Why You Should Discover Your Dog’s Genetic Heritage

Genetic testing isn’t just for breeders.  Pet owners–even those with mixed-bred dogs–can learn valuable information with a simple DNA test.  While responsible breeders are often early adopters of genetic testing, pet owners should participate in the process as well.  Genetic tests tell everyone more about the health of their pets–and knowledge is power.

Back when I first got involved in dogs, we only had DNA tests for a few major diseases.  In my breed, Labradors, we could test for our version of PRA, an eye disease that causes blindness.  When my first show Labrador was a few years old, a genetic test for Exercise Induced Collapse was developed.  Now, fifteen years later, combination gene tests, like the Wisdom Panel tests, are used for many breeds and identify over a hundred different diseases.

Genetic Heritage for Pets

When I use the term “pets,” I mean dogs that aren’t for breeding.  While breeders’ dogs are often pets, they have different motivations for testing, and I’ll discuss that in a minute.

Genetic Heritage of Mixed-Bred Dogs

Pet owners don’t often think about the myriad of genetic diseases their dog may suffer from.  Pet owners with mixed-bred dogs often think “hybrid vigor” protects their dog.  However, domestic dog breeds often share genetic diseases, and some diseases are dominant – meaning they can come from only one side of the family and still cause a problem.


The Wisdom Panel test for mixed bred dogs identifies several important genes.  It identifies Exercise Induced Collapse, a disease that causes the dog to go limp when the dog is exercising hard or very excited.  Having had a dog with this disease (before the gene test became available) I have firsthand experience in a dog going completely limp in 90 degree weather, with no way to protect the dog from heat stroke.

The test also identifies the MDR1 gene.  This gene is responsible for increased sensitivity to many common drugs, including Ivermectin, a common dewormer, and Imodium.  Dogs affected with this gene become poisoned at much lower dosages than normal dogs.  If you have horses or livestock, you likely keep drugs that can kill a dog affected by this gene.  Such dogs become poisoned by drinking liquid dewormer or eating the feces of recently wormed livestock.

This gene is dominant–meaning an affected dog might only get the gene from one parent.  The gene usually comes from a herding breed ancestor, and is widespread in Australian Shepherds and Collies, and is common in most other herding breeds.

Breed Heritage

The Wisdom Panel Test also outlines the breeds in your dog’s genetic makeup.  This gives you a great idea of how big your puppy will grow, and even some clues to his grown-up personality.  When I volunteered in a shelter, we had a little momma dog come in with ten puppies.  She weighed about thirty five pounds, and was adorable and cute.  Her puppies grew up to weigh over one hundred pounds.

Knowing the breed heritage gives you a better idea of health issues your mixed-bred may face.  Even if you believe in hybrid vigor protecting your dog, finding that your cute little toy dog has a genetic background of breeds with luxating patellas or your gigantic puppy comes from hip dysplasia helps you decide in what activities your dog can participate.

Genetic Heritage of Purebreds

Ideally, your breeder showed you paperwork outlining the genetic heritage of the parents of your puppy.  Your breeder probably discussed what each gene means, and whether or not your puppy might have that disease.

In some breeds, it’s impossible to avoid the risk of genetic disease.  In others, breeders make judgement calls based on the severity of different diseases and choose the lesser of two evils.

Genetic testing will give you much more information about your own puppy.  If your breeder didn’t provide a genetic heritage panel for your specific puppy, the genetic test will tell you if your own puppy has a genetic disease.  It might also provide valuable information to a breeder.

For Your Breeder

Test companies constantly update the disease list, and the parents may not be tested for a disease that is now available.  Finding out could help your breeder avoid producing sick puppies.  If your puppy is affected by a disease, your breeder will want to know.

Also, breeders sometimes have accidental breedings.  A litter of puppies can have a different father for each puppy, and the breeder may not know.  Sometimes a young male puppy is more ambitious than expected.  Other times, the breeder’s children forget to close a gate and lie about it.  This often only comes out when a puppy is born with a gene that shouldn’t be there, whether it be color or disease.

When Your Puppy Is Affected By Genetic Disease

Knowing your puppy has a disease can make all the difference in your puppy’s quality of life.  Finding out at eight weeks that your puppy will probably go blind as she ages means you can teach your puppy important tasks while she can still see.  You can teach her to follow a voice or her nose, and verbal commands that will help her as she ages.

Finding out that your puppy has a damaging heart disease helps you raise her safely, and helps you maintain an exercise level that she can handle.  Finding out your dog has Hemophilia means your dog won’t crash during his neuter.

Why Breeders Should Genetic Test

If you’re a responsible breeder, you already know why to genetic test because you’ve been doing it for years.  If you aren’t genetic testing, you aren’t a responsible breeder–but it’s not expensive or difficult, and is a huge step forward in the quality of your breeding program.

Cost of Testing

Genetic testing usually costs less than $100 per dog tested.  Many also offer a discount for bulk sales.

Also, not testing costs puppy sales, as repeatedly producing sick puppies hurts your reputation.  Puppy buyers don’t want to buy from breeders that can avoid disease.

Valuable Information

Genetic heritage testing gives valuable information about breeding partners.  You may insist that you don’t have a problem–but unless you are in contact with every puppy owner you’ve ever sold to, you really don’t know.

You can test each parent once, and then make confident decisions.  In breeds with high incidence of disease, you can work through generations to lower your chances of producing the disease.

Most of the diseases tested for are recessive, so breedings between non-affected parents will always have a chance to produce non-carrier puppies.  Retaining those puppies for future breeding helps create a line that is unaffected and unable to produce the disease in one generation.

Genetic Heritage Testing is Important!

I firmly believe that all non-rescue dogs should be tested for their genetic heritage.  Simply being aware that a problem might exist helps prevent headaches and heartaches.  Genetic testing also provides important information to breeders, to help reduce the incidence of disease in their lines.

I also find the MDR1 gene frightening.  Imagine taking your dog in for a routine issue, and having the dog die because of the medication.  Many mixed-bred dogs have Australian Shepherd or German Shepherd heritage and might carry the gene.

Have you gene tested your pet?

Do you feel it was money well spent?  Did you find anything surprising?  Share pics with breed results!

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