Are Cat DNA Tests Worth It? The Truth About Their Accuracy

Cat DNA tests are seeing increased popularity with pet owners looking to gain insight about their cats’ genetics. These tests work by analyzing small samples of cat DNA and comparing it against an existing database of cat breed profiles to predict the likely ancestral mix of breeds in a cat’s lineage. The tests also screen for genetic markers associated with various health conditions and traits. With cat breeds growing in popularity and mixed-breed cats with unknown lineage more common, cat owners are turning to DNA tests to learn more about their cats and make informed health decisions.

Citations:

[1] https://www.reddit.com/r/cats/comments/lyebas/are_cat_dna_tests_worth_the_money/

[2] https://www.catster.com/guides/are-cat-dna-tests-accurate/

How Cat DNA Tests Work

Cat DNA tests analyze genetic markers to determine ancestry and breed makeup of a cat. The tests work by examining specific locations on a cat’s DNA where certain variations indicate genetic differences between breeds. According to Aspca Pet Insurance, most cat DNA tests use a cheek swab to collect epithelial cells from the inside of a cat’s mouth. The cells are sent to a lab, where the DNA is extracted and analyzed. The lab uses proprietary algorithms to compare the cat’s genetic profile against a breed database to calculate breed composition as percentages. Since each breed has distinctive genetic markers, the DNA profile can identify the origins of a cat’s ancestry. However, because cats have much more variable and mixed breed origins compared to dogs, results may differ between DNA tests. Testing primarily looks for genetic differences that distinguish breeds, and does not analyze specific genetic traits related to health or disease risk.

a vet collecting a dna sample from a cat's mouth

Accuracy of Breed Identification

Studies show that cat DNA tests have limited accuracy when it comes to identifying breed. According to veterinary experts, most tests can only detect breeds that make up 75% or more of the cat’s DNA. Tests often fail to identify minor contributions from other breeds. This is because cat breeds have not undergone as much genetic differentiation as dog breeds.

For example, a study published in the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery tested the Wisdom Panel and Basepaws DNA tests on 12 cats with known pedigrees. The results showed “very poor agreement” with the cats’ pedigrees, especially when minor contributor breeds were involved. Basepaws was only able to correctly identify 2 out of 12 samples.

The ASPCA notes that no major cat breed associations recognize DNA tests for registration purposes. Tests may provide a “best guess” of breed makeup but have limited reliability detecting small amounts of DNA from other breeds. Customers should take breed identification results with a grain of salt.

Accuracy for Health Screening

Cat DNA tests provide some limited screening for genetic diseases and health conditions. However, the reliability of these tests for accurately predicting disease risk is questionable according to experts. Results may produce false positives or false negatives.

For example, one popular cat DNA test screens for hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), which can cause sudden death in cats. However, the test only looks for one mutation that causes HCM, when over 20 genetic mutations are linked to the disease. A cat could test negative but still have other HCM mutations.

There is also a lack of clinical validation for the accuracy of genetic health screening by cat DNA tests. The limited research has mainly been funded or conducted by the DNA companies themselves. Independent clinical studies are needed to truly verify the reliability of these tests for predicting genetic disease risks.

In summary, while cat DNA tests screen for some genetic health conditions, pet owners should use caution in relying too heavily on these results. Consultation with a veterinarian is recommended to interpret any positive or negative disease risk results from a DNA test. More research is needed to establish the clinical validity of these genetic screens.

Factors Affecting Reliability

There are several factors that can impact the accuracy and reliability of cat DNA tests:

Mixed breeds – DNA tests have more difficulty identifying the breed composition of mixed breed cats. Since most cats are not purebred, DNA tests often cannot pinpoint exact percentages of breeds within a mixed breed cat. The databases rely largely on purebred cat DNA for comparisons.

Limited breed databases – Most cat DNA testing companies have breed databases ranging from 30-100 breeds. With many rare, uncommon, or location-specific breeds missing from the databases, DNA tests cannot accurately identify all potential breeds, especially in mixed cats. More unusual breeds may get misclassified into more common breeds. The breed databases continue to expand over time. https://www.thewildest.com/cat-shopping/wisdom-panel-cat-dna-test

Testing companies – Different companies use different methodologies, algorithms, and breed databases for comparison. Results can vary across companies testing the same cat. Some companies may offer more accurate or comprehensive testing than others. Independent studies validating and comparing results across companies are limited. Experts recommend testing with multiple companies if desiring maximum accuracy. https://www.catster.com/guides/are-cat-dna-tests-accurate/

Overall, while cat DNA tests can provide useful breed information, especially for purebred cats, their accuracy is imperfect for mixed breed cats. The quality and completeness of the breed database, testing methodology, and a cat’s genetic makeup can significantly impact reliability.

Verifying Results

It’s important to have cat DNA test results verified, as the results can contain some uncertainties. Breed makeup predictions in particular may not be completely accurate, as cat breeds are not as genetically distinct as dog breeds. According to catdnatest.org, DNA tests for parentage are considered highly reliable with 95%+ accuracy. However, breed makeup predictions only have about 80% reliability.

For health screening results, it’s highly recommended to consult with your veterinarian before taking any action. Vets can help verify the results and evaluate any potential health risks identified. While DNA tests can screen for genetic mutations, lifestyle, environment, and other factors also play a role in disease risk. Getting professional veterinary advice is essential before making major health decisions based on DNA results alone.

a person discussing cat dna results with a vet

In summary, verifying cat DNA test results with experts is advised, especially for any major medical findings. Breed identification can be uncertain and should be considered a best guess rather than definitive. Consulting vets will help owners understand what DNA results fully mean for their cat’s health and care.

Testing Kit Options

There are several popular cat DNA test kits on the market that offer breed identification and health screening. Some of the top options include:

  • Basepaws Breed + Health Cat DNA Test – Tests for over 90 genetic markers related to breed and common genetic diseases. Provides highly accurate breed breakdown and detailed health reports.

  • a cat getting its cheek swabbed for a dna test

  • Wisdom Panel Feline Breed Identification Kit – Screens for over 11 breeds and common exotic breeds. Reliable for identifying dominant breeds in a cat’s ancestry.

  • Neogen Cat DNA Test – Offers analysis for 18 genetic mutations related to diseases like hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. Best for targeting specific health risks.

  • Optimal Selection Feline Genetic History Test – Checks for 42 breed signatures and 10 common genetic mutations. Provides very detailed breed ancestry information.

When comparing the major cat DNA kits, factors like genetic mutation analysis, breed signature detection, and overall accuracy ratings are worth examining closely.

Cost Considerations

Cat DNA tests can range in price from around $40 to a couple hundred dollars. Some of the least expensive options include tests just for breed identification, which typically cost $40-60. More comprehensive tests that include breed, health screening, and trait analysis tend to range from $80-150. High-end tests with the most breed markers and health screens can cost over $200.

For example, the Veterinary Genetics Lab at UC Davis offers a basic breed + parentage test for $44 per cat (https://vgl.ucdavis.edu/pricing/cat). The Wisdom Panel Essential Cat DNA Test covers breed and traits for $99, while their premium test adds health screening for $149. Basepaws DNA tests start at $95 for breed and wild cat ancestry. Their top-tier Whole Cat Genome test is $289 and includes health analysis and family tree mapping.

While more expensive tests often provide more insights, pet owners should consider what information would actually be useful to them. Less expensive focused tests may be sufficient for simply identifying breed mix. Overall, cat DNA tests range from affordable entry-level pricing around $40 up to $300 or more for the most comprehensive genetic screening.

Privacy Concerns

Many cat DNA testing companies require customers to agree to comprehensive privacy policies that define how they use and share genetic data. It’s important for pet owners to closely analyze these policies before submitting their pet’s DNA.

For example, Basepaws states in their privacy policy that while they collect personal information like names and addresses, they may share data in aggregated or de-identified form with third parties for research purposes. The Federal Trade Commission cautions consumers that DNA firms can sell or share data despite claims of ironclad security, stating “We use industry standard security practices to store your DNA sample, your test results, and any other personal data you provide.” “Rock-solid privacy and security provisions are our top priority.” But what those practices are is often unspecified.

Before submitting a cat’s DNA, owners should thoroughly review privacy policies and opt out of any data sharing if possible. Though companies promise security, data could potentially still be exposed or sold without consent.

a hand hovering over a button to opt out of data sharing

Conclusions

In summary, cat DNA tests can provide reasonably accurate results for breed identification and health screening when performed by reputable companies, but they are not 100% foolproof. The accuracy largely depends on the testing company, the number of genetic markers analyzed, and the database used for comparison. For breed tests, mixed breed cats usually get the best results, while uncommon pure breeds are more difficult to identify correctly. Certain health screening tests like disease variants have high accuracy, while broader wellness screens are more indicative than conclusive. To get the most from cat DNA tests, owners should research companies thoroughly, verify any surprising results with their vet, and view the tests as one helpful tool rather than an absolute determining factor. With the right expectations, cat DNA tests can reveal useful insights into a cat’s genetic makeup and inherited health risks.

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