In an age where more people are purchasing dogs than ever before, often from shelters but often (depressingly) from sellers with less-than-ideal credentials, there’s never been more interest in finding out what revelations our dogs’ DNA might throw up.
The premise of the test is simple: you order your test kit, receive it a few days later, then go online to Wisdom Panel and register your kit by using the sample ID on the back of the box.
You then take the DNA samples using the two swabs (by rolling them on the inside of the dog’s mouth), air drying them for five minutes then placing them into a plastic sleeve. Pop this into a prepaid returns label and send off. Results are sent – via email – between two and three weeks later.
Before we get into the nitty-gritty, we’ll offer up an expert tip relating to the part we dreaded the most – the swabbing. “We recommend waiting to swab until at least two hours after your dog eats,” says Rebecca Chodroff Foran, head of R&D at Wisdom Panel. “Firmly roll and rotate the swab’s bristles against the inside of your dog’s cheek, and use your other hand to apply gentle pressure from the outside of your dog’s mouth to ensure good contact of the cheek with the swabs.”
How we tested
Barley, our Rhodesian Ridgeback, was the star of the show for this one. Speculation was rife as to what our results could be, with some friends asking, “What if the results states Barley is actually a roast chicken?” Trust us when we say this makes more sense when you see a picture of her from nine-months-old.
All joking aside though, as experienced dog owners (we’ve had everything from Siberian huskies to Finnish Lapphunds), we did plenty of research prior to purchasing Barley. This included all the recommended research and background checks for both the breeder and Barley’s family tree. However, we were undeniably keen for some reassurance that there weren’t any underlying health issues that we’d been kept in the dark about.
Wisdom Panel dog DNA premium test: £139.99, Wisdompanel.com
We started by going online and activating our kit. This involved going to the Wisdom Panel website, entering the ID code on the side of the box and filling in Barley’s details, including age, name and breed. Doing this meant we could track the sample. It was incredibly easy – the ID code was clearly displayed and the website was easily navigable.
We’re happy to admit we were slightly nervous about the next bit. Barley could probably chew through the average table leg if she wanted to. Only one toy (out of dozens) has survived her chewing, so we had serious concerns that the swab we’d be using to collect her DNA sample would go the distance. And we were right, sort of.
Our top tip? Take the DNA test at the end of the day, or after a long walk. Basically, you want your dog to be relaxed and ready for a kip rather than full of beans.
Barley seemed oblivious when we rubbed the first swab along the inside of her cheek. At one point, she closed her mouth, which we took as the perfect opportunity to apply some extra pressure, pressing it against what we guessed was the inside of her cheek (we were operating blind at this point don’t forget).
The second swabbing didn’t go quite as smoothly. Feeling perhaps overly confident after the success of our first swab, we poked the second swab into her mouth and pressed it to one side. At which point Barley clamped her mouth firmly shut. No biggie, we thought. Until we withdrew the swab to discover that the most important part – the swab at the end – had disappeared. Cue a frantic foraging around in Barley’s mouth, which somehow resulted in the retrieval of the brush part.
In hindsight, we can’t help but wonder why the swab tips aren’t made of the same material used in tests made with human swabbing in mind – the swabbing end has tiny wires rather than soft cotton sides. Although we’re certain the tip would have eventually made it out the other end if swallowed, given the ease with which it broke off, perhaps a softer (more digestible) tip would be preferable.
Swabbing done, we replaced the swabs in the protective sleeve, placed them in the envelope provided and posted them off. Two days later we received a notification that they’d been received.
Then it was a matter of waiting, which gave us plenty of time to ponder the results. We had several concerns when it came to what we’d find out. Would the information be presented in a way we could understand? If there were health issues flagged, how would we know whether these were issues we should be concerned about, or whether they were common traits which were nothing to worry about.
Two weeks later, we received an email announcing the results were in and that we could access them by logging onto the website using the account details we’d created. The first results, relating to ancestry, came as a relief: Barley was 100 per cent Rhodesian Ridgeback. When we clicked on the “ancestry” button to get more info, a family tree appeared, which extended right down to Barley’s great grandparents, confirming, without any doubt, that no other breeds had snuck their way into Barley’s family tree.
Further reassurance was provided by a graph which showed that Barley had less breed diversity than most Rhodesian Ridgebacks. In other words, you’d have to go a long, long way back to find any species other than Ridgebacks in Barley’s family tree. In the health section, we discovered that all of the 206 tests conducted with genetic conditions in mind (such as drug sensitivity, immune deficiency, and bleeding disorders) came back clear.
On the traits page, the results stated (correctly) that Barley’s fur colour was more likely to be fawn-coloured than chocolate-coloured, that she had short, straight fur and that she was a low-level shedder. It also mentioned the presence of a ridge of fur, which all Rhodesian Ridgebacks have, and assessed her weight as being between 48.9-80.9 lbs.
We know what you’re probably thinking that much of the above information can be worked out simply by knowing the breed. But with Wisdom Panel’s DNA’s kit, with every result, there’s an option to read further information about the tests carried out, what the results mean, and how the results were compiled. It’s pretty in-depth stuff and much of it will probably go over the heads of many pet owners.
But our point is that Wisdom Panel makes the effort to clearly explain how the results from the sample were analysed. Yes, we can tell by looking at Barley she’s got brown fur and an average-to-long length snout and no extra toes (thank goodness), all of which are confirmed by the test results.
But, if we’d wanted to learn more, there are plenty of opportunities to find out exactly how the DNA swab helped the clever bods at Wisdom Panel work this out. For example, on the health tests page, there was a box out detailing more information about juvenile myoclonic epilepsy, which Rhodesian Ridgebacks are apparently slightly more likely to suffer from. There was also the option to click on a link which took us to another page listing incredibly detailed information about the condition.
The verdict: Wisdom Panel dog DNA premium test
We’ll be honest: having done Wisdom Panel’s test, we can’t imagine buying a dog and not doing this kind of test. The swabbing process was (relatively) simple, the results came back promptly and the subsequent information was easy to digest, albeit with plenty of opportunities for a more in-depth deep dive into Barley’s DNA results, as well as conditions her species is more likely to suffer from.