Discovering what your mutt is made of

1:17 AM, Nov 27, 2013   |    comments
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Kate and Olive (Courtesy of Erin Ashford Photography)

ATLANTA -- Kate Thacker adopted Olive from the Atlanta Humane Society five years ago.

"She was listed as a hound mix which I think basically means nobody knows," Thacker explained. "They thought she was going to be about 65-70 pounds. And she's 35 pounds instead."

Like more and more pet owners, Kate's curiosity led her to an at-home DNA kit for dogs.

"I think she might have some Jack Russell in her or maybe some sort of hound," she said. Thacker smiled, "And a little bit of cat".

The process is simple, although your dog may not think so.

"She's like, are you about to take me to the vet?"

Contamination is critical, so be sure your dog doesn't have food for two hours prior to testing and keep the swabs away from other dogs.

Then, for 15 seconds on each cheek, take each of the two swabs and firmly roll the swab's bristles between the inner surface of the dog's cheek and gums. Air dry the swabs for five minutes, put them back in the sterile sleeve, go online to register and then ship it off to the lab in Nebraska. You'll have the results in two to three weeks.

Mars Veterinary, out of Maryland, has a corner on the doggie DNA market with its Wisdom Panel 2.0, an 2013 updated version of its 2009 original. Depending on where you buy it, whether online or a pet store, the price ranges from $70 to $90. After the lab receives the swabs, the DNA from the swabs is extracted and amplified and then it's all about math. Mars Veterinary uses an algorithm and millions of calculations to figure out the dog's background.

Veterinarians also test DNA but with a blood test. It costs more, and gives you more--like genetic conditions.

"Both are going to be similar accuracy," explained Dr. Melissa Brandley of Atlanta's Ansley Animal Clinic. Dr. Brandley and MARS say some people are testing to meet local ordinance or HOA rules--essentially to document that a dog isn't one of the breeds often deemed more aggressive.

"We will occasionally be asked about that but the testing doesn't stand up in a court of law," Dr. Brandley explained.

Most people are testing for curiosity's sake, or to figure out a pet's traits and behaviors. Sometimes people test puppies, to see what they're in for, sometimes geriatric dogs, because they loved the dog so much, and they want to adopt a similar one.

"We can't necessarily predict genetics based on physical characteristics which is why these tests can be so confusing to people," Dr. Brandley said.

A couple of weeks after mailing off the test, Thacker received the results in a lengthy email and found out she was partially correct.

"Olive is a Border Collie, Cocker Spaniel, Russell Terrier mix," Thacker read from the lengthy report.

Russell Terrier is what Kate always suspected and likely where Olive gets her speed and agility.

"She will beat almost any dog in a race," she explained while her dog was darting around the neighborhood dog park.

The report also goes into appearance, intelligence, even obedience level.

The results go back three generations, and in Olive's case, it shows she comes from a long line of mixed breeds.

"I'm surprised by border collie and cocker spaniel," Thacker said.

"They don't always end up being what you expect them to be. Genetics are quite interesting and unpredictable," Brandley explained.

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