Dog DNA tests can tell us much more than just the breed of our four-pawed companions. They also provide information on why dogs display certain characteristics, such as the length and color of their hair.
More importantly, a dog DNA test can pinpoint a pet's disposition to a variety of genetic diseases or conditions. That will let you know if your pet is at risk of certain health issues.
While having a particular gene doesn’t necessarily mean your dog will develop a health condition associated with that marker, having this information can help you plan for the future. For instance, if you know what kinds of illnesses your pet is more susceptible to, you can devise an appropriate nutrition and wellness plan with the help of your vet. You can also make a more informed decision when evaluating pet insurance plans.
Dog DNA sampling kits are easy to use, and typically consist of three simple steps. First, you activate or register the kit by accessing a link in the instructions. Second, you take one or two cheek sample swabs before or at least 30 minutes after your dog eats. Lastly, you mail the sample using a prepaid postage that’s included in the kit. Then, all you have to do is wait for results by email, which should arrive within a few weeks.
Dog DNA test kits cost between $50 and $200, and those on the higher end tend to offer the most comprehensive analyses.
Dog DNA test buying guide
At-home dog DNA tests are a fairly recent phenomenon, and there aren’t that many brands to choose from yet. Similarly, the testing offered and the process for submitting samples doesn’t differ much from company to company.
Nonetheless, there are three main factors to consider when deciding what kit to purchase:
• Type of test. What kind of DNA test do you want? There are three main options: a basic breed identification kit, a genetic health conditions kit, and a comprehensive test that includes both.
In addition to the basics, brands like Embark and Orivet offer some unique services. Embark adds a social factor by giving pet owners access to a Relative Finder database, where they can locate dogs that share DNA with their own and possibly chat with the owners. Orivet, on the other hand, offers access to the LifePlan program, in which pet owners get personalized guidance for their pet’s wellness based on their test results.
• Accuracy. When it comes to Dog DNA tests’ accuracy, it’s important to consider each brand’s database size and how many DNA markers are used to identify breeds. Broadly speaking, these are the two main variables used to analyze your dog’s DNA sample.
Most companies match and compare the information with their database. This process is usually performed using a sophisticated computer algorithm that repeatedly analyzes DNA sequences of the submitted sample until it finds the most accurate result.
Both Embark and Wisdom Panel claim to have the largest database with over 350 breeds and types. At the lower end of the scale is DNA My Dog, which recognizes a total of 97 breeds.
• Speed of results. In most cases, results are delivered by email within two to five weeks after the testing company receives the sample. Some companies also send progress updates or allow you to track the sample once it is received.
Best dog DNA tests
1. Best overall: Embark Breed & Health Dog DNA Test
Partnered with Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, Embark claims to offer the most comprehensive dog DNA test on the market. Together, they’ve developed proprietary genotyping technology that aids in researching canine DNA, as well as the only database for finding your dog’s relatives.
Normally priced at $169, the Embark Breed & Health kit test uses 200,000 genetic markers, which help to identify more than 350 breeds (including wolf, dingo, and coyote hybrids) and more than 190 health conditions across 16 different areas — cardiovascular, metabolic, hormonal, skeletal, etc. In addition, with every kit, pet owners get access to the Embark Relative Finder database, where you can connect with the owners of dogs that share DNA with yours.
Embark also offers a simpler dog DNA kit for $129, the Embark Breed Identification. Unlike the Breed & Health kit, this one doesn’t test for genetic conditions, but does feature all the other services, such as breed identification, traits test, and access to the Relative Finder.
The results can take up to five weeks, and Embark provides updates all the way until they’re ready.
2. Editor’s pick: Wisdom Panel Essential
Wisdom Panel uses over 1,800 genetic markers to analyze dogs’ DNA tests, and these can help pinpoint genes that may cause diseases within a dog breed. The brand’s most affordable kit, the Wisdom Panel Essential, helps discover your dog’s ancestry for up to three previous generations.
Normally priced at just under $100, the Wisdom Panel Essential includes a test that provides insight on over 35 different traits, from a dog’s coat and eye color to body shape and ideal weight. This gives an idea of how your dog inherited its distinguishing look and qualities. The kit also tests over 25 gene mutations that could potentially cause problems during routine procedures or even become medical emergencies, such as hemophilia, which can cause excessive bleeding, and multi-drug resistance (MDR1), which may cause negative reactions to medications due to limited drug absorption and distribution.
If you’re interested in screening your dog a little further, you can try the Wisdom Panel Premium, which retails for $159.99. It offers all the tests in the Essential kit, plus screening for over 200 genetic health conditions. Additionally, a veterinarian will give you a follow-up call if your dog’s results show any potential health threat.
On average, Wisdom’s results are delivered between two and three weeks after your sample is received.
3. Best for low prices: DNA My Dog Breed Identification Kit
At around $70, the DNA My Dog Breed Identification kit is a perfect affordable option for pet owners or dog shelters that want to know the basics about an animal's breed, traits, and disease predispositions.
Compared to Embark and Wisdom, DNA My Dog has a smaller database. Its test recognizes only 97 breeds commonly found in North America and recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC). Nonetheless, the company claims it has been able to match the breed for more than 99% of the samples received.
This particular kit doesn’t test for wolf and coyote hybrids (something that’s included in Embark’s test), but if you suspect your dog may have some wolf DNA, you can buy the DNA My Dog Hybrid Test for $89.99. This one offers the same testing as the breed identification kit, in addition to the hybrid test.
DNA My Dog lists breed composition levels. For purebreeds, you only get a Level S (for single breed match), but for mixed breeds there are up to five different levels. Each level represents a breed in your dog's DNA. Level 1 has the highest percentage, 61% to 99%. Subsequently, Level 2 represents a 40% to 60% range; Level 3, 26% to 39%; Level 4, 10% to 25%; and Level 5 less than the 10%. So results, for instance, might show your dog is Level 1 Maltese, Level 2 Poodle, Level 3 Chihuahua, and so on. If you’d like to know more exact percentages, this type of breakdown might not be precise enough for you.
DNA My Dog will generally email results within two weeks of receiving your sample. Aside from test results, you receive a certificate that includes your dog’s photo and its breed(s). The photo should be uploaded during the kit’s registration process or can be sent anytime before the final results arrive.
4. Best for health screening: Orivet Dog DNA Health Screen & Life Plan
The Orivet Dog DNA Health Screen & Life Plan kit (list price: $94.95) is ideal for pet owners who already know their dog’s breed, but would like to learn about their traits and potential genetic diseases. The test analyzes dogs’ genetic makeup and screens for over 200 health conditions. The results reveal detailed information about your dog’s health risks based on breed, age, weight, gender, and lifestyle.
With every kit, pet owners get access to Orivet’s LifePlan, which includes personalized guidance for each life stage and routine care reminders. This lets you create a comprehensive wellness program you can implement alongside your veterinarian’s suggestions.
Orivet also offers two additional DNA test kits, the Mixed-Breed DNA Identification Test, meant to determine your dogs’ breeds, and Orivet’s most comprehensive DNA test, the GenoPet 5.0, which reveals the breed plus predisposition to genetic diseases. Both kits include LifePlan, as well.
5. Best for mixed breeds: Embark Breed Identification Dog DNA Test
The Embark Breed Identification kit usually costs $40 less than Embark’s premium test, and it’s ideal for pet owners who just want to discover their dog’s breed and family tree.
With your purchase, you get access to Embark’s distinctive database for finding your dog’s relatives — if, of course, they also have had DNA tests performed with the company. This way you can chat with their owners and perhaps even consider planning a playdate for your dog, if they live close by.
Unlike the Breed & Health kit, this one doesn’t include testing for genetic conditions or traits. Nonetheless, you can later decide to get the reports by upgrading the account for an additional cost. In this case you don’t have to worry about swabbing your dog’s cheeks once again, since the company will use the collected information already in the database.