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Getting your pet’s genetic profile tested can be very helpful in determining genetic history, disease causes, treatment, and impact on breeding. Three types of genetic tests available include diagnostic genetic tests, tests that screen for carrier status, and take-home tests. Below is a brief description of each test.

Diagnostic genetic tests
Diagnostic genetic tests identify known genetic diseases in pets. Your vet might recommend a diagnostic genetic test for your pet to confirm or rule out a suspected genetic condition based on symptoms. For example, a diagnostic test might identify changes in genes such as the Bestrophin-1 gene (BEST1) associated with cancer of the eyes in dogs. If your pet needs a large set of genetic variations assessed, your vet might recommend a full diagnostic test.

Carrier screening
Carrier screen testing is a diagnostic test that is useful for breeders. It can tell you whether your healthy pet carries a gene mutation for certain genetic disorders but does not show symptoms of the disease itself. Carrier screens determine the reproductive risk of passing an existing gene mutation to future offspring. For example, canine degenerative myelopathy (DM) is a disease that affects the spinal cord and slowly weakens the hind limbs, leading to limping and paralysis. Studies have linked genetic variation of a specific gene that enhances the risk of DM in dogs. Breeds such as Pembroke Welsh Corgis, Boxers, Rhodesian Ridgebacks, German Shepherds, and Chesapeake Bay Retrievers are at a higher risk of developing DM. In these cases, breeders can screen their breeding dogs to identify carriers.

Direct-to-consumer DNA tests for home use
Direct-to-consumer DNA tests, also called DTC DNA tests, are widely popular. Pet owners can order these tests online at their discretion to gather more information about their pet’s genetic history and health. You collect a specimen (saliva or urine) and send it to the testing company for analysis. You receive the results directly, without the involvement of a clinician.

Some cancer types detected by DTC tests include breast cancer and colorectal cancer-associated variants. It is important to note that these tests are not diagnostic and may not meet the quality standards required by labs that perform diagnostic tests. DTC tests only analyze a small set of genetic variants associated with certain diseases. In addition, results from these tests can be challenging to interpret.

If you think you might like to have your pet tested, discuss with your vet the options available. Your vet can determine if you need a full genetic screening test or an abbreviated screen and can provide the information you need to decide what test best suits you and your pet.

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Last Updated: November 17, 2022

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The following sources were referenced to write the content on this page: 

Awano, T, Johnson, GS, Wade, CM, Katz, ML, Johnson, GC, Taylor, JF, Perloski, M, Biagi, T, Baranowska, I, Long, S, March, PA, Olby, NJ, Shelton, GD, Khan, S, O’Brien, DP, Lindblad-Toh, K & Coates, JR 2009, ‘Genome-wide association analysis reveals a SOD1 mutation in canine degenerative myelopathy that resembles amyotrophic lateral sclerosis’, Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A, vol. 106, no. 8, pp. 2794-2799.

Guziewicz, KE, Zangerl, B, Lindauer, SJ, Mullins, RF, Sandmeyer, LS, Grahn, BH, Stone, EM, Acland, GM & Aguirre, GD 2007, ‘Bestrophin gene mutations cause canine multifocal retinopathy: a novel animal model for best disease’, Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci, vol. 48, no. 5, pp. 1959-1967.

The Pet Cancer Foundation’s medical resource for pet owners is protected by copyright.

For reprint requests, please see our Content Usage Policy.