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Woman Takes Dog DNA Test, Is Told She’s Part Shar-Pei

Shar-Pei in grass
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If you recently adopted a rescue dog and are unsure of their breed, then you may have considered trying a dog DNA test. But how accurate are dog DNA tests, and is there such a thing as fake dog DNA test results? 

To get to the bottom of this, one reporter sent in her own human cheek swab to a dog DNA test company—and received mixed (breed) results! The reporter was told she was 40 percent Alaskan Malamute, 35 percent Shar-Pei, and 25 percent Labrador.

Experts say this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try a dog DNA test. However, it does reiterate that you should choose a reputable company. Here’s what you need to know.

Why Use a Dog DNA Test?

With many shelter pet adoptions, many people often wonder, “What’s my mutt mixed with?” 

“As a veterinarian, people come to me and ask me this very question,” says Dr. Anthony Hall, an associate vet at Northwest Animal Hospital in Dallas, Texas. He adds that it is oftentimes very difficult to determine a dog’s breed composition just by looking at them. There are sometimes clear indications based on coat type and pattern or head and body shape, but it is typically a guessing game. That’s where a dog DNA test can potentially help.

“There aren’t many cons to getting your dog’s DNA tested, maybe except the money you spend on it if the results are unreliable,” Dr. Hall says. “But the pros are very helpful, as knowing what your pet’s breed mix is can give you insight on personality, trainability, full adult size, etc.” 

This information can help you and your vet make personalized care plans for your individual pet. Dr. Hall explains that knowing your dog’s breeds and genetic health information also allows you to keep an eye out for detrimental conditions or do preemptive testing. 

“But keep in mind that just because your dog does have genes for a certain condition does not mean they will necessarily develop the condition,” he says. “It just means they are at a higher risk for it, and if you know what to look out for, you can potentially get ahead of any issues that may arise from it.”

How to Pick a Reputable Dog DNA Test

There are many companies that perform DNA breed analysis, and the accuracy does vary significantly between them,” says Dr. Amy Attas, founder of City Pets, a veterinary house call service. A key factor influencing dog DNA test accuracy, she explains, is the size of the company’s database. In her experience, the larger and more comprehensive the database, the higher the likelihood of accurate results. Companies that have been doing canine DNA testing for a longer period of time have larger databases and may be more likely to deliver accurate results. 

“If possible, check how many different breeds are recognized by their DNA registry,” Dr. Attas says. “If they only have genetic material for 40 breeds and the tested dog is not one of them, the results are not fully credible.” Another option is to choose a laboratory affiliated with a veterinary college, she suggests.

Once you send in your pet’s swab, a DNA laboratory analyzes the genetic data from your dog’s saliva sample and compares it to a database of known genetic markers associated with different dog breeds. Based on this analysis, the laboratory generates a report detailing the dog’s likely breed composition, potential health risks, and other relevant information. 

What to Know About Dog DNA Test Results

“There are reports of variability in results when the same sample was sent to more than one lab,” Dr. Attas warns. “This variation may reflect the company’s database or their methodology; the laboratory database may not include the genes to compare with the dog’s sample.” 

In general, pet parents should know that the science is real but there can be some unreliability in the results. This may be why the aforementioned reporter was told she was part Shar-Pei. “As databases become more robust, DNA analysis will be better able to determine a particular dog’s ancestry,” Dr. Attas says. 

On the other hand, a dog DNA test is likely to give you a more accurate look at your dog’s breed makeup than an educated guess from the animal shelter.