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Top 5 Reasons to DNA Test Before You Breed


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Educating yourself about canine health is one of the best ways to learn about dog breeding. There are many health screenings and genetic test results to consider when making responsible decisions while planning a litter. Let’s explore the top five reasons why knowing the genetic health risk of your dog can improve the way you care for your dog and the future of your breed by reducing the risk of producing puppies with certain health conditions. 

Five reasons to consider genetic testing for dogs before breeding

1. Individual health risk 

To produce healthy puppies you must start with a healthy dam. Beyond the individual physical exam and associated blood work for pre-breeding health, adding a genetic test to help identify possible genetic risks will allow for optimal care. Some potential health concerns for the individual animal can be uncovered by DNA testing. For example, you can identify if your dog has a drug sensitivity or if your dog is at-risk for a specific bleeding disorder, both of which may be of value prior to any surgical procedure that may be required. An Embark for Breeders DNA kit can also screen for multiple genetic variants that lead to the possible formation of bladder stones or eye conditions such as PRA, which can lead to blindness. Having these metrics to share with your veterinarian can be a useful tool in times of health challenges or in preparing a proactive preventive care plan.

2. Breed-relevant health conditions

Genetic testing before breeding helps identify if potential parents carry deleterious variants that might be passed onto offspring. The genetic results can then be used in a  breed-specific manner to properly pair dogs to avoid producing at-risk puppies. Understanding the basics of genetic health testing can help you interpret your dog’s DNA results and use the knowledge to make informed decisions. Knowing whether your dog is clear or a carrier of a deleterious variant or at-risk from the variant and how to use DNA test results in a breed-specific manner will help you decide how to move forward with your breeding program. Dr. Adam Boyko, Embark Co-founder, explains some of these differences and choices for the breeder in this Insider Series video

3. OFA submission report 

There are a variety of phenotypic health screenings a breeder should conduct on their dogs prior to breeding. These veterinarian-performed tests may include eye exams, hip x-rays, and cardiac testing, depending on the dog breed. A comprehensive list, as advised by the national breed clubs, can be found at the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) Canine Health Information Center (CHIC). There are also certain DNA-based health tests that are mandatory to receive a CHIC registration number. As part of our commitment to support responsible breeders who conduct all relevant pre-breeding tests, the Embark for Breeders DNA Kit has an easy to use OFA Submission Report. You can download or print your dog’s OFA-specific DNA report and send it, along with payment and a completed OFA DNA application form (which is also printable from your dog’s online profile) to the OFA. Having all the tools at your fingertips makes paperwork easy! 

4. Coefficient of inbreeding 

Genetic diversity in your breed and breeding program is important. Embark’s genetic Coefficient of Inbreeding (COI) is the most accurate method for measuring inbreeding, which can contribute to smaller litter sizes and shortened lifespan. Unlike pedigree-based COI calculations, genetic COI evaluates your dog’s DNA to identify which proportion is identical, indicating percentile of inbreeding. By assessing more than 230,000 genetic markers, genetic COI can detect inbreeding further back even when compared to the most comprehensive pedigree analysis. Plus, included in the Embark for Breeders tools and services is genetic counseling which can help you determine the expected average genetic COI of a litter. This genetic counseling can be obtained by reaching out to the genetic specialists at after you receive your DNA test results.  

5. Traits education 

Knowing your dog’s genotypes for traits which include body size, other body features like muzzle length, coat color, other coat traits like furnishings, and performance, can also be useful to consider before breeding. This handy Traits List for Breeders shows all the potential genotypes provided by Embark testing and how to interpret the reports. Recording the genotypes of the sire and dam before breeding can help inform on  outcomes such as expected coat color your puppies may present. This is especially important to evaluate if you are showing dogs that must adhere to certain coat colors and patterns required by the breed standard. Learning about coat color genetics and their impact on phenotype has the added value of  understanding what health conditions might be associated with certain colors or patterns such as merle. Also, learning about other coat color modifiers, like white spotting, roan, and saddle tan can be complex yet intriguing and fun to decode.

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Having Embark for Breeders DNA Kit genetic results and suite of educational tools and access to experts in hand before you breed ramps up your knowledge on genetic health risks, traits, and genetic diversity. Here’s to a better canine genetic health education. 

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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