It was bound to happen.
Bolstered by people’s insatiable curiosity to find out who they are and where they came from, the quest for genealogical information via DNA tests is spreading to their pets.
Of course, humans are interested in breed and potential health conditions that may be characteristic of a particular lineage. Given how accessible and affordable DNA tests have become, more and more people are taking advantage of the science, especially those who have adopted pets from a shelter.
While the typical DNA tests are performed on dogs, cat tests are available, as are those for birds and horses. Most cat owners use the tests to check for polycystic kidney disease, an inherited disorder that can lead to renal failure and death, primarily in breeds such as Persians, Himalayans, and exotic shorthairs.
“It’s mostly for fun, to see what breed or breeds your pet is, especially if you adopted from a shelter and don’t know its history,” said Dr. Carrie Anderson of the Hometown Animal Hospital in Crown Point. “I tell my patients to do it" with the availability of tests on the Internet.
Anderson added that DNA tests for medical conditions are available, but those typically are performed by a veterinarian, who draws blood and submits it to the testing company.
“Online kits will tell you what breed or breed your dog is, so you can look up what the typical maladies are for that breed and know what to expect,” Anderson explained. “For example, if a dog has some German shepherd in it, it may be susceptible to hip dysplasia, a deformity of the hip that occurs during growth that is common in that breed.”
Munster native Ellen Crilly and her boyfriend adopted their “incredibly sweet and highly energetic” dog, Olive, when she was 6 months old. Crilly said Olive has bright orange fur, a perfectly pink nose and piercing yellow eyes, and the shelter said that she was a pit bull mix. “Between various friends and countless doggie day care locations, most people told us that they assumed Olive was a pit bull/Vizsla mix,” Crilly said. “Olive’s vibrant orange fur, slender size, and extremely high energy levels made their assumptions easy to believe.”
After years of wondering, Ellen researched canine DNA tests online and selected Wisdom Panel. A quick swab of Olive’s mouth, and the sample was mailed.
Wisdom Panel concluded that Olive is a purebred, 100 percent American Staffordshire Terrier. Crilly said the process was very simple; the toughest part was waiting for the results. “Knowing Olive’s complete DNA information has made us feel like we can better understand her and her behaviors,” she noted.
Megha Kumar, of Schererville, hasn’t had her dog Luna’s DNA tested but has been researching testing companies. She adopted Luna from the PAWS Chicago rescue organization and thinks Luna may be a Labrador and boxer or collie mix. Kumar said that many people have mentioned they see some Great Dane in her, as well.
“I want to make sure the company I use provides reliable information,” Kumar said. “I would definitely consider doing a complete genetic marker test to identify if Luna has any medical problems, but until then I’m happy loving my unknown breed mutt.”