(Updated Dec 2019.)
DNA tests have become increasingly popular, but people are still not sure of the accuracy, or necessarily the reliability of these tests. Is it money well-spent or wasted?
Here is what to know.
Where to buy Dog DNA tests
If you have your heart set on buying, and just want to know where to get them, you can buy these tests online or at participating retailers. Currently Amazon, being the biggest and most trusted online retailer in the world, is the easiest and fastest place to buy DNA tests, but as we are an Amazon affiliate and will earn a small commission at no cost to you should you decide to buy, of course would love for you to buy your tests on Amazon.
However, you can also buy DNA tests online from the brand retailers such as Embark or the Mars veterinary who carries the Wisdom Panel. Many pet stores carry them as well.
Which dog DNA Test to Buy?
While are all sorts of different tests that you can buy, the two make the top of the list that you should consider: Embark and Wisdom Panel
Wisdom Panel used to be the go-to test for DNA testing in dogs. It has been around for years now and has an extensive database. At the time, it was also the only one doing MDR1 drug sensitivity screening. Experience counts for something.
In both cases, their databases will be continuing to grow over time.
Where as Embark’s researchers spent over a decade collecting data before developing selling the kits publicly, and one research publication published in 2018 suggests their sample size is at least greater than 6000, it has been difficult to determine just how larger the sample size is.
- Over 200,000 genetic markers, giving more than a 100 times the information than even of Wisdom panel.
- All testing is run in a CLIA-accredited lab. Three American federal agencies are responsible for CLIA: The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Center for Medicaid Services (CMS), and the Center for Disease Control (CDC).
- Contains more in-depth information
- Less chance of having unspecified breed group results
- More expensive
- Has a smaller database
- Longer wait time
The Wisdom Panel
The Wisdom Panel 2.0 DNA test was considered to be 90% accurate (1), however it is difficult to guarantee the accuracy as it depends on the quality of the sample. The test is a detailed analysis that finds the best 5 breed matches based on genetic signatures within the DNA code. It is based on a database as being greater than 15,000. and over 200 different breeds (all of the breed in the AKC). According to Patricia McConnell, applied animal behaviorist who spoke with two of the top people at Mars Veterinary, each dog’s analysis requires 7 millions runs that looks at 321 markers.
The Wisdom Panel’s lab is a USDA-accredited laboratory which is important to note.
Covers 350+ breeds types, and varieties (now including wolves and coyotes up from 200 in the previous tests which means there is more accuracy than the previous tests. Currently Wisdom panel claims the test looks at 1800 markers. However in an American Veterinary Medical Association article in 2017, Unlocking the genetic secrets of your dog, it was reported that they had switched to a panel of 3000 having incorporated the MyDogDNA test in 2015.
- The Wisdom Panel kits was considered to be the best on the market and has a long history in this field. They had and may still have the largest database based on at least 13,000 dogs if not more.
- Run in a USDA-accredited (United States Department of Agriculture) laboratory to ensure proper quality control.
- Less expensive than Embark’s testing
- Testing against 1800 markers opposed to the 200,000 of Embark’s
How reliable are DNA tests?
Embark claims 99.99% accuracy for most tests. Wisdom panel seems reluctant to discuss accuracy because so much depends on the quality of the sample. But in the past, their numbers have also indicated high reliability. However much depends on the quality of the sample, and likely the sample size of each breed in the database.
The Wisdom panel DNA test and Embark tests were developed by geneticists and have been used in several different scientific studies and have underdone repeated testing of a dog’s sample and review by independent third party specialists, geneticists, and leading authorities on canine genetics. The more “pure” the dog is the easier it is to identify the pedigree. The more mixed a dog is, understandably, the more difficult. Parents are more easy to determine than grandparents and grandparents are more difficult to determine than great grandparents. Some breeds were bred less for form than for function, and may vary genetically more than others.
Health results cannot tell you whether a marker falling outside of “normal” range indicates that the dog is at risk from actually developing the problem. At best, the health results can only indicate there is a genetic difference.
However, the real issue is not so much the science. Currently because this is an emerging and rapidly developing science, at the time of writing there is no organization that oversees standards the way there is a for human testing to prevent issues such as cross contamination (2).
In 2018 the first standards and guidelines for canine clinical testing has been published for laboratories.
In the case of the two top tests currently available, the labs used for testing are at least affiliated with organizations that oversee labs at the US federal level.
For more information on how DNA tests work, check out the video in the article Health and Your Mixed-breed Dog: Can Science Predict Future Problems?
Can I get a “No Result”
Wisdom Panel reported that you can and other dog owners have reported as much. These means your dog is such a complicated mix of genes that the computers cannot find any definitive match. In this case, if you were truly disappointed, Mars would be willing to refund your money. But it is not because the test didn’t work. It usually means that your dog has come from a long line of mixed dogs and is truly one-of-a-kind.
However, because Embark has more than a 100 times more genetic information, the chances of a no result are much slimmer.
Both tests and businesses are reputable and both have good customer service. If money is not an option, our pick is Embark, particularly if you have a mixed-breed dog, because of the extensive genetic information they use for their tests. Customers enjoy the extensive information.
While Wisdom Panel claims to look at over 350+ breeds and Embark claims 250+ it appears by looking at both breed lists, that there might not be as much difference as the numbers suggest. In some cases, Embark groups similar breeds together in their breeds list (for example, small poodles) where the Wisdom Panel items each one on their list.
However there are definite differences in each list. Embark list, for example, includes what it is calling the “village” dog (of which is unique to their research) or the Fila Brasileiro for instance, where as Wisdom Panel list contains Broholmer (a type of Mastiff).
In either case, it would appear Embark is better at identifying unspecified breeds.
If you are interested in human DNA tests, you might want to check out 23AndMe (#ad)on Amazon.
(1) Lau E, Dog breed genetic tests put to the test, Veterinary Information Network News Service, 2012, retrieved Dec 2019
(2) Shaffer, L.G., Sundin, K., Geretschlaeger, A. et al. Hum Genet (2019) 138: 493. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00439-018-1954-4 Standards and guidelines for canine clinical genetic testing laboratories, retrieved Dec 2019