Most pedigree dog breeds have increased risk factors for a range of hereditary health conditions, which can be identified prior to breeding in many cases thanks to pre-breeding health screening and DNA tests. These tests can help breeders to determine the risk factors for any litter they might be considering breeding from the mating of any two given dogs; which enables breeders to make an informed decision about whether or not to breed, and gives puppy buyers additional reassurance when buying.
However, there is also a generalised DNA testing protocol in place for all dogs, which allows you to generate your own dog’s DNA profile and record the results. While this test doesn’t identify any specific genetic diseases, it can be very useful for other reasons – and in this article, we will look at how canine DNA profile testing works, what the protocol is, and why this can be useful to dog owners. Read on to learn more.
The most widely used and accepted canine DNA profiling system in the UK (and worldwide) is called ISAG 2006, which is offered in this country by the Animal Health Trust for a small fee. ISAG stands for “International Society of Animal Genetics, and this is the organisation that developed the ISAG 2006 profiling method, to standardise the genetic profiling of dogs (and also, separate testing protocols for horses and cats too).
Having your dog’s DNA profiled using the ISAG method means that the results can be compared like for like by any other lab in the world that uses the ISAG method, and your dog’s ISAG profile is made up of a collection of the DNA markers that make up your dog’s DNA profile.
However, this information is designed to enable laboratories to identify your individual dog and determine who their relatives are from among the pool of other tested dogs by comparing two profiles against each other – it won’t tell you things like your dog’s breed, any hereditary health issues they may have, or their lineage and ancestry.
The DNA of every single dog in the world is unique, with the notable exception of identical twins, triplets, and other multiple births of identical dogs. Even two non-identical pups from within the same litter will have different DNA profiles.
The ISAG 2006 profile is designed to allow breeders to confirm and prove the authenticity of their breed lines – so that there can be no dispute about the parentage of a litter, because the pups in question can be DNA matched to their parents.
Additionally, having your dog’s DNA profiled and recorded also enables definitive identification of the dog if necessary at any point in the future – such as in the case of ownership or identity disputes, or if your dog is stolen or lost.
As outlined above, the ISAG 2006 canine DNA profiling system is not the same as DNA testing to determine the markers of genetic anomalies or hereditary diseases – for pedigree dog breeds that are considered to be at risk of hereditary health conditions, your dog will still have to undergo the individual testing protocols in place for the breed to find out their status.
The only way in which the ISAG 2006 canine DNA profiling system can give breeders or dog owners a heads up on a potential health condition is if the profile is used to determine parentage, and the results of the test indicate a parent dog who themselves carries or is affected by a hereditary health condition, if that information is already known about the dog in question.
However, this is a secondary effect of the test and not its intended purpose.
Any dog can have their DNA worked up to get their ISAG 2006 profile, and the cost of the basic testing protocol is £30 at the time of writing. However, the Animal Health Trust, which is the body that currently offers ISAG 2006 testing for dogs in the UK also offers an additional test at £61.60, which can return an analysis of your dog’s breed and lineage.
To get your dog tested, you just need to have a buccal swab taken from the inside of their cheek (your vet can carry this out, which in turn, helps to ensure the accuracy of the test’s records as applied to the individual dog), which is then sent off for laboratory analysis.
Your dog’s profile is then returned to you, and a copy kept on record in case of later testing or comparisons, and for inclusion in the scheme’s wider recording and comparison protocol for dogs, which provides valuable information on the genetic makeup of dogs worldwide (but is used for analysis only, and not to identify any particular dog).