In one country it is fashionable to do DNA testing on dogs: which one and why


In the United States it is fashionable to do DNA tests on dogs.

Opening a kit, twisting the swab, dipping it into a solution, mixing and waiting impatiently for the result has become a familiar ritual. Only this time it is not a covid-19 detection test but a DNA test for dogs. The popularity of these tests, which emerged about 15 years ago, has recently exploded in the United States, where nearly 40 percent of households own at least one dog. Embark Vet, which was founded in 2015 and markets one of the most popular kits in the United States, assures that it has experienced 235 percent growth between 2019 and 2020. And the pandemic has increased the trend, says one veterinarian. They cost between $100 and $200 depending on the kit.

But in dog country, the price is relativized: Americans spent nearly 104,000 million on their pets in 2020, according to the American Association of pet products. Once the sample is sent, the wait can range from two weeks to a month. The main goal is to be clear about the breed of dog. Sometimes when someone buys a purebred dog, they want to make sure there has been no mistake. This was the case for Ashley Ternyila, who lives in New Jersey. The German shepherd she bought from a breeder looked too much like a wolf, despite its white fur, so "to put the rumors to rest, she did a test," she told the press. And those who bring their pets from shelters seek to know the facts about the new family member's past life. "Having a dog also means you want to know where it came from, what its history is," explains Mila Bartos, a 51-year-old lawyer who lives in Washington.

She adopted her three dogs, Natty, Maisie and Mabel, and for each she resorted to DNA testing, which gave her an overview of the family tree. He discovered that Natty, a mix of pit bull, beagle, chow-chow and German shepherd, had a cousin who lived nearby in Baltimore, or that Maisie, half Labrador retriever with a glossy brown coat, was descended from show dogs. Levi Novey, a 42-year-old consultant based in Virginia, assures that the test has allowed him to "better understand" the behavior of Summer, his 6-pound black dog, "her energy, her hunting instincts" and "the way she chooses to the people she is cuddled with. It is a "desire to understand, predict and anticipate their dogs' actions" that reinforces owners' curiosity about the breed, says Allen McConnell, a psychology professor who specializes in the relationship between humans and their pets.

Indeed, dog breeds are not without stereotypes ("Labradors interact well with children, pit bulls are aggressive guard dogs"), which, while sometimes inaccurate, can help interpret the animal's behavior, he explains. Levi Novey was also relieved to see that Summer was not predisposed to a genetic disease. That's precisely one of the arguments in favor of these tests: the more expensive ones allow you to check the DNA for genes that cause heart abnormalities, kidney disorders, premature deafness...But Sarah Bowman, a veterinarian in Washington, cautions that just because a dog has the genetic marker (for a disease) doesn't mean it has the disease.

At most, these tests allow you to know your risk and be extra vigilant, she explains. The American Veterinary Association recommends consulting one of its experts "before making a decision based on the results of these tests. "Also in the United States, as in other countries, some dog breeds are considered aggressive, such as pit bulls or staffordshire terriers, and are banned in some apartments. And in a country prone to lawsuits, points out Giovanni D'Agata, president of "Sportello dei Diritti," it is possible that if an adopted dog is half pit bull, the owner may feel that it "constitutes a problem," especially if he or she fears a lawsuit. "And if you don't want to know that information, you probably shouldn't do a DNA test."