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How to Test Your Dog for Genetic Diseases

Science has come a long way, and that includes cutting edge insights into the health conditions that might affect our beloved dogs. Imagine if you could test your dog for genetic diseases whether that dog is from a rescue, a shelter, a foster, or a breeder. Imagine that during that genetic screening that you could determine your dog’s ancestry, as in what breeds comprise your dog.

The folks at Embark asked if we would do an honest review in exchange for a DNA/genetic testing kit. The Embark dog DNA test is something I wanted to try, so this provided a perfect opportunity. This dog DNA home test kit is touted as the most sophisticated genetic test available for consumers that -with one cheek swab – and gives U.S. dog owners spot-on scientific insight into their pets’ health, behavior, ancestry and more.

Count us in. Here’s our experience and why you should consider the Embark dog DNA test for your dogs.

How to test your dog DNA

Meet the Bark Behind Embark

Adam and Ryan Boyko are the brains behind both the product and the start—up tech company called Embark. Adam, a world-reknown expert in canine genetics, is assistant professor in Biomedical Sciences at the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. His brother, Ryan, is a Harvard and Yale graduate who traveled the world collecting dog samples and contributing to a number of prominent scientific studies about canine health. Partnering with Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, the leading veterinary school in the country, and Spencer Wells, a pioneer in consumer genetics, the Boykos founded Embark.

The Process

Once you purchase the Embark DNA Home Test Kit, a package will be mailed to you. In it, you will find what you need to simply swab the inside of your dog’s mouth, activate your kit, and send the sample in a prepaid envelope to the Embark lab. It is that easy. You want to be sure your dog does not eat or drink for about 30 minutes before getting the saliva sample, which is super easy to obtain. I had my spouse hold a piece of a favorite dog treat near Dexter and he soon salivated and I was able to swab the inside of his mouth and get the sample. Instructions are provided. Here’s everything you get, including a cute and purposeful dog tag:

Dog genetic markers kit

How is Embark Different From Other Dog DNA Tests?

This is one of the first questions I had, and you can read a dog this for a dog DNA test comparison.  I also liked the email updates I received from Team Embark, a sampling is below. The folks at Embark say this test screens for over 160 genetic health conditions, the most accurate breed identification scientifically possible (based on more than 100 times as much genetic information as other tests), and so much more.

Dog genetic markers kit

What Kind of Dog Genetic Diseases?

MDR1, degenerative myelopathy, dilated cardiomyopathy, PRA blindness, exercise-induced collapse and more, using 200K + genetic markers for over 160 diseases. Information revealed in the tests can help an dog parents perfect their dog’s diet, for instance, to address needs not specific to the breed but to that exact animal.  The kit is also designed so you can discuss your results with your veterinarian and it can actually potentially change how your vet would treat certain conditions if they developed.

Personally, having the results gives me peace of mind. Cocker Spaniels have their own share of genetic anomalies, and as I mailed off the saliva sample in the prepaid envelope, I knew having the results would help my dog receive better care. This information you will receive comes as a Vet Report, designed specifically for dog parents to bring to their vets to help guide healthcare decisions. Knowing a dog’s genetic predisposition for a disease may help you take precautionary measures and know early warning signs to watch for, so this is a plus.

Dexter the Cocker Spaniel

Fidose Goes to Science

If you like to geek out as I do and understand what the process of the saliva and extraction involves, here goes in a condensed nutshell, from the folks at Embark to me in an email:

First, our team separates Dexter’s DNA from everything else that the sponge soaked up. Our scientists delve into Dexter’s cells with chemicals and awesome machines called centrifuges and pull out all the doggy DNA they can. Then the sample goes through several steps of purification to remove everything else. Next our team pops the DNA in a PCR machine which makes lots of copies of your dog’s DNA — we’re talking millions of copies of DNA from a single cell. Without the PCR machine, we might have needed a gallon of saliva from Dexter to get the DNA profile, and nobody wants that. Seriously, this machine is amazing! After that comes the genotyping, which we will tell you about in our next email.

The Results

The whole process takes one to two months, on average, which can seem like forever, but it is oh so worth it. Ours took about a month.

From a DNA perspective, our dog is 100 percent all-American Cocker Spaniel, with a 1.7 percent factor of “wolfiness.” We are told that Cocker Spaniels are handsome and intelligent hunting dogs that are also well suited to life as a loving family pet.

Dog DNA results

Wolfiness Factor

We totally dig this number: How wolfy is our dog? If you ever wanted to know how much wolf is in your dog’s DNA, they tell you! Most dogs have wolfiness scores of 1% or less, although Embark says they occasionally find populations and breeds with higher scores and even some especially unique individuals with scores of 5% or more. Our pup is 1.7 percent. Aroooo!

What Wolfiness Means For Your Dog

Your dog’s Wolfiness Score is not a measure of recent dog-wolf hybridization (the breed mix analysis report would tell you if your dog has any recent wolf ancestry). Instead, the wolfiness score is based on the number of wolf genetic markers your dog has in our unique wolfiness marker panel. While these wolf genes (or, more scientifically speaking, alleles) could be in your dog because it is a wolf-dog hybrid, wolfiness scores below 10 are almost always due to ancient wolf genes that have survived many generations to be carried in your dog. These may date back to the original domestication event 15,000 years ago or to more recent dog-wolf matings only a few thousand years ago, but either way they are bits of a wild past that survive in your dog!

Embark Dog genetic markers kit

Health Markers

Alas, the big question: What exactly did our health screening show for our dog, Dexter?

Alanine Aminotransferase Activity result: Low Normal

Dexter has one copy of a mutation associated with reduced ALT activity as measured on veterinary blood chemistry panels. Please inform your veterinarian that Dexter has this genotype, as ALT is often used as an indicator of liver health and Dexter is likely to have a lower than average resting ALT activity. As such, an increase in Dexter’s ALT activity could be evidence of liver damage, even if it is within normal limits by standard ALT reference ranges.

Carrier Condition: Skeletal Dysplasia 2 (COL11A2): A disease of skeletal development, this causes dogs to have abnormally short legs but similar body lengths compared to unaffected dogs, and can be observed by the time dogs reach five to six months of age. This has been best characterized in certain lineages of Labrador Retrievers. Other than their height, affected Labradors suffer no ill effects from their condition. However, affected dogs nearly never meet breed standard.

Most notably, he tested clear for all the diseases for which they screened! YAY. I have peace of mind. Each of those diseases is outlined in a fully detailed online report AND they would even send a copy to my dog’s veterinarian.

Dog genetic markers kit

More to Come

Embark says their scientists are hard at work in the lab, and they are expanding our results all the time! As new features and results become available they will let me know.

How to Purchase an Embark DNA Kit

Simply click the photo below and learn more about Embark DNA and purchase your dog’s very own Embark DNA and genetic testing kit.


CLICK THIS: Embark Dog DNA Test · Breed Identification · 160 Health Results · 200K Genetic Markers

Have Two Dogs? There is a discount on the price of two Embark Dog DNA tests here:  Embark Dog DNA Test 2 Pack: Most Accurate Mixed Breed Identification With Over 160 Health Tests

Win an Embark Dog DNA Kit: CONTEST CLOSED

Winner is Donna Zygarlicke!!!

You can still purchase a kit here: CLICK THIS: Embark Dog DNA Test · Breed Identification · 160 Health Results · 200K Genetic Markers

We are giving away one Embark Dog DNA and Genetic Testing Kit to one lucky Fidose of Reality fan. Visit the entry form below for your opportunity to win a kit: (complete rules and regulations here, and USA only, 18 and older)
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Note: We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

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  1. I just bought this, Carol. I actually bought two of them for both my dogs. Thank you for all this information.

  2. I had really wanted to do something like this for my deaf girl, Ran. However, she developed an autoimmune disorder two years ago and passed a few months later. Perhaps knowing her DNA would have given us a heads-up on her disorder. Of my other dogs, the one who is questionable as far as what breeds are in him is my Seiji, so I’d use this for him. He’s part Treeing Walker Coonhound, but we have no idea what else.

  3. I have always wanted to do DNA testing for our dog, Eddie! He is definitely a terrier mix of some sort. We adopted him and don’t know his background. Our vet guesses that he has some poodle and maybe some schnauzer in him. At 15 years young now, we’ve love to do this testing on him! Thanks for the opportunity. It will be interesting to see what comes back for Dexter!

    1. Oops! My comment didn’t make sense! Dexter is my cat’s name and I type it so much! 🙂 I meant it will be interesting to see what comes back for Eddie.

  4. Oh gosh, that would be hard…I think we would use it on Ivi. It seems like a good idea when she may be having her own malamute puppies later this year (maybe with her October heat if all her testing comes back okay). I’m curious how wolfie her malamute line is since they are one of the breeds that can be a bit closer to wolf! 😀

  5. Anything that would help our vet with information as to what may come would be worth it. (Although I don’t want any bad news!)

  6. I already learned my Pia Pia has hip dysplasia, she has had luxtating patella, but it would surely be interesting to see what/if there is anything else. This fascinates me today’s science and what is available just with a simple swipe of a saliva sample. Truly fascinating. Wishing the best of luck to all of us!!

  7. Would love to test one or both of my cockers, especially Buddy who is from the Amish puppy mill. He looks and acts more like a black lab than a cocker. I find this level of ancestry and health research so interesting and fascinating. Just received my own 23andme health and ancestry reports — and was quite intrigued by the findings. Thanks!

  8. I would of course test Ace. As responsible breeders, we already test all our dogs for PRA. But I’m intrigued to know what other results for other tests might be. Thank you for this opportunity

  9. Were you nervous about the results at all? (The genetic part of it, obviously.) I love the idea of giving my vet additional info to work with but it’s a little nerve wracking to think what they might come back with.

  10. I have wanted to do DNA testing on Piper since the day I adopted her! While I am fairly certain that she will come back mostly American Pit Bull Terrier, but the fact that her litter mate was black and white with spots and massive ears, makes me wonder. Additionally, Piper has some genetic conformation issues so I would love to know if there are any other genetic issues.

  11. As dog-mom to a chronically ill fur kid it would be great to learn if any of his issues are genetic. Sure hope I win since I could never fit this into our budget.

  12. OMD!!! That is so awesome. That would be perfect for Skipper. He is our rescue and knowing all about him would help especially since he is having so many skin problems.

  13. This is amazing. I would definitely like to know this information about all 3 Peas. If I win I think I’d do FiFiGiGi’s first, because I think she has the same thing as Dex, that skeletal thing. I actually asked my vet one time if she could possibly have Dwarfism because her body is bigger than Meteor’s but her legs are shorter than Beanie’s!!!

  14. I would love this for Duff, especially since he had an autoimmune issue pop up unexpectedly a couple of years ago (and could have died if my spidey-sense didn’t prompt me to take him to the vet) … would love to know if there is anything else I should be watching for!

  15. I would really love to win of these for my sister’s dog Franny. She’s the sweetest dog I know and now that she’s getting up in age, it seems even more important to know about any possible genetic health issues. Plus we just really want to know what her ancestry is.

  16. Wow! This is such a cool blog post and I’m so glad you told us about it. Glad Dexter is clear for the diseases tested. Since Poppy is a walking time bomb with her back, it would be very helpful to know if there any other genetic problems lurking.

  17. I would love to run this test for Ralph! While I do really want to know what breeds might be in him, I am even more interested in the disease aspect. Even if you can’t prevent a disease it’s great to know what to be prepared for or even symptoms to look out for. And I’m a big fan that they work in collaboration with Cornell. Go BIG RED!

  18. i would pick Evie, even though she is supposed to be a pure bred schnauzer, i have some doubts since she came from a backyard breeder. she has lots of health issues now and i wonder if it was due to breeding and genetics. i know that schnauzers are prone to certain diseases. i also have 2 other mini schnauzers as well, Harley and Tressa so i might want to do the test on the younger girl, Harley. They came from a reputable show breeder.

  19. Thank goodness Dexter was shown to be free of all the diseases they tested for, that’s a huge relief. I’d love to get this kit for Icy, my Siberian Husky. I’ll be her “Wolfiness” rating is a lot higher than 1%, she is such a little Wolfie, LOL!! That’s actually our nickname for her. What a great product, I’m so impressed with how far genetic analysis for dogs has come. I have a few concerns about Icy, and this would be so helpful. I hope I WIN!
    Love & Biscuits,
    Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them

  20. It would be a tough decision for me to pick just one of my two dogs to get tested. I’d probably end up buying a kit for the other one.

  21. All four of my dogs are mutts, but two are very senior and I know the parent breeds. I’d love to know what the smaller, younger dogs are, as well as what we might be in for down the road.

  22. A dog DNA test is easier than you might think!For those of us who love dogs, using DNA tests to deconstruct our mongrel pooch’s mysterious heritage is appealing most times. If you have a pet you must do a DNA test for sure.

  23. This would be for Sebastian, a beautiful big boy who showed up on our doorstep five years ago, looking for a home. He fit right in with the pack and is an important member of the family.

  24. Embark Dog DNA Kit is an awesome genetic testing tool. I already use this. It is an easy and useful technique too. I think your every idea will be helpful that you have mentioned in this post. Thanks Carol for mention these technologies.

  25. Fascinating how they are able to identify all these things. What a great help to know this information for your vet too. I would love to win this, as we were just adopted by a 1-year-old puppy and we have not a clue what he is. He has a little blue spot on his tongue and the curled tail – so perhaps part chow, his face looks a little bit like a dachshund, but the black muzzle you would see on a Curr. He is only 31 pounds and I don’t think he will get much bigger just fill out more. We would just love to know.

    Thanks for such an informative article. Great advances for the doggie world!

  26. Would love to verify Sadie’s DNA. Since she’s a rescue and a rather small cocker, people always question whether or not she’s 100% cocker. Of course, I say she is. It would be wonderful to say that with confidence and to be able to be aware of possible health issues that may be forthcoming.

    Thanks for the very informative story! I had no idea this was even available. You always share such valuable information!

  27. This is awesome! I have 2 babies but if I have to choose, I would test Titan’s DNA. I swear he’s Ambull and Staffy, however, others say differently. Would love to prove them wrong. 🙂 Terrible, right?

    That’s for sharing such great info and the giveaway, Carol!

    Bren @ Pibbles & Me

  28. We just adopted Joey. I’d love to get him tested. It would be good information so we can try to stay ahead of any health issues he’s genetically predisposed to.

  29. Either Rio or Oswin would get teh DNA test. We absolutely know what Oswin is but I’ve done Rio’s DNA through a different company with high percentage results so i’d be curious if we got the same results

  30. Wow! I would love to do this. We have 3 dogs so it would be difficult to chose, but I think I would have to pick Mickey to test. He was our first dog so he gets special privileges. 🙂

  31. I would love to have this DNA test done on my “designer breed” doggie Sir Frederick. He is a morkie, Maltese and yorkie. I would really love to learn more about his heritage and such…thanks

  32. I would love to win this for my best friend’s Huskymutt, Mishka. Mama is a Siberian Husky who got out for a night on the town. But the question remains: Who’s your daddy?

  33. My husband and I keep wonder what the heck our mutt is! It would be great to know! I might even get one for my cocker spaniel (liver and white rules!) and my cavalier!

  34. i would love to test my dog named Nala, she definitely has some german shepherd but we don’t know what else!

  35. I would pick our Boston, Junebug. He is our oldest dog and I’d like to learn more about him.

  36. I have used the wisdom panel DNA kit on one of my dogs and would love to get the others done as well. Great give away. I find these reports so interesting 🙂

  37. I think this would be such an amazing thing to win! Not only is it fascinating it can shed some light on issues that could arise in the future and help us be one step ahead in our fur baby’s well being!

  38. Embark DNA Kit
    Currently unavailable.
    We don’t know when or if this item will be back in stock. 🙁

  39. I would LOVE to know what all my Brian is! At this point, we know he is Chihuahua/Rat Terrier/Corgi mix, but would love to know if he will also be ok! Paws crossed we win so we can find out!

  40. I’ve always been curious about my dog’s DNA. She is most likely a shepherd / beagle mix, but I love the idea of her having some black and tan coonhound in her. 🙂

  41. I have tested my little rescue dog twice with another “breed identifier’ product, and the results were somewhat similar to one another, but not identical! I would really love to have a more accurate test help determine Harriet’s true identity. She is so adorable, and people always ask what breed she is as they coo and cuddle with her! (Harriet is also a therapy dog and a Reading Education Assistance Dog.)

  42. It would be incredible and quite fantastic to have both LUCY, my little Jack Russell Terrier, and HOLLY, my little Rat Terrier tested. I love them with all my heart and soul. Both of my fur-kids have health issues that are being well addressed and tended to by a wonderful care team of vets, surgeons, therapists. Knowing their DNAs would “shed” more light on their histories and likely provide valuable info to their vet internist as well. Wow, this is truly fascinating!

  43. This is so cool! I would love to know my dog’s breed! She is a shelter dog, so we had to guess her breed!

  44. Veterinary medicine has come so far since I worked for a veterinary clinic in the 70’s ( worked 10 yrs for the same practice. I would really be interested in knowing more about Jackpot (corgi/aust sheep) background.

  45. Bandit came into our lives 6 months ago. They said he was German Shepherd but I really don’t see that. He is going to a medium not a large dog so I really would like to know what he has in him.

  46. Bandit came into our lives 6 months ago. They said he was German Shepherd but I really don’t see that. He is going to a medium not a large dog so I really would like to know what he has in him.

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