BOSTON - What's in a breed? Turns out pet owners are willing to shell out a lot to find out. Market research shows pet DNA testing is a more than $345 million industry on track to jump 85% by 2030.
Michelle Leininger of Salem, NH, got a test kit that retails for about $80 after she adopted Jasmine, a rescue dog that looks like a German Shepherd. "Shepherds have a history of hip issues, so we wanted the DNA testing to know what her history was," said Leininger.
The test came back with results showing not only German Shepherd, but also listed 14 other breeds. "How is she part...Chihuahua? You know, it just didn't make any sense," said Leininger.
So, the WBZ-TV I-Team came with more tests from different companies to compare. All came back with some German Shepherd, but the percentages ranged from 65% to just 29%. Aside from that, the three companies showed a puzzling hodgepodge of other breeds. One included Great Pyrenees, another came back with Siberian Husky, another listed Korean Jindo, and the list goes on.
Here's the biggest surprise: Leininger also collected a sample from her own human cheeks. When the I-Team sent it in, the results listed her as 28% Bulldog, 40% Border Collie, and 32% Cane Corso. "Some people might agree," she joked, but added that she wouldn't bother ever testing one of her pets again. "I wouldn't waste the money," she said.
"I think that is a red flag for sure," said Dr. Lisa Moses, a veterinarian and bioethicist with Harvard Medical School. "A company should know if they've in any basic way analyzed a dog's DNA, that that is not a dog," she said.
The company that ran the test, called DNA My Dog, sent the I-Team a response clarifying that it only found canine DNA on one of Michelle's two cheek swabs. "The second sample did in fact yield canine DNA...The results provided would not be possible on a human sample," wrote DNA My Dog Service Director Jessica Barnett.
Dr. Moses believes the science is fuzzy because there are no official definitions for breeds, and she says there are no exact genetic codes to match them. "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," said Dr. Moses. "But that doesn't necessarily mean that we're going to know what their genes look like."
We asked all the companies for an explanation for the dog Jasmine's varied results. Only Wisdom Panel responded. " ...each pet DNA testing company uses its own reference populations," wrote Becca Chodroff Foran, PHD, who's Head of R&D at Wisdom Panel, Mars Petcare Science & Diagnostics. "...our breed detection system consistently outperforms other approaches," she wrote.
"I worry about people making medical decisions...based on one of these tests," said Dr. Moses. She and some of her colleagues have called on lawmakers to set standards and regulations for pet DNA labs, and to require them to share their databases with each other, for more consistent results.
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