Lady walks four dogs

DNA Testing for Dogs

DNA test kits have grown in popularity for the unique insights they can offer into our backgrounds and health traits, but testing isn’t just for people any more. Thanks to DNA testing for dogs, you can use a simple saliva test to find out about your pooch’s breeds of origin, inheritable health conditions, and even physical traits like weight and size potential that are linked to their unique DNA.

Much like DNA tests for humans, there are several options you can choose from, and the information you’re looking to gain is the best determiner of which test is right for you and your pup. To help you decide, check out our overview of the most important features to compare, an in-depth review of three popular tests, and a rundown of frequently asked questions about DNA testing for dogs.

Top Dog DNA Kits: A Side by Side

Embark

  • Number of genetic markers tested: 200,000+
  • Number of breeds in reference pool: 250
  • Number of health conditions tested for: 170+
  • Traits report based on your dog’s unique DNA: Yes
  • Where to buy: embarkvet.com
  • Price: Check the latest price

Wisdom Panel

  • Number of genetic markers tested: 20,000+
  • Number of breeds in reference pool: 350
  • Number of health conditions tested for: 150+
  • Traits report based on your dog’s unique DNA: Yes
  • Where to buy: wisdompanel.com
  • Price: Check the latest price

DNA my Dog

  • Number of genetic markers tested: Information not offered
  • Number of breeds in reference pool: 95
  • Number of health conditions tested for: 100+
  • Traits report based on your dog’s unique DNA: No
  • Where to buy: dnamydog.com
  • Price: Check the latest price

What Are Some Reasons to Try a Dog DNA Test?

Access to your own DNA test results comes with some clear benefits, but you may be wondering what drives people to investigate their dog’s genetics. There are a few common motivating factors in using these tests:

Breed Identification

Whether you’re verifying the authenticity of your purebred pup or simply curious about the makeup of your mutt, you’ll learn more about the breeds found in their genetics through your dog’s DNA test results. Each testing company has a database of breeds — some larger than others — which your dog’s sample is compared against in order to identify similarities.

You should note that while the American Kennel Club currently recognizes 193 breeds, far more actually exist, and at least one test on our list has a database comprised of 350 different dog breeds. The more breed specificity found in a test’s database, the better your likelihood of identifying rare breeds and achieving maximum accuracy in breed identification.

Identifying Genetic Behavioral and Aesthetic Traits

If your pup is a purebred, there’s a decent likelihood that you’re aware of the weight, height, and length typical of an adult of their breed. With mixed breed dogs, knowing exactly how large they’ll grow and which traits they’ve inherited can be a bit harder.

Giving your dog a DNA test can provide you with information about how big your dog may grow to be and which genetic traits they’re most likely to display. In accordance with their breeds, it can also help you understand your dog’s unique needs, skills, and possible behavior problems and prepare you to deal with them adequately

Identifying Health Issues

Although they’re not intended as a diagnosis and are not a substitute for a vet visit, your dog’s DNA test results can offer insight into their likelihood of experiencing potential health issues based on their breed and genetics.

Understanding your dog’s potential medical needs can help you make decisions about their care that are healthiest in the short and long term. It can also give you a keener eye for symptoms related to underlying conditions to which your dog is prone, giving you a good idea of when you should seek medical treatment.

These tests can neither confirm nor deny the presence of any genetic condition or illness in your dog, however. They are intended to help you understand the level to which your dog is vulnerable to each illness.

It’s helpful to seek out a test that gives a health and physical traits report that’s based on your dog’s unique DNA, not simply the breeds of which it is comprised. Understanding the balance of inheritable factors your animal is working with paints a clearer picture of their future wellness potential than a generic rundown of breed issues, which is information that’s available for free online.

Of course, some folks are just curious to learn a bit more about their dog for fun, and that’s okay too! Several tests are available, and they run the gamut in terms of price and in-depth results; whether you’re willing to pay for a detailed analysis or would rather save pennies by opting for a more concise report, there’s a test out there for you and your pooch.

Factors to Compare When Choosing Your Dog DNA Test

  • Number of genetic markers being tested. Just as is the case with human DNA testing, the more genetic markers a test includes, the more accurate the results will be. Test kits that cover a high number of genetic markers are more likely to provide detailed information; the lower the number of markers tested, the more general the results become.
  • Number of breeds in reference pool. If your main reason for testing is identifying your dog’s breed or breeds, this is a factor to focus on. As we established, while the AKC currently recognizes 193 dog breeds for registration, there are at least 350 in existence. Meanwhile, some dog DNA tests have as few as 84 breeds in their reference pool! The larger your testing company’s breed reference pool is, the more detailed the breakdown of your dog’s genetic breed report will be.
  • Genetic health risk tracking. While a DNA test kit can’t diagnose an illness in your dog, it can offer a report packed with potential health concerns that can educate you about your pup’s current and future risk factors. Some kits test way more factors than others, so if you’re trying to find out as much as possible about Fido’s health, tune into this number when making your decision.
  • Physical traits report based on your dog’s unique DNA. Learning more about your dog’s projected size, weight, and traits based on their unique genetic makeup can help educate you on the care and accommodations they’ll need, but not all DNA results provide information that actually links up to your dog’s specific genetics. For best results, choose a test that doesn’t just provide general breed info — that’s already available online at no cost, so it’s not telling you something you can’t find out on your own.

How do Dog DNA Tests Work?

For humans, the DNA testing process is rather quick and easy; you may wonder if the same is true when testing your dog. Fortunately, the answer is yes! Though some pups will inevitably be more cooperative than others, the testing process is not complex and can be completed by just about any dog owner. Make sure to adhere to our list of recommendations for testing dogs and puppies for the easiest, most accurate results.

The Testing Process

Your dog’s DNA sample is taken via a simple cheek swab test, requiring you to swab the inside of their cheek or lip for between 30 and 60 seconds. Once the sample has been obtained, simply place it in its indicated sample collection vial or envelope, and place your registered sample in your test kit’s enclosed self-addressed stamped mailer to send it on its way.

Turnaround Time and Receiving Your Dog’s Results

Once your sample reaches the lab for processing, you’ll receive an email notification that your dog’s DNA test results are being processed. Depending on the company you’ve chosen, you’ll be waiting two to eight weeks for a follow-up email to let you know your results are ready.

Once you’ve been notified that it’s time to view your pup’s results, simply log onto your computer and load up the site to view the information.

Key Testing Tips and Rules to Follow

In order to achieve maximum success and accuracy when performing a DNA test on your dog, the following steps are recommended.

For all dogs:

  • Dogs should neither eat nor drink for 30 minutes before testing
  • If you have multiple dogs and they’re physically playful, separate them for at least an hour before testing to avoid cross-contamination of results
  • There’s no need to scrape your dog’s cheek, as saliva is the only material being tested; be gentle
  • If your pup “ate” your testing swabs or chewed them beyond repair, contact the dog DNA testing company — they’ll generally send free replacements
  • If your dog’s mouth is too dry, try showing them a treat until they begin to salivate; after testing is complete, the treat can be given as a reward

For puppies:

  • If the little one you’re testing isn’t weaned yet, make sure to wait at least one hour after nursing before testing
  • Puppies should be separated from litter mates for at least one hour before testing to avoid cross-contamination
  • If your puppy is being extra playful and trying to chew the swab, use a small bone-shaped toy to open their mouth and occupy their attention while you obtain the DNA sample

Comparing the Tests

Embark

For dog parents who are willing to invest in the most advanced scientific tech available in this format, the Embark dog DNA test is a great pick. It’s a bit more expensive than its closest competitors, but offers some advantages that they do not. One of these is the number of genetic markers the text examines — at 220,000, it’s about 100 times higher than competitors.

The simple cheek swab test, which is the official DNA test of the Westminster Kennel Club, offers detailed and enlightening results that are received between two and four weeks after testing. You’ll see a percentage breakdown of the breeds that comprise your pup’s genetics as compared to a reference pool of 250 breeds, and a family tree that helps you track their lineage back three generations to their great grandparents.

Uniquely, you’ll also be connected to a “relative” finder, which offers access to a database of dogs who share genetic sequences with your pooch. Also available is a list of dogs who’ve tested that share a breed mix similar to your pup’s.

Embark offers two testing options: the Breed Identification Kit and the Breed + Health Kit. Both kits include all the features listed above. The Breed + Health kit is a good bit more expensive, but includes reports on your dog’s susceptibility to 170+ health conditions as well as 20+ of their physical traits.

The makers of Embark have partnered with the College of Veterinary medicine at Cornell University to perform continued research on canine DNA testing, and you’ll have the option to be a part of that project by allowing your pup’s DNA to be included in their research. They also believe in giving back, and are contributors of both money and product to animal rescues across the United States and Nepal, making them an easy choice for those who hold the cause of animal welfare near and dear.

Key Features

  • Number of genetic markers tested: 200,000+
  • Number of breeds in reference pool: 250
  • Number of health conditions tested for: 170+
  • Traits report based on your dog’s unique DNA: Yes
  • Where to buy: embarkvet.com
  • Price: Check the latest price

Pros

  • Embark tests more genetic markers than any other canine DNA test kit at over 220,000
  • Your dog’s breed breakdown is based on a reference pool of 250 breeds, which is fairly detailed

Cons

  • The base cost of the test is a bit pricier than close competitors
  • If you want access to your dog’s health and traits reports, you’ll need to spring for the Breed + Health Kit, which is even more expensive

Wisdom Panel

Another popular option for exploring your dog’s DNA makeup is Wisdom Panel, which offers speedy results and a breed reference pool that outshines all close competitors. Both of the tests the company offers compare your pup’s DNA against over 350 breeds, types, and varieties of dog, so you can feel confident that you’re getting the most detailed breakdown of their breed makeup that’s available.

From a pricing standpoint, Wisdom Panel falls in the middle of the road. It’s not as cheap as DNA My Dog, but is a good bit more in-depth. It’s not as expensive as Embark, but it tests against fewer genetic markers. Despite that difference, test results remain detailed and interesting.

There are two canine DNA tests offered by Wisdom Panel: Wisdom Panel 4.0, and Wisdom Health.

Wisdom Panel 4.0 is an affordable option for investigating your dog’s breed makeup, with a results presentation that’s fun to read and offers in-depth information on each breed in their report. You’ll also learn about potential drug sensitivity and your pup’s vulnerability to exercise-related collapse, a condition that can be fatal to dogs.

A trait report is included in your pup’s results as well, which uses an interactive map of their body to demonstrate how their genotypes influence certain traits they may have. If you opt for Wisdom Panel Health, you’ll receive all of the above results as well as risk and carrier status reports for more than 150 other health and wellness factors.

If using your purchasing power for good is important to you, you’ll love that Wisdom Panel partners with animal rights groups to offer charitable contributions. They also have a robust volume of resources on canine DNA testing available on their site, as well as a helpful team of customer service agents to tackle questions and issues.

Key Features

  • Number of genetic markers tested: 20,000+
  • Number of breeds in reference pool: 350
  • Number of health conditions tested for: 150+
  • Traits report based on your dog’s unique DNA: Yes
  • Where to buy: wisdompanel.com
  • Price: Check the latest price

Pros

  • Wisdom Panel has the world’s largest database of dog breeds, so you’ll get the most detailed breed breakdown from their test
  • The price of their base kit is decently cheaper than Embark while offering similar information

Cons

  • They test for fewer genetic markers than Embark, so the overall veracity of the test isn’t as great

DNA My Dog

If your desire to test your pup’s DNA centers mostly around curiosity and you’re not looking to break the bank, DNA My Dog may be the kit you’re looking for. Though the results the test offers aren’t as in-depth as other competitors, they’re by and large the cheapest canine DNA test on the market.

The test compares your pup’s DNA against a reference pool of only 96 breeds, which means that their breed breakdown won’t be as specific as it would be if you opted for Embark, or especially Wisdom Panel. If you’re not concerned with identifying rare breeds, however, this factor may not matter as much to you.

Included in your pup’s results, which the company states will be received in two to three weeks, is a personality and physical traits report. Unlike those included with Embark and Wisdom Panel, this assessment is a bit generic — it’s based on the breeds included in your dog’s DNA analysis, but not on their unique genotypes.

It’s still a good bit of interesting reading, and if you’d like to learn a bit more about your pup without dedicating time to gathering research yourself, using DNA My Dog is a fun way to do it. It can be an interesting project to try with kids, as the test is easy to complete and the results are easy to parse.

There are a few other testing options offered by the company:

  • Breed Identification and Genetic Age Test, which can tell you approximately how old your pup is if you’re not sure
  • Breed Test PLUS Wolf-Canid/Hybrid Test, which is ideal if you’re looking to identify wolf or canid ancestry in your pup
  • Deceased Dog DNA Breed Testing, which makes use of objects your beloved pet used to test their DNA even after they’ve passed
  • Canine Full Genetic Health Screening, which is best if you want to learn about your dog’s health, but doesn’t include breed identification
  • Allergy Test, which can help you narrow down the cause of your pal’s allergy symptoms

Key Features

  • Number of genetic markers tested: Information not offered
  • Number of breeds in reference pool: 95
  • Number of health conditions tested for: 100+
  • Traits report based on your dog’s unique DNA: No
  • Where to buy: dnamydog.com
  • Price: Check the latest price

Pros

  • They’re one of the cheapest canine DNA tests available
  • There are quite a few testing options, including an allergy test and specific wolf ancestry test that other companies don’t offer

Cons

  • Their breed reference pool has only 96 breeds, so your dog’s breed analysis won’t be as in-depth
  • Processing delays have occasionally been reported

A Dog DNA Kit FAQ

Will buying a DNA test for my dog cost a lot of money?

Just as it goes when buying a DNA test kit for yourself, you’ll see a range of prices from moderate to high when shopping for a dog DNA kit. Of course, in some cases, opting for a lower-cost test will mean missing out on features like a wider breed reference pool and a traits report linked to your dog’s own genetics, which can make the decision tough.

Fortunately, these testing companies do offer a sales cycle, and tracking it can save you quite a few dollars. If obtaining your test results isn’t urgent, keep checking the price of the kit you’d like to order over the coming weeks and months — it’s quite likely to go on sale a few times during the year.

Another price advantage can often be found by bulk buying your tests. If you have a several dogs to test, are planning on giving tests as gifts, or are simply content to keep them on hand to use down the line, both Embark and DNA My Dog offer a discount rate when purchasing more than one test. Wisdom Panel suggests that bulk rates may be available, but you’ll need to contact them to find out more.

How different is my pup’s DNA from my own?

The surprising answer — not very! Your DNA is about 82% similar, though your pup has far more chromosomes than you do. While you have 46 chromosomes, your dog has 78; your DNA is still made out of the very same material as all other creatures on earth, however, and the physical process of testing your sample is much the same. The key difference is what genes are being tested and what they are being tested for.

My dog is a rare breed — will that be evident in their test results?

This depends on the test you choose. The breed reference pool of your test is what determines how many breeds your dog’s DNA sample will be compared against. If you choose a dog DNA test kit that uses a small breed reference pool, you’re less likely to receive results which reflect your pup’s rare heritage. If you opt for a test like Wisdom Panel, which has one of the largest reference pools encompassing 350 breeds, it’s far more likely that you’ll see rare breed results if they’re present.

How accurate will my dog’s DNA test results be?

Just as specificity of breed is determined by the size of a test’s breed reference pool, the determining factor for accuracy is the number of genetic markers the test assesses. The higher this number is, the more accurate the test’s results will be; if the number is low, the results may be a bit more general.

Are results from a dog DNA test kit sufficient proof of purebred ancestry for registration with the American Kennel Club?

No. While results from a reputable company can be considered an accurate representation of your dog’s breed within reason, even results deeming your pup a pedigree aren’t sufficient for registering with the AKC. You’ll need a certificate proving their pedigree to do that, which is something that’s obtained through a licensed dog breeder.

Other Animal DNA Tests

If you’re an animal lover, your sweet pup may only be the start of a growing menagerie. They’re also not the only pet for whom you can obtain a DNA test! Wondering which of your furry family members are eligible for a genetic assessment?

  • Cat. They’re the other most popular four-legged companion, and your cat can be tested just like your dog can. A simple saliva test can reveal information about their breed, traits, and genetic health risks.
  • Horse. If you’re a horse owner, genetic testing is available that can prove helpful in a few ways. One test helps to serve as genetic identification for your animal in the event that they’re lost or stolen. Another determines parentage, which can tell you which of your horses fathered a foal if it’s uncertain. There’s also a test for inherited disease susceptibility, which can be informative when making veterinary decisions for your horse. As collecting a saliva sample from a horse could be dangerous, a piece of their hair is used as the specimen.
  • Bird. It’s possible to test avian DNA, though not as much information can be revealed. One of the few tests available online exists only to test gender, which is virtually impossible to distinguish in birds externally. Knowing your bird’s gender can make you more aware of potential medical and behavioral issues they may experience, and testing a group can help you identify a mating pair. Tests are done via feather or blood sample, and as a rule, are intended to test small flocks of birds through individual samples rather than one bird at a time.

Summary

If you’re interested in learning more about your dog’s breeds and traits, you’ll find a lot to love about digging into their DNA test results. Testing your dog can help you gain a better understanding of their unique personality, and it can also arm you with information which allows you to choose a diet and lifestyle for your pet that’s conducive to their long-term good health.

When it comes to the best dog DNA test, we recommend Wisdom Panel, which boasts one of the largest breed reference pools at 350 and tests for over 150 health conditions. Though it tests fewer genetic markers than competitor Embark, it’s the absolute best at identifying breeds and provides accurate health and traits insights which tie into your dog’s individual genetics.

Hannah H.

Hannah H.

Hannah is both a parent and a freelance journalist and author. You go, girl! She is an impeccable wordsmith and her warm and witty outlook on life makes her pieces a joy to read.

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