Dog DNA testing: Unlocking your pup’s genetic secrets

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Groundbreaking research has led to new doggy DNA tests that can reveal ancient ancestry, potential health conditions, physical traits, “wolfiness,” and much more.

“I travel the world sampling dogs,” said Adam Boyko, co-founder and chief science officer at Embark veterinary DNA testing. He is also an associate professor at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, where he runs a lab in canine genomics.

“We’ve been studying genetics for some time,” said Boyko, who started Embark with his brother, Ryan, and has been researching canine DNA for more than a decade.

He says with a simple saliva swab they can now obtain 100 times more genetic information than other companies, and give accurate results based on more than “200-thousand genetic markers” and “proprietary algorithms” which they've developed.

They can tell if a dog carries “ancient wolf genes” and/or variants.

And they use that number to give a dog its own “wolfiness” score.

“We compare dog DNA to wolf DNA,” said Adam. “It doesn’t mean they are a wolf, but they’re one of the lucky dogs that happen to carry the wolf version because of course, all dogs descended from wolves.”

They were the first to discover a chromosome linked to shedding and the first to identify a part of a chromosome that causes dogs to inherit blue eyes.

“I was kind of surprised,” said Adam. “It’s neat to see that the science works.”

Embark's primary focus is promoting healthier, happier pets and to someday end diseases like cancer and/or to enable better treatments.

The test can trace a dog's ancestry back over 15,000 years to when Central Asian wolves were first domesticated into modern dogs, and they screen for more than 170 genetic conditions.

Boyko says there is no substitution for a veterinarian, but their tests can tell if a dog is predisposed to some conditions or a carrier for certain genetic defects.

“Purebred dogs, obviously the genetic health screening is important, and if you’re planning on breeding your dog it’s doubly important,” said Adam.

They specifically analyze areas of inbreeding across a dog’s genome and determine the inbreeding coefficient, which has made Embark the official DNA tester for the Westminster Kennel Club.

Currently, the test costs just under $200 and takes between two and four weeks to complete.

Costs should come down as the tests continue to grow in popularity and something else.

Adam says the more dogs they screen, the more they can learn about canine DNA and help all dogs live healthier lives, as well as begin to delve into more complex traits like personalities.

“What we’ve seen in human genetic research, you can make genetic discoveries; you just need really big data sets in order to do it,” said Adam. “How do you get a big data set in dogs? There’s not a lot of government research funding dogs; that’s what’s really exciting -- having a great customer base and routinely making new discoveries.

*More info, here, and watch the video, above, as our anchors learn more about their beloved pups*

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