided Telford Vet with Molly’s comprehensive genetic screening results. Dr. Minninger then discussed Molly’s health results with Sue.

Molly’s breed reveal

When Molly’s results were ready, Sue played a fun breed reveal game that Telford Vet designed for pet owners who receive Embark results through the hospital. In this game, pet owners guess the percentage of each breed in their dog’s breed mix, based on the game show The Price is Right™. 

Molly’s Embark results confirmed that her breed ancestry is 100% Keeshond. But genetic testing with Embark also found something no one expected.

In an interactive game modeled after The Price is Right, pet owners remove red paper on a poster board to reveal their dog's breed ancestry.
Pet owners play a breed reveal game designed by Telford Veterinary Hospital.

 

Molly’s surprising risk for von Willebrand Disease

Molly’s genetic health results reported that she has one copy of a genetic variant for von Willebrand Disease Type I. Von Willebrand Disease is a type of blood clotting disorder, also known as coagulopathy. It is not widely reported in Keeshonds, so this genetic result was surprising. Molly also has one copy of a dominant variant that may cause low ALT activity, a naturally occurring enzyme that veterinarians use to monitor a dog’s liver health.

Von Willebrand Disease Type I, or vWD I, is caused by a variant in the VWF gene. There are three types of von Willebrand Disease reported in dogs, with Type I being the least severe. Affected dogs can have a range of clinical signs and symptoms, which can include bruising, longer clotting times, and bleeding spontaneously.

For Molly, this genetic result meant additional diagnostic testing through Cornell University’s Animal Health Diagnostic Center. When Molly’s blood tests came back, they revealed that her low vWF levels put her in what Dr. Minninger calls “a very dangerous zone” that put her at risk of bleeding.

Dr. Minninger consulted with a specialist at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, who advised her to send Molly to a specialty hospital for an ovariectomy (an alternative to conventional spaying). Knowing Molly’s risk, the hospital had blood products on hand for Molly just in case.

 

Embark testing was “life saving”

Both Dr. Minninger and Sue, Molly’s owner, believe that Embark testing was potentially life saving for Molly. 

“It’s an amazing case. The things you find that you never expected that you know have saved a life… that makes what we’re doing—and what Embark is doing—so helpful and beneficial,” says Dr. Minninger.

After discovering Molly’s genetic health risks, Dr. Minninger recommended annual medical care, including regular screening every year, personalized monitoring of Molly’s ALT activity, and early detection of any disease that could cause complications for her. Sue has taken steps to make sure she knows where the nearest 24-hour facilities with blood products are, in case Molly needs an emergency veterinary visit. 

DNA testing with Embark not only helped Molly get the best possible care based on her unique genetic health risks; it also helped Sue bond with Dr. Minninger. She feels closer to Dr. Minninger and Telford Vet as a result, and trusts them with Molly’s care. Sue has also recommended Embark DNA testing to her family members. They’ve made appointments at Telford Vet to have Embark genetic screening done for their dogs, too.

Genetic screening can help inform medical care

Embark dog DNA tests screen for 210+ genetic health risks that can affect many breeds. Did you know that 3 in 4 dogs tested with Embark have a notable or at-risk health result? Most are actionable, meaning that pet owners can make proactive health or lifestyle changes to reduce a dog’s risk for developing a condition. 

In fact, 37% of dog owners report changing their dog’s care after receiving results. This kind of information about genetic health risks can help both pet owners and veterinarians provide dogs with personalized care.

“Comprehensive genetic screens for health risks and breed strengthen the recommendations veterinarians already make, from annual blood work to routine physical exams,” said Kari Cueva, DVM, Senior Manager of Veterinary Genetics at Embark and a practicing ER clinician.

Want to find out about your dog’s unique genetic health risks and ancestry? Talk to your veterinarian about dog DNA testing through Embark for Veterinarians. You can also order a Breed + Health Kit directly on our website.

Mimi Padmabandu Contributor

Mimi Padmabandu is a content strategist and science writer specializing in genetics, health, and biotechnology. She has written scientific content for Illumina, Thermo Fisher Scientific, Progenity, and Embark Veterinary, and has contributed articles to The Culinary Travel Guide. She holds a degree in Molecular, Cell, and Developmental Biology from UCLA and a master’s degree from King’s College London.

Read more about Mimi Padmabandu

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