More and more Americans are examining their own genetic information to find answers about health issues and family history.
And more and more are also doing the same for their dogs.
Genetic testing for dogs has increased in recent years. Several companies offer in-home DNA tests that are similar to those designed for humans.
These tests offer a deep look at an animal’s genetic history. The tests require just a small amount of material collected from inside a dog’s mouth.
More than 1 million dogs have been tested in the last 10 years.
The growing popularity of the tests has led to debate about their abilities and limitations. But to many dog owners, DNA tests are a good way to get to know their beloved pets.
Lisa Topol of New York has two dogs: Plop and Schmutzy. Both competed in this year’s Westminster Kennel Club dog show. The two animals are mixed-breed, meaning their genetic history includes many different kinds of dog. Topol recently had both dogs genetically tested. She told the Associated Press that the results “put some pieces of the puzzle together.”
The company Embark became Westminster’s first DNA-testing partner last fall. The move is likely to bring the company more attention, especially from people who raise dogs professionally.
Embark’s test results showed what Topol already believed: her high-energy dogs are more Australian cattle dog than anything else. But part of Schmutzy’s genetic information showed some unexpected things, including large amounts of Labrador retriever and Doberman pinscher.
Topol was surprised at first. But then she noted Schmutzy does walk like a Doberman and shares Labradors’ love of water.
Topol said the results “make me understand them better.”
The testing of dog DNA goes back over 20 years. In the past, it was mostly done to test for medical conditions and other purposes. But the industry grew quickly in 2005, after scientists mapped a full set of dog genes and published the results.
Wisdom Health launched a breed-identification test in 2007. The company added a health examination a few years later and says it has now tested over 1.1 million dogs worldwide.
The tests have led to greater research possibilities. They also have helped animal rescue groups; they can use DNA results to help possible owners know more about their dogs. DNA can also be used as proof that a dog’s family history only includes one breed, and help breeders end some common diseases.
The technology has even been used to identify dogs whose owners do not pick up their waste. It has helped in dog biting investigations. It proved, for example, that a Belgian Malnois dog accused of killing a Pomeranian was innocent.
Some veterinarians – or doctors for animals – feel that DNA testing improves care. Ernie Ward is a veterinarian and television performer in North Carolina. He recommends that owners test all young dogs.
“I want to know as much about my patients as possible,” said Ward.
But not all animal experts agree with Ward. Last year, a Boston-based veterinarian and two scientists wrote comments that appeared in the science publication Nature.
“Pet genetics must be reined in,” they wrote. Their comments started with a troubling story. The owner of a pug understood the results of her dog’s DNA test to mean that she had a rare brain disorder that would only worsen over time. With that information, the owner decided to end the dog’s life.
Lisa Moses is the veterinarian who helped write the criticism in Nature. She argued that the pug’s illness could have been something more treatable.
“These (tests) should be used in a limited way until we get a lot more information,” Moses said.
One concern is that tests can show genetic conditions that are linked to disease in some breeds but have unknown effects in the breed being tested. This means the tests in themselves cannot necessarily tell pet owners how much they should worry. They also cannot tell professional dog breeders whether or not a dog should reproduce.
But test companies say their work offers many benefits and useful information, such as whether a dog’s genes suggest bad reactions to some medicines.
For Rennie Pasquinelli, the benefit is a new way of looking at her dog, Murray. The pet adoption agency told Pasquinelli that Murray was a mix between border collie and Boston terrier. But an Embark test last month identified only a small amount of border collie mixed with six other breeds. It found no Boston terrier at all.
“Obviously I don’t love him more, or less,” Pasquinelli said. “It’s like when you know something new about someone. That doesn’t negatively or positively change your opinion on them, but you still look at them in a different way.”
I’m Susan Shand.
And I’m Pete Musto.
Jennifer Peltz reported this story for the Associated Press. Pete Musto adapted it for VOA Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor.
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Words in This Story
DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) – n. a substance that carries genetic information in the cells of plants and animals
pet(s) – n. an animal, such as a dog, cat, bird, or fish, that people keep mainly for pleasure
breed – n. a particular kind of dog, cat, or horse
pieces of the puzzle together - idm. to make sense of something by analyzing multiple pieces of information and drawing a conclusion
reined in – p.v. to limit or control someone or something
benefit(s) – n. a good or helpful result or effect
adoption – n. the act or process of taking a pet or child of other parents legally as your own