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DNA Testing
Which DNA test should you choose to settle the “what’s in the mix” question?
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For years, you’ve argued with your spouse that the 60-pound, black-and-tan tennis ball–chaser who takes you for walks and sweeps the coffee table clean with his tail is a German Shepherd mix, and that there is absolutely no Doberman Pinscher in there. Finally, in order to end the breed debate once and for all and restore peace to your household, you’ve decided to settle the question with a mixed-breed analysis test.

You’ve heard of the “swab test” and the “blood test” and know that both claim to unravel breed ancestry. With a little more research, you discover that the world of canine heritage tests has expanded since the first tests became available in 2007. Having a choice is great, but how do you go about comparing them and choosing the one that’s right for you?

There are several factors to consider, including the type of sample required, the number of breeds that can be identified, costs, turnaround times and the way the results are reported. Before you commit to a test that will decide the outcome of the German Shepherd/Doberman Pinscher battle, be sure you understand what you’ll be getting.

MetaMorphix Inc. (MMI) Genomics administers the Canine HeritageTM Breed Test, commonly referred to as “the swab test,” and Mars Veterinary provides “the blood test,” the Wisdom PanelTM MX Mixed Breed Analysis. These two companies have been considered the main players in this market, but new contenders are flocking to the scene. The most recent challengers are DNA Print Genomics, which offers the Doggie DNA Print, and BioPet Vet Lab, which recently unveiled the Dog DNA Breed Identification Test. Both use cheek swab samples.

The swab sample has the advantage of a collection procedure that is simple enough to be done by the owner at home. It does have some drawbacks, however, including a risk of contamination and too few cells being obtained for successful testing. To avoid the latter, BioPet Vet Lab includes a card that changes color to indicate that a sufficient sample is present. Blood samples are collected by a veterinarian and the chances of contamination and inadequate sample size are greatly reduced.

Tests also differ in the number of breeds available for comparison. Mars Veterinary interrogates the genetic signatures of more than 130 of the 159 breeds recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC).* MMI Genomics recently announced the XL version of their test, which has a database of more than 100 breeds. The breed list available for BioPet Vet Lab contains 58 breeds. DNA Print Genomics does not report specific breed matches; rather, “15 elements of dog ancestry” are revealed, and the customer performs a search of the company’s online database to identify matches to particular breeds. Since each test interrogates a different set of breeds, sending your dog’s sample to more than one company may not return identical results.

Cost and turnaround times vary from test to test. In the past, the cost of the Wisdom Panel MX Mixed Breed Analysis test was determined solely by individual veterinary clinics, but the test can now be purchased online for $124.99, and test results are available within three to four weeks. (Your veterinarian will still have to draw the blood sample.) The swab tests are sent directly to the owners for sample collection, and prices and turnaround times vary: Doggie DNA Print, $199, six to nine weeks; Canine Heritage XL Breed Test, $119.95, four weeks (if you submitted a sample for the original version of the Canine Heritage Breed Test, you can purchase an upgrade to the XL version for $55 online); and the Dog DNA Breed Identification Test, $57.95 to $59.99, two weeks. (Prices current at press time.)

Results are presented as a certificate or report, depending on the company. MMI Genomics provides owners with a Certificate of DNA Breed Analysis. Three breed categories are included in the results: Primary, Secondary and In the Mix. BioPet Vet Lab’s Ancestry Analysis Certificate reports breeds in your dog’s genetic background in order of prevalence; a paragraph about each breed as well as a behavior, health and personality summary are included.

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Submitted by New dog in the ... | April 21 2011 |

vetGen is another option (Canine Heritage XL Test), and I like its confidentiality policy - https://www.vetgen.com/confidentiality-policy.html .

I chose vetGen instead of MMGI (MMI Genomics, Inc.) in part b/c I was not comfortable with MMGI's sales agreement ("Terms and Conditions") as to this paragraph (as of today's date April 21, 2011) re: privacy: "USE OF MATERIAL - MMIG may freely use your sample, sample information, pet's photo and the information derived from it for it's marketing, sales and general research purposes in the development of new or advanced products and services. ... ."

Thanks for your article.

Submitted by Renee | August 5 2011 |

I'd love for someone to use several tests on their mutt and report results, to see if they're picking up similar info!

Submitted by Anonymous | November 28 2012 |

WebMD.com did exactly what you wanted: here's a link to the aricle:

http://pets.webmd.com/dogs/features/dog-dna-testing

Submitted by Eileen | May 7 2012 |

I used the mars DNA on my puppy of 4 months and am waiting for the results. My other dog, who was supposedly Shar pei mix, was undoubted Italian greyhound mix with the DNA sample. And she is greyhound in build and temperament. Both are rescue dogs. I did it for health of the dog in coming years. It does seem fairly spot on.

Submitted by Brigitte Reed | July 23 2012 |

Since this article was published Canine Heritage has since gone out of business. Mars sued them for using techniques patented by Mars Veterinary and forced them to shut their doors. It appears that Mars is going after anyone who offers a commercial breed DNA test. If they have their way, soon they will be the only contenders in the market. I cannot begin to describe to you how annoyed this makes me. I may never buy M&M's again.

http://news.vin.com/VINNews.aspx?articleId=23206

This is an article with a bit more information regarding the legal battle between the two.

Submitted by Anonymous | March 28 2013 |

Dont buy anything made by MARS anyway, be it dog food / treats/ toys or people products. They test all their products on dogs, killing them in the process. Its terrible and they need to be stopped!

Submitted by Mark | January 24 2013 |

What a crock the Mars test is. Not one of the alleged breeds looks or acts anything like my dog. Moreover my dog is a large 95 lbs dog and not overweight, while the breeds allegedly revealed by the swab test were 20-60 lbs. If my dog were a wolf, then the Mars test said he was a poodle. They made a big deal about sending the swab in quickly, but with overnight priority mail did not acknowledge receiving the test for more than 8 days. What a waste of time and money. These people are criminals.

Submitted by Ancestrygal fro... | September 6 2013 |

I'm quite enthusiastic about obtaining my ancestry details, however privately.

Is there this sort of facility, or system?

Submitted by Mila Long | July 10 2014 |

My first test (same dog) was mastiff, bull terrier, whippet predominate breeds...after dispute and new swab test...german shepherd, bull terrier, boxer..predominate breeds....he looks like an australian shepherd (body type, size, blue eye and natural bob tail) and perhaps another mix that would include wolfhound. My big shaggy boy. You can put your money back into your pocket instead of being ripped. I noticed one person complaining that her test was back as a st bernard mix but her dog was only 5 pounds (full grown)..I do not think they know anything but accounting.

Submitted by Anonymous | January 30 2013 |

I recently had a Wisdom Panel DNA cheek swab test processed by Mars Vet. The results were a combination of vague and bizarre. The specific breeds identified seemed very off target in light of the fact that I know a great deal about the specific farm that my dog was rescued from. I emailed Mars Vet to express my concern that the results were so far off from credible, and received a reply that said I should send them a photo of the dog so they could more accurately assess the algorithm used. I was under the impression that DNA testing was a scientific process, not palm reading. Should I be suspicious that they now want a photo of the dog when I stated that the results do not seem appropriate? I could have guessed at what he was a long time ago. I thought this would be accurate and true. Any thoughts?

Submitted by Tina Greene | February 23 2013 |

We just got back some surprising results as well on our dog. I spoke to the vet where she was born who told me the mom was a Beagle, and the dad unknown. She looks like she is a hunting dog of some sort, but she came back as a Chihuahua and Dachshund. She is not big, but bigger than they are. I might try sending in a picture as someone suggested.

Submitted by Dog Lovr | January 20 2014 |

Well now the MARS DNA plant is having difficulty processing samples... machines are broken... for weeks. All I get is the run around. They have cornered the market and now they can't even deliver. I'm going to ask for a refund.

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