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DNA & PETS

DNA & PETS

Carrie Romano and her partner were looking for just the right puppy for their family. When they heard about a puppy up for adoption at the local vet hospital they decide to check out the little guy.

Kodi was about four- months- old at the time, a small, mixed-breed, with a fawn- colored body, an adorable face with a black mask, and a happy, wagging tail. He was crate- trained and ready to go.

As soon as they saw little Kodi, they knew he was the one.

The vet believed Kodi was part Pekinese and possibly part Pug. However, friends and family insisted that Kodi was part Chihuahua. With little or no history about the pup, it was hard to figure out Kodi’s mix.

Carrie’s daughter knew about a test available online that could determine the breed make-up of mixed- breed dogs using the dog’s DNA. They “googled” DNA dog testing kits and located, “Bio-Pet Vet Lab,” one of the many online companies offering mail-order DNA testing for dogs.

Enclosing the requested $60.00, they sent for the test package. Less than a week later the package arrived. It came with easy instructions for swabbing Kodi’s cheek and then returning the enclosed swabs in the prepaid mailing tube. They carefully followed the instructions and sent back the swabs.

A few weeks later they received the results.

The vet had been right. Kodi was at 94% primarily Pekinese. Kodi’s other “part” was 6% Basenji, the barkless African dog, a fairly rare breed.

The test results package included a certificate attesting to the results. It also included information about the behavior characteristics of both the Pekinese and Basenji. Although appearing fairly farfetched, the Basenji characteristics matched Kodi’s personality!

How accurate are these on-line tests?

Although the results produced by these companies have improved over the last few years with the addition of more breeds in their databanks, the tests results are only as good as the data contained in the company’s data banks. If the data bank does not have a certain breed, that breed will not show up in the result. As one of the ads indicates, “This DNA-based diagnostic test can give you the answer by comparing your dog’s DNA to over 100 of the most popular breeds.” If your dog has “part” of the 101st breed, it won’t show up. The upside is that most pups fall within those first 100 breeds on the list.

Online sales seem to be the way to purchase the test kits.

According to pet store owner, Barbara Clemens, although she’s “heard about the tests from customers” she doesn’t have enough of a demand for them to stock the kits in her store.

She does recall one story a customer related to her about the tests. “She was really surprised and sort of worried about the results when the test revealed that her new puppy had some Chow Chow. That part of the mix was of concern to her as far as temperament and the eventual size of her puppy.”

At the Animal Fair Pet Shop in Ridgefield, CT, owner Connie Kamedulski also said that she doesn’t get enough call for the test kits to stock them in her store .

But, as the owner of champion Shetland Sheepdogs, she did wonder if the test would reveal breeds like the Spitz, the King Charles spaniel and the Pomeranian since they are commonly thought of as the breeds originally used to make up the Sheltie.

How do these companies use your dog’s DNA to determine breed make-up?

Trying to understand DNA requires a degree in biomedical science, but the simplest explanation is – DNA is unique to each human. “CSI” fans are familiar with DNA testing is used to identify a suspect from his hair, body fluids, etc.

A dog’s DNA is unique to each dog and carries important information about the make-up of the dog. And, just like us, the dog’s DNA comes from both his mother and father. Your new puppy will have traits received from both parent’s breeds.

The test kits use your dog’s cheek cells from the swab supplied by the company. The cells are then mixed with a solution that removes them and reveals your dog’s DNA. The DNA is then matched against the DNA from all the breeds contained in the company’s database thus identifying (hopefully) all the breeds that match your dog’s DNA.

With vets now offering a more accurate DNA test using drawn blood, can the test also be used to uncover hidden medical issues inherent in one of the breeds revealed?

According to Dr. Ronald Goldman, Owner at Canton Animal Hospital LLC , Canton, CT, and President of the Connecticut Veterinary Medical Foundation, “By definition, when a dog is ‘outbred’ (bred to another with a very different gene pool) it becomes less likely any given pup will end up with genes that code for a defect that requires the unwanted gene from both parents to occur. That said, it is not necessarily true that mixed breeds will not have genetic problems. Hip dysplasia for example, occurs in pure and mixed breeds. The risk of other traits that are less overt could theoretically be uncovered, if the test revealed that the mixed breed dog was from a breed line itself at risk for the unwanted trait.”

The Cornell Medical Genetic Archive (DNA bank) is a program at the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine that links medical information from animals to their DNA.

The samples in this bank use the DNA to study a variety of inherited animal diseases in patients, including cancer, liver disease, bleeding disorders, behavioral problems, orthopedic diseases, endocrinopathies, and cardiac disease, and to develop better diagnosis and treatment for pets. The DNA and medical information in the Cornell bank is also used to accurately define diseases and to find the genes that contribute to or cause the disease.

Where do “designer” breeds fit into the Mixed-Breed DNA picture?

The new “designer” breeds, once thought of as just mixed- breeds have become an increasingly popular choice for people looking for the unique.

There’s the “doodle” mixes, labradoodles, a mix of Labrador retrievers and poodles, and goldendoodles, a mix of golden retrievers and poodles, and the wheatable–not a snack cracker from the Keebler Company–but a mix of the soft-coated wheaten terrier and anything else. How about a whoodle–a cross between a soft coated wheaten and a poodle or a Jack-A-Bee, a mix of a pug and Jack Russell terrier, and the Puggle, a mix of a pug and a beagle

Will this prearranged mixing of breeds such as these so-called “designer” breeds create a new set of medical issues?

Dr. Goldman believes that, “It could lead to unexpected outcomes, such as allowing the worst traits of each breed to accumulate in the new breed, just as easily as the best traits. But by definition these designer breeds are only one generation deep, as the pups are not intended to breed with each other. They are just a specialized form of mixed breed. In my view it has no effect on the source breeds whatsoever, as the breeds used as parents are unaffected by the random outbreeding of individuals.”

Although these “designer” breeds are not recognized by the American Kennel Club, the largest “purebred” dog registry in the world, six new breeds were recognized this year and will be eligible to compete in Westminster Kennel Club Show in 2012; the American Coonhound, the Cesky Terrier, the Entelbucher Mountain Dog, the Finnish Lapphund, the Norwegian Lundehind and last but not last, the Xoloitzuintli (yes, that’s the correct spelling) all descendants of a mix of breeds.

So… will we see Whateables and Whoodles parading around Westminster in future years?

Bottom line: When you adopt a puppy, whether it’s a Heinz 57, a Labradoodle or a Xoloitzuintli take him to the vet as soon as possible to have him checked out for any major medical issues. Then take him home and love him.

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