Fatal Flaws in DNA Tests Risks Pet Lives in an Unregulated Industry

Prompting an investigation that has both baffled and concerned the public, pet DNA testing company DNA My Dog mistakenly identified human DNA samples as belonging to various dog breeds, and doubled down on the claim when confronted with the facts.

This incident has raised questions about the reliability of pet DNA testing services and the science behind them.

Pet DNA testing lacks rigorous standards that other animal services are subject to.

Photo: Pexels
Pet DNA testing lacks rigorous standards that other animal services are subject to.

Concerning DNA Test Results

The sequence of events began when Christina Hager, a reporter for the WBZ-TV I-Team, submitted her own cheek swab to DNA My Dog, only to be informed that she was 40% Alaskan Malamute, 35% Shar-Pei, and 25% Labrador.

This revelation came after another New Hampshire pet owner, Michelle Leininger, received similar bewildering results the previous year, being identified as part Border Collie, Cane Corso, and Bulldog, The Guardian reports.

Human DNA was mistaken for canine by a testing company.

Photo: Pexels
Human DNA was mistaken for canine by a testing company.

The Science Behind Pet DNA Testing

The pet DNA testing market, valued at $345 million and expected to grow substantially by 2030, aims to satisfy pet owners’ curiosity about their pets’ genetic makeup, WBZ reports. However, these recent incidents underscore the complexities and potential inaccuracies within the industry.

As veterinarian and bioethicist Dr. Lisa Moses told the station, there are no precise genetic codes for dog breeds, which makes the promise of dog breed identification a questionable claim at best.

“There isn’t necessarily a gold standard answer for what your dog is… A breed is something that we’ve decided, which is based upon essentially the way a dog looks,” Dr. Moses said. “But that doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re going to know what their genes look like.”

Misidentification can lead to inappropriate pet care.

Photo: Pexels
Misidentification can lead to inappropriate pet care.

Comparative Analysis Raises Doubts

Further investigation by WBZ-TV’s I-Team, which compared results from different companies for the same dog, revealed discrepancies in breed identification. The findings suggest that without uniform standards and shared databases among companies, results can vary significantly.

The Response from DNA My Dog

In response to the incidents, DNA My Dog clarified that they only found canine DNA on one of the two cheek swabs provided by Leininger, CBS News reports. The company insisted that the results would not be possible with a human sample.

Despite these assurances, the repeat occurrence with Hager’s sample has fueled skepticism and calls for more rigorous testing standards.

Experts question the science behind breed identification.

Photo: Pexels
Experts question the science behind breed identification.

The Importance of Accurate Pet Genetics

Elinor Karlsson, a geneticist at the Broad Institute and UMass Chan Medical School, said there are potential benefits to accurate pet genetic profiling, like identifying health risks and developing new treatments. However, the current state of the industry, with its lack of regulation and varying methodologies, poses challenges for consumers seeking reliable information.

“I personally do have concerns about the fact that, from a consumer standpoint, you don’t always know what you’re getting when you work with those companies,” Karlsson told CBS. “There’s not a lot of rules in this space.”

A separate investigation by CBC Marketplace, which tested various dog DNA companies, further highlighted the inconsistencies in breed identification. The results varied significantly for the same dogs across different companies, questioning the claimed accuracy rates and the methodologies employed.

The demand for clear testing standards is growing.

Photo: Pexels
The demand for clear DNA testing standards is growing.

A Call for Clarity and Standards

The incidents involving DNA My Dog and the broader inquiries into the pet DNA testing industry reveal a need for clearer standards and transparency. Consumers should approach these tests with caution and a critical eye, understanding the limitations and the potential for error. There is no regulation of canine genetic testing providers, the American Kennel Club reports, and the accuracy and reliability of DNA tests can vary.

As the industry continues to grow, it is essential for regulatory bodies to step in and ensure that these services provide accurate and reliable information for pet owners.

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Matthew Russell is a West Michigan native and with a background in journalism, data analysis, cartography and design thinking. He likes to learn new things and solve old problems whenever possible, and enjoys bicycling, spending time with his daughters, and coffee.
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