By Nick Keppler, PetMD
“About ten years ago, DNA test kits started appearing in pet supply stores. The product is a boon to anyone who has adopted a shelter dog and is curious: Are those the strong legs of a Doberman? Is that beardy face inherited from an Airedale forefather? Does that swimming talent come from some Labrador Retriever blood?
The tests can also be important diagnostic tools for veterinarians. Many ailments and conditions stem from genetics passed down in the bloodlines of breeds and some sets of DNA complicate a dog’s reaction to medications.
Identifying Genetic Health Risks
DNA testing for dogs falls into two, potentially related categories – breed identification and identifying potential disease-causing mutations. Identifying a dog’s breed make-up with a DNA test may point to an increased likelihood of particular conditions developing in the future but is certainly not definitive. On the other hand, tests for specific genetic mutations, some of which are now being included in over the counter dog DNA test kits, are more predictive.
“It may not be a bad idea to test for known mutations that cause diseases that require additional care for owners,” says Anna Kukekova, an assistant professor of genetics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s Department of Animal Sciences. “Some breeds have unique mutations.”
Kukekova gives the example of progressive retinal atrophy (PRA), an irreversible, largely untreatable genetic disease that causes blindness. It’s been documented in more than 100 breeds, but is more common to some. It was first diagnosed in Gordon Setters. Given that vision problems in dogs have a variety of causes, prognoses and treatments, detecting the mutation that causes PRA can be a valuable step in predicting what the future holds for a particular dog.
“Knowing a dog’s combinations of breeds can spur the need to be aware of disease conditions known to affect a particular breed,” says Dr. Patrick Mahaney, a Los Angeles-based veterinarian and blogger.
For example, he says herding breeds, like shepherds and collies, often carry a defect in the multi-drug resistance gene, MDR1 [also called ABCB1], which yields an increased likelihood of adverse reactions to some commonly prescribed medications. “From a standpoint of care provision, knowing if my patient had a defect in the MDR1 gene would lend valuable insight as to the potential for adverse reactions,” says Mahaney.”
Give Southgate Animal Clinic a call to discuss genetic health testing your dog!