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So… what is it anyway?

How many times have you looked at a dog or cat and wondered what its breed is? Visual breed identification is something we all do but is often incorrect, especially for mixed breeds.

A 2018 study, “Comparison of adoption agency breed identification and DNA breed identification of dogs,” ( showed that even professional shelter staff “were completely wrong for 33% of the dogs in their shelter — that is, one out of three dogs were labeled with a breed that could not be found in their DNA even at the great-grandparent level. ”

So the old adage, “Don’t judge a book by its cover” can be applied to your pets. However, another old adage, “Curiosity killed the cat. Satisfaction brought him back,” may apply to curious pet parents who want to know a pet’s lineage and/or prognosis for its health.

DNA or deoxyribonucleic acid is the hereditary material passed from one generation to another. Dogs have 78 chromosomes containing 20,000-25,000 genes and cats have 38 chromosomes containing about 20,000 genes so there’s a lot of genetic information to be found including breed type, traits, parentage, and possible diseases, illnesses, and disorders.

DNA testing is an evolving science so its important to consider the pros and cons. First and foremost, DNA tests are only as good as their data and how the tests are run. For example, if a company’s database does not include DNA for your pet’s breed or breeds, then a match can’t be found for your pet. Some DNA tests include information about health as well as breed while others do not.

Any health concerns flagged in a DNA test should, of course, be shared with your veterinarian. A database also needs to include data from where your pet originated, eg, dogs from the United States should not have their DNA tested in a European database. In the end, DNA test results can give clues for a pet’s ideal lifestyle and possible health issues but are not a pet’s destiny.

If you are a curious pet parent, research your options. Here are a few resources to get you started:

* The Best Dog DNA Test Kits of 2022: What to Know Before You Buy, Tips Fur Life, by Irene Keliher

* Best Cat DNA Test for Health, Ancestry, Breeders & More

* Should I Get a DNA Test for My Dog or Cat? Here’s What Pet DNA Tests Tell You

* DNA testing looks into dog breeds and cat history

Next-up? Does a dog’s breed predict its personality? See what the research has to say in my August “Paws for Thought” column.

Happy Tails

What is Domino’s dog breed? That’s what Jeff and Niki Slaton wondered when they adopted their black and white 3-month-old puppy, “Domino,” more than 11 years ago.

They were told she was a border collie mix, but it looked like she might become a much larger dog. Curious about what that “mix” was, they decided to have her DNA checked. When the results returned, they discovered Domino was mostly German hepherd. When her ears are straight up, you can definitely see the GS influence of her.

Knowing she is mostly German shepherd has helped Niki and Jeff understand why Domino is vocal (talkative!), loves to howl at sirens, and is very sensitive to loud noises, like thunder, gunshots and fireworks. Still, when someone asks what kind of dog Niki and Jeff have, they usually respond that she’s “an amazing dog.”

Domino is protective of her “pack,” which includes two other dogs and five cats, as well as Niki and Jeff, but she is also gentle and loves to cuddle. She has provided an especially good mentor, playmate, and “big sister” to their newest rescue, Gromit, a young dog from Front Street Animal Shelter adopted in January 2021.

— Evelyn Dale of Davis is a volunteer and advocate for shelter animal welfare. Contact her at This column appears monthly.

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