Worried about your pet's bloodline? Try a DNA test

RUTH MOON Updated: May 30, 2010 at 12:00 am • Published: May 30, 2010

Nancy Grosh bought her puppy, Mika, on a whim.

“I saw her and called the kids and the husband and said: ‘You better get over here!” Grosh said.

But after Grosh got the black-and-white-spotted pup settled in at her Falcon home, she started wondering how big Mika would get. The seller had told Grosh the puppy’s mother was a border collie and lab mixture, and weighed 36 pounds. At 8 weeks old, Mika already weighs 13 pounds, and the vet said she might be part Great Pyrenees.

“My mouth was hanging open,” Grosh said. “I thought I got a border collie with maybe a little lab in her. I was just thinking 70-, 80-, 90-pound dog? I’m like: ‘Oh my gosh.’ ”

So Grosh took her pup to the Fillmore Veterinary Hospital for a DNA blood test.

Grosh is among a growing number of people using new technology to satisfy curiosity about their dog, experts say.

And dog DNA testing is becoming standard practice among pure-bred enthusiasts and dog breeders who want to verify the bloodlines of their animals or wean out genetic defects that plague some breeds.

In 2000, the American Kennel Club began requiring DNA profile tests to verify dog parenting and genetic identity of some registered stud dogs.

Testing has become more common among mutt owners with the development four years ago of a simple DNA mouth swab. DNA test kits first hit Petco shelves in 2008, and generated a “great response,” Thomas Kerr, national manager of third-party services, said in an e-mail.

Both Petco and PetSmart sell standard test kits, which require pet owners to swab mucus from inside the dog’s cheek and mail it to a lab. The test is 99 percent accurate at identifying 106 standard AKC breeds, said Robin Ray, marketing director for Canine Heritage Breed Test.

There are more than 1,000 dog breeds in the world. As the popularity of DNA testing grows, experts are expanding the number of breeds they can identify.

“What you see is not always what you get,” Ray said. “You can’t judge a breed by its look.”

And there is no difference in quality between a cheek swab and blood tests, Ray said.

Local breeders perform DNA tests to verify the dog’s parentage and to test for health problems. Nancy Brandewie, who breeds Rhodesian ridgebacks in Black Forest, tests for a joint problem.

“A lot of ridgebacks don’t show signs [of the disease], and people haven’t done tests and don’t understand it,” she said.

Sara Karl, a Colorado Springs Bernese mountain dog breeder, provides test kits for von Willebrand’s disease, a blood clotting condition. Karl said the Bernese Mountain Dog Club of America requires member dogs to have a DNA profile before the dog can compete in the annual competition.

Not many Colorado Springs dog owners ask about tests, staff at several area veterinary clinics said.

“When it first came out we had a couple of clients interested in it,” said Isabella Reagan at the Animal Hospital of Colorado Springs.

And no one asks about cat DNA tests, said Briargate Veterinary Clinic veterinarian Deanna Sundermann.
While DNA tests can provide vital information to the dog-breeding community, for the average pet owner — like Nancy Grosh — the test is just a way to satisfy curiosity.

“We’re going to keep her because the kids are attached to her,” she said. “But we’re kind of curious what she is.”

Grosh should hear the verdict in three to four weeks.

Contact the writer at 636-0368.

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