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Not breeding your purebred? Why a dog DNA test still matters


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Purebred dog owners often ask, why should I Embark-test a dog I’m not planning to breed?

The answers may surprise you.

Not only can an Embark test provide you with important genetic health information that could help prevent emergencies, manage disease, and save you money on long-term veterinary bills; but your dog could hold the key to help researchers make meaningful genetic discoveries for your breed!


Prevent medical emergencies

Embark tests can provide you and your veterinarian with important, clinically relevant information like drug sensitivities or bleeding disorders. 

  • MDR1 drug sensitivity: Dogs with a particular genetic variant are extra sensitive to certain classes of drugs—which could turn a routine procedure or dose of medication into an emergency situation that could lead to disorientation, seizures, blindness, or even death. If your dog has one or two copies of this genetic variant, simply sharing this information with your veterinarian can alert them to take the necessary precautions to prevent complications. Learn more here.
  • HUU and Cystinuria: Embark tests for multiple variants that lead to high concentrations of an amino acid in urine, which can cause painful bladder stone formation and secondary infection. Such stones should be removed, but depending on size and location, removal can cost anywhere from $1,000-$3,000 (or over $5,000 if the stones cause a life-threatening emergency). Being aware of a genetic risk for HUU or Cystinuria can help you take measures to reduce the chances of stone formation: You can modify your dog’s diet, and your veterinarian can perform special screening services to catch any developing stones early.
  • von Willebrand disease: Some breeds, like the Shetland Sheepdog, carry a specific variant that results in a bleeding disorder known as von Willebrand disease. Dogs with this disorder bleed excessively, making routine surgeries more risky and minor cuts more serious. Knowledge of this disease can prepare your vet for complications from routine procedures or accidents. Embark tests for several variants, which cause different types and severities of von Willebrand disease.

Manage disease

Embark screens for genetic variants associated with early-onset and late-onset diseases. While an ‘at risk’ result does not guarantee that the dog will develop a condition, it allows you and your vet to monitor for early signs of disease and make helpful lifestyle changes. Here are a few examples.

  • Conditions that can lead to blindness: Eye conditions such as juvenile-onset cataracts, progressive retinal atrophy (PRA), and glaucoma can lead to blindness. But if you’re prepared for this outcome—by making changes to your home and training routine—blind dogs can live long, happy, fulfilling lives. Your veterinarian can also identify secondary complications and discuss treatment options to help your dog stay comfortable.
  • Intervertebral disc disease (IVDD): Many long-backed breeds are at risk of developing type I IVDD, a painful degenerative disease leading to mobility problems—and, in many cases, surgical emergencies. Your dog’s Embark results may alert you to the benefit of lifestyle changes (such as maintaining a proper weight, using ramps, and discouraging jumping) that help reduce the likelihood of developing complications from disc disease. They may also open the door to a discussion with your vet about beneficial supplements.

Lower your vet bills, long term

Even conditions like the ones below, which may not be life-threatening, can raise red flags that prompt your veterinarian to order a diagnostic work-up. But Embark screens for several genetic variants that may reduce the need for additional testing.

  • Macrothrombocytopenia: This condition causes enlarged platelets and a low platelet count. While a low platelet count is typically cause for concern,  macrothrombocytopenia is not a dangerous condition. Knowing about it could not only save you money, it could save your dog from having to undergo unnecessary tests.
  • Imerslund-Grasbeck Syndrome (IGS): IGS is a disease characterized by vitamin B deficiency, due to an inability to absorb vitamin B12 through the intestinal tract. This can lead to lethargy, low body weight, liver problems, and anemia. Since many other conditions present in a similar way, veterinarians must perform detailed (and costly) diagnostics. By contrast, an Embark test is a simple, non-invasive way to determine a genetic risk for a form of IGS, which can easily be treated with B12 injections that improve or eliminate symptoms.
  • Golden Retriever Ichthyosis: A Golden Retriever may have a genetic predisposition to Ichthyosis, a type of flaky skin that looks like fish scales. But infection, allergies, hypothyroidism, parasites, and autoimmune disease can all cause flaky skin, making it difficult to diagnose the root cause. Fortunately, an Embark test can tell you right away if your Golden Retriever has a genetic predisposition to Ichthyosis. Then you can work with your vet to treat it with specialty shampoo.

Preserve the breed by contributing to research

Embark is a research-driven company with a research-grade platform. When you test with us, you pay it forward by helping our scientists make discoveries that improve the lives of dogs everywhere. Read about our areas of research below—and learn about all our research projects here.

  • Behavior and Trait research: Why do dogs’ coats fade? Why do some retrieve and others herd? Why are some dogs afraid of thunder?  And why do Siberian Huskies have those incredible blue eyes? There’s still much to discover about the physical appearance and behaviors of dogs. But every dog tested helps get us closer to understanding the genetics underlying these behaviors and traits.
  • Breed-specific health research: Many purebreds have specific conditions that occur at higher rates in the breed compared to the overall canine population. We collect DNA samples from these breeds, as well as others, to research the frequency of known genetic variants and the penetrance in breeds from a variety of genetic backgrounds. Current breed-specific canine research projects include: Wobbler Syndrome in Doberman Pinschers and Great Danes, and Pigmentary Uveitis in Golden Retrievers. 
  • Diversity research: The fact is, all purebred dogs are inbred at some level: this is how we select for the traits and behaviors we seek in purposefully bred dogs. Research suggests that inbreeding can lead to undesirable outcomes, such as increased incidence of recessive disease and lower fecundity. Embark’s research on the impacts of inbreeding is being used to build tools that help breeders maximize diversity within their lines while preserving the desired breed-specific traits that make the breed unique and special.

Whether you want to ensure the health of your dog, improve the vitality of your breed, contribute to canine health research, or reduce your vet bills—or all four—Embark testing is a smart move for every purebred owner. Check out our comprehensive DNA test kits, and be sure to contact us with any questions. Our veterinary geneticists are always glad to help.

Lisa Peterson Contributor

Award-winning writer, journalist, and podcast host Lisa Peterson is a canine subject matter expert and Content Strategy Lead at Embark Veterinary. She served as the American Kennel Club director of communications and club communications for 10 years before becoming a Westminster Kennel Club public relations consultant from 2016 to 2021. Lisa began owning, breeding, and handling Norwegian Elkhounds more than 35 years ago, and today is an AKC judge and AKC Breeder of Merit.

Read more about Lisa Peterson

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