DNA Testing for Your Pet: Not Just for Criminals!

DNA testing appears daily in the news. The OJ Simpson trial in 1995 made DNA testing famous and the technology continues to help juries determine innocence or guilt. Veterinarians use DNA testing for both serious medical conditions and to determine dog heritage. One apartment complex in New Hampshire is using DNA testing to identify the dogs and dog owners guilty of violating pooper scooper laws!

Animal Medical Center veterinarians use DNA testing to diagnose a variety of diseases. Take veterinary internal medicine specialists for example. Some members of the Cavalier King Charles spaniel breed have a lower platelet count than most other dogs. Platelets are little blood clotting cells, but even with a lower number than usual, the Cavis do not have excessive bleeding. However, the number of platelets in these dogs is low enough to make the veterinarian think a diagnostic investigation is necessary. Since the low platelet count is inherited in this breed, veterinary researchers at Auburn University developed a DNA test to identify this abnormality and avoid the need for a costly medical evaluation of a low platelet count.

Veterinarians also use DNA testing to diagnose infectious diseases. Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) amplifies a minute piece of DNA from an infectious agent present in the bloodstream to confirm the presence of the organism as the cause of an illness. After treatment, PCR can be used to confirm eradication of the infectious agent.

Oncologists use DNA testing to confirm a cancer diagnosis when the biopsy result is unclear. Veterinary researchers have identified genetic abnormalities in several types of canine and feline cancers. Testing for the presence of these abnormalities can help oncologists identify the tumor type and also help them choose the best treatment for your pet.

A fun use of DNA testing is to determine the genetic heritage of your mixed breed dog. Several companies offer this test.

The tests vary as to the required sample for testing — some require a blood sample obtained by your veterinarian; other tests use cells from the inside of the cheek collected with a special swab. Just like humans are interested in their family background, dog owners are interested in their dog’s background.

There may also be medical applications. If you know your dog is a high percentage of a particular breed of dog, you may monitor for diseases known to affect that breed. Knowing you dog’s heritage may help explain the behavior traits he exhibits, like the excellent swimming skills of a Labrador retriever or herding behaviors typical in Border collies.

So don’t worry if your veterinarian recommends a DNA test for your pet. It is not likely for an episode of CSI.


This may also be found in the “Tales from the Pet Clinic” blog on WebMD.com.

For over a century, The Animal Medical Center has been a national leader in animal health care, known for its expertise, innovation and success in providing routine, specialty and emergency medical care for companion animals. Thanks in part to the enduring generosity of donors, The AMC is also known for its outstanding teaching, research and compassionate community funds. Please help us to continue these efforts. Send your contribution to: The Animal Medical Center, 510 East 62nd Street, New York, NY 10065. For more information, visit www.amcny.org. To make an appointment, please call 212.838.7053.

One Response to DNA Testing for Your Pet: Not Just for Criminals!

  1. […] acid).  Due to the wonders of molecular genetics, DNA has been harnessed as a method of diagnosing diseases in our feline companions. Because members of a breed are closely related, genetically based […]

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