By: Savannah Smith | 07-26-2018 | Science
Photo credit: Michal Bednarek |

Scientists Warn Dog Owners Not To Diagnose Pet Illness with DNA Kits

Scientists are warning dog owners not to rely on genetic tests to diagnose illness and make treatment decisions regarding their pets. The genetic test kits can give wrong or inaccurate results.

The mysteries of dog genetics are from from being understood. Elinor Karlsson, an assistant professor of molecular medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, says, "Genetics is a really powerful, new tool, but it really is a new tool, and we don't understand what it means yet.”

Dr. Lisa Moses, a veterinarian at the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals-Angell Animal Medical Center and a research fellow of bioethics at Harvard Medical School, cautions vets and pet owners not to rely on genetic testing results "to make pretty important medical decisions about their pets, including truly life-and-death decisions.”

The market for doggy genetic testing is booming - there are now 19 laboratories selling genetic-testing products for dogs worldwide. Such tests often cost less than $200 and claim to reveal the genetic risk for more than 100 diseases.

Karlsson and Moses single out one U.S. veterinary hospital chain that recommends genetic testing for all dogs, claiming the tests can inform "individualized health care" and guide behavioral training for each pooch.

Karlsson asserts that scientists must run extensive genetic testing studies with tens of thousands of participants in order to prove which mutation or combination of mutations leads to health conditions. In the case of current genetic test kits being used for dogs today, most of the research is based on isolated, underpowered studies.

Karlsson said: “Neither their accuracy nor their ability to predict health outcomes has been validated. Most vets don't know enough about the limitations of the studies, or about genetics in general, to be able to advise worried owners.”

More scientists see that standards are needed to improve and strengthen genetic testing for dogs. Several steps should be immediately implemented. Sharing the studies and training pet counselors to interpret test results reliably is critical making the science worthwhile.

Another suggestion is that the industry should create a standard methodology for testing dog genetics. How samples should be collected, shipped and analyzed should be uniform. The experts added that pet studies should also have a minimum number of participants before making claims about the results.


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