Dogs have been our loyal and faithful companions for about 16,000 years more or less, working alongside us as hunters, retrievers, herders and guards for our fledgling settlements and camps.
They have followed us on the ascent as the dominant species on the planet and continue to play a cherished role in the story of humanity today.
Closer to home, we get to know and love our dogs even better every day, taking them through each life stage – from puppyhood to adulthood and eventually, old age.
But for every playful run, jump, wag and toss, every nip, bark, pant and sigh, how well do we know our dogs really?
With 600,000 dogs living in the area, Central Park is the place to be for every variety of dog – from sweet-natured middle-aged black Labs to younger, active Golden Retrievers beating their owners in the continual chase after a ball. Dog owners surveyed in New York’s Central Park were recently able to reveal exactly what they loved about their pets and what characteristics they could easily observe based on their daily interactions with them.
Where these dog lovers became a little stuck was on questions about their pets’ long-term health and wellbeing. Questions like what their canine companions should be eating, what are their health traits and genetic risk profiles for common diseases and conditions, etc.
The fact is, no matter how intelligent our dogs may be, no matter how they look on the surface and how communicative their behavior, they by themselves still cannot tell us vital information about their health nor their genetic ancestry that can help us tackle canine healthcare with precision.
Co-Founder and Managing Director at Orivet Genetic Pet Care, George Sofronidis, says understanding the breed of your dog allows you to better understand his or her potential behaviour and health risks your pet faces.
Moreover, he says owners that know more about their dogs “have a stronger bond and can better look after their dog, leading to happier, longer lives together.”
Enter dog DNA testing.
“Although every dog is different, what we do know is that temperament and behaviour is breed specific.
“Understanding these behaviours allows you to understand some of the requirements of your dog such as, will it need plenty of exercise or will it spend most of its time just lying around?
“You will also get an understanding as to whether it suits your lifestyle,” Sofronidis says.
DNA tests can let you understand your dog and offer a comprehensive overview of your pet’s health and personal nutrition recommendations.
Identified health risks can take into account the exact breed makeup (part poodle, part border collie for instance), age, weight, sex and other lifestyle factors.
With DNA testing it can become apparent that in some cases, dogs may have different underlying characteristics than their apparent breed suggests – based on different mixes in their ancestry. In others, it may be that obvious crosses need extra care.
Conditions like hip dysplasia for instance may commonly affect one in eight of certain types of dogs (a German Shepherd and Australian Kelpie cross as an example). Still other breed combinations may develop skin allergies or other treatable issues.
Overall there are tests available for about 200 different genetic variants linked to canine disease. Done right, there is tremendous value in genetic testing, with the potential to stay ahead of diseases long before they do permanent damage.
Along with the exponential growth in medical data, this sort of study in our pets may also help us learn more about canine cancer and diabetes, and even develop new treatments for dog and human companions alike as we continue our journey together.
Personalised medicine via genetic screening has revolutionised the way humans can tailor preventive medicine for ourselves. So why not for man’s best friend too?