If you’re the proud owner of a rescue dog, then chances are you were probably told your pup is some kind of wacky-sounding hyphenate. Maybe a pitsky-chow-huahua? Or you could have zero clue which breeds make up your lovable mutt. While a doggie DNA test could answer that question, the latest versions do more than satisfy your curiosity—they can also screen your pet for genetic conditions including heart and kidney disease, skin ailments and eye issues like glaucoma. One of the most comprehensive offerings out there, Embark, tests for more than 160 disorders. Knowing the results could actually help you take better care of your dog and save you money in the long run. Here's how:
A Faster Diagnosis
While it’s important to point out that a genetic DNA test doesn’t diagnose a particular condition, it can help guide your vet when treating your dog. If, for example, your vet knows your dog is at risk for an enlarged heart (or dilated cardiomyopathy), then he or she can be on the lookout for the condition as soon as your pet shows symptoms. “Our goal is to cut out unnecessary testing and to reduce the amount of time it takes a vet to make a successful diagnosis,” explained Embark’s Adam Boyko, PhD, an assistant professor of biomedical sciences at the Cornell veterinary college. Fewer tests mean faster results, and hopefully mean a lower bill from your vet.
DNA tests can give you the information you need to predict the likelihood that your dog will develop a certain disease or condition. “In many cases, the diseases are actually what is called fully penetrant, which means that virtually every dog with the risk factor will develop the disease,” explains Erin Chu, DVM, Embark’s Senior Veterinary Geneticist. Still, there are things you can do to postpone the onset of these diseases and minimize their effects. For example, if your dog has the genetic mutation that’s linked to polycystic kidney disease (or PKD), you may want to talk to your vet about switching to a lower-protein diet, which can help protect kidneys. Similarly, if you know your dog has the mutation for a blood clotting disorder, then you and your vet can monitor them and take any necessary precautions during routine visits.
The notion that a single dog year is equivalent to seven human years doesn’t hold true. Different breeds age at different rates, and while a dog’s size can give you some insight into your pet’s lifespan (in general, smaller dogs live longer than larger ones), it doesn’t tell the whole story. With Embark’s service, you can learn your pet’s “genetic age.” This can help you and your vet decide when to do certain age-related health screenings, as well as recommend how you might want to modify your dog’s diet. For example, senior dogs should switch to a lower-calorie, higher-fiber diet to stave off obesity and improve their gastrointestinal health.