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Dog DNA tests: Top 6 things breeders need to know

March 12, 2020

Genetic health testing is surging among breeders who see the benefits such as informed breeding decisions and healthier litters. We asked Embark’s experts to weigh in on common questions.

Q: So exactly what is genetic health testing? 

A: A genetic health screen provides extremely detailed information that can be used to improve your dog’s health, optimize breeding pairs, improve litter outcomes, and contribute to longer lifespans in your breeding lines. Embark, the #1 dog DNA kit, offers the most comprehensive, accurate genetic health test available: one quick cheek swab checks over 200,000 markers across your dog’s genome for mutations that may put your dog, or offspring, at risk for disease. Embark currently screens for 175+ health conditions with an emphasis on breed relevant conditions and reports are tailored to your breed. A genetic health screen does not eliminate the need for a veterinary health screening to detect health issues, but it is crucial for detecting genetic defects that could manifest as disease later in life or could be passed on to offspring if a dog is bred.

Q: How does genetic health testing help me find the right mate for breeding?

A: Just as genetic health testing can help you identify the genetic health of your dog, it can help you make a confident, informed breeding decision. Request that your counterpart screen their dam/sire for health conditions, coefficient of inbreeding, and physical traits. If both dogs are Embark-tested, we can give you projected litter outcomes regarding genetic COI, genetic health condition occurrence, and more.

Q: How does a genetic health test differ from a parentage test?

A: Both are dog DNA tests, but the similarity ends there. Parentage tests are used by registry organizations (such as AKC) to determine if the DNA profiles of named sires and dams are consistent with the DNA profiles of offspring; they don’t provide information about the dog’s genetic health or genetic diversity. To determine if your dog is predisposed to specific diseases—and may pass them on to offspring—you need a genetic health test.

Q: I already know my dog’s pedigree-based COI. Do I need to check his genetic COI, too?

A: Pedigree based COI and genetic based COI scores are not interchangeable—they can vary widely. Pedigrees usually go back 5-10 generations so they can detect recent inbreeding, but they assume the dogs at the beginning of the pedigree are all unrelated, which isn’t an accurate assumption for most dog breeds. Pedigree scores assume all puppies always inherit an even distribution of DNA from both parents across all chromosomes. But in reality, generations of breeding create more randomized outcomes. Factoring genetic COI into your breeding program can help you minimize inbreeding. 

Q: Why do I need to test for more than one genetic condition?

A: Often, breeders have just one genetic health condition on their radar. But for many breeds, there are several genetic health conditions that can affect dogs. It’s best practice to test your dog for all available conditions to ensure disease risk is not passed down your breeding lines, even if the disease is rare in a breed. Doing a “panel” test leaves no stone unturned, and lets you identify ‘clear’,  ‘carrier’, and ‘at-risk’ designations for all breed-relevant conditions. 

Q: Are all genetic health test kits the same?

A: While there are several options to choose from, Embark leads the pack with the most accurate and comprehensive results on the market: No one else screens as much genetic information—or tests for as many known genetic health conditions in as many dog breeds. You get:

  • Research-grade DNA analysis for breed-relevant health testing and new health discovery 
  • In-house expertise from veterinary geneticists and research scientists
  • 1:1 customer service to help you apply test results and guide you with mating pair decisions 

As a responsible breeder who is committed to the long-term health of your dog and vitality of your breed, you may want to give serious consideration to a genetic health test. You’ll join millions of breeders working to improve the lives and legacies of purebred dogs. While there are several options to choose from, Embark leads the pack with the most accurate and comprehensive results on the market: No one else screens as much genetic information—or tests for as many known genetic health conditions in as many dog breeds. Even better, the more dogs from your breed that are tested with Embark, the more genetic data researchers have to help your breed tackle complex genetic diseases like cancer and heart disease in the future.