This introduction to genetic testing can tell you more about the different types of testing that are available, and guidance on what resources can help you find, choose, and use, the right tests for your dog.
What tests are available?
There are many different kinds of genetic tests available. Below, you can see a short summary of the more common types of tests.
Individual mutation tests – this test is undertaken for a specific phene (i.e. a specific disease or attribute) Ex: for an individual eye disease
Combined Individual tests – these are often individual phenes that are tested for in combination. These tests can occur where there is more than one mutation that can relate to the disease/attribute OR where testing for two different mutations is important to get the “full” picture. Ex: coat colour + coat texture
“Packages” of tests – these can be like combined individual tests, or they could be tests for multiple but different diseases/attributes that are particular for your breed/dog type. Ex: Curly coat and Dry eye
Panel tests – there are many different kinds of panel tests, but they generally test your dog for many, many different phenes – including those that may not apply to your breed. If you use a panel test, it is a good idea to have information about what tests are specific to your dog. Some test providers offer reports that are limited just to your breed’s results, or make it clear what is breed-specific.
Diagnostic tests – these tests are designed to diagnose, estimate risk, and/or monitor disease progression – i.e. for certain cancers.
Ancestry/Breed Mix tests - these tests compare specific sections of your dog’s DNA, to a reference database of 100’s of dog breeds or types. This data estimates the likely breed(s) that compose your dog, to a few generations back (e.g. grandparents).
Parentage/maternity/paternity - these tests are designed to confirm or refute a dam/sire to progeny relationship.
Which tests I should be using?
If you are choosing to use genetic tests as part of breeding plans, they can be really informative tools for avoiding known inherited diseases. It is important to remember, that there are more than 600,000 (and counting!) parts of the DNA in the dog that have been mapped, but only 200-300 disease tests across all of the breeds. So, it important when making breeding plans to be well-informed and consider the whole dog. The HGTD database is searchable by breed, allowing you to see what tests are available from participating GTPs.
If you’re using the test information for breeding plans, it is important to try to prioritize using the tests that are important in your breed, and in your country, and are important to the dog. Some breeders like to undertake all the known tests in their breed, as they find this reassuring. However, it is important when making your breeding plans to have a good balance across both DNA test results and health history, over-all health, and behavior. There are not DNA tests for every single disease or condition. This is particularly true for complex inherited diseases (where there are multiple genes and often environmental effects on the disease risk), such as hip and elbow dysplasia, patella luxation, heart diseases, some forms of epilepsy, etc.
You can find resources on health and breeding that link you to international breeding recommendations and schemes. You can also find local breed clubs and kennel clubs that often have health advice and resources. These resources will often be based on recommendations from groups of researchers, veterinary professionals, and experienced dog breeders. It is recommended, however, that you do some research and explore a few different sources of advice. It can be difficult to determine which advice is based on good research, facts, and experience, and what is based on opinions. A good start, is to consider your own dogs and breeding lines and have an honest assessment about what problems are present or what improvements you’d like to make.
Some genetic test providers include popular crosses such as Labradoodles, Goldendoodles, Peke-a-poos, and more, so it can be easier to see what tests are available for your dogs. Knowing what breeds make up your dogs is key to understanding which tests are important. There may be local or national clubs who have recommendations and advice, but you can also look at the advice for the individual breeds using the resources recommended above. For example, if you have a Labradoodle, you should consider the recommendations for Labrador Retrievers and Poodles. Remember, cross-breeds are not automatically “healthier” or immune to inherited diseases. For example, many eye diseases are not uncommon across the breeds popular for crossing.
If you have a dog that is a whole jumble of different breeds, or you aren’t sure what your dog is, you might want to consider one of the genetic tests that helps to determine the different breeds that could make up your dog. These tests are used to help owners understand both potential disease risks, as well as potential behaviors to look out for which may help you tailor training techniques.
What about results?
It is important to be sure that you understand your dog’s test results, and critically, the mode of inheritance of the phene (disease/attribute). If you know your dog’s test results, and understand the mode of inheritance, you can generally use this information to help predict any breeding outcomes. Information on modes of inheritance can be found here. It becomes more complicated if your test result is a risk-related test, rather than a definitive test. You can find some information about using test results here. Many GTPs also provide some breeding guidance or advice on using test results. If you are uncertain about the mode of inheritance, the general phenes database on the Harmonization of Genetic Testing for Dogs resource has information on inheritance as well as general phene information.