Can You Uncover Your Cat’s Ancestry From a Strand of Hair? The Surprising Truth About Cat DNA Tests


A cat DNA test is a genetic test that analyzes a cat’s DNA to determine information about its ancestry and breed makeup. Cat owners can collect a DNA sample from their cat at home, usually by pulling some hair, and send the sample to a lab for analysis.

The purpose of testing a cat’s DNA from a hair sample is to uncover the breed makeup and ancestry without needing to draw blood from the cat. The process involves collecting hair that contains follicles where DNA is present, sending the sample to a lab, extracting DNA from the follicles, analyzing the DNA, and providing a report of the results.

DNA tests for cats can provide owners with valuable information about their cat’s family tree and insight into breed-associated genetic traits. However, the accuracy and reliability of these at-home tests remains controversial.

Collecting the Sample

Properly collecting a hair sample from your cat is crucial for obtaining accurate DNA results. Most cat DNA tests only require 5-15 strands of hair with the root follicle intact. The root contains cells needed to extract DNA. Hair should be plucked rather than cut to increase the chance of the root remaining attached.

When collecting hair, target areas where it is easiest to grab whole strands such as behind the ears, around the neck, or the belly. Avoid areas where hair is sparse. Gently pluck in the direction of hair growth to remove the entire strand. Place each hair into the collection envelope or kit vial to keep it intact for testing.

Once the required number of hairs have been collected, seal the envelope or vial so hair doesn’t fall out. Store the sample in a cool, dry location away from direct sunlight. Most DNA kits provide pre-paid shipping so the sample can be mailed to the lab right away. Hair samples should arrive for testing within a few weeks of collection for best results.

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Types of Cat DNA Tests

There are three main types of cat DNA tests that can be performed using hair samples:


These cat DNA tests look at your cat’s genetic markers to pinpoint their breed ancestry and lineage. They can identify purebred backgrounds or reveal genetic mixes. Some tests screen for 40 or more different cat breeds in your cat’s ancestry. These tests help you understand the breed makeup of a mixed-breed cat. They can also verify purebred lineage.

Disease Screening

Some cat DNA tests like MyCatDNA include screening for genetic mutations linked to diseases and medical conditions. They look for markers associated with around 40 genetic health issues like hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, polycystic kidney disease, progressive retinal atrophy, and others. This helps assess disease risk.


A few cat DNA tests claim to provide insight into personality based on certain genetic markers. For example, tests may look at variants linked to playfulness, curiosity, friendliness, vocalization, and more. However, the accuracy and predictive ability of these personality assessments is still emerging.

DNA Extraction

DNA is extracted from hair samples using a process called PCR (polymerase chain reaction) amplification. This involves isolating the hair shaft from the hair follicle, where the cat’s DNA is located. According to research published in PMC, “DNA yields from cat hairs with excellent root tags can range from 15-30 ng, 10 times less than is typically extracted from a human hair root.”

First, the hair sample is washed to remove any external contaminants. Next, the root end of the hair is snipped off and placed in a buffer solution to break open the cells and release the DNA. Chemicals and heat are applied to break apart the double helix structure of the DNA and make single strands available for copying.

The PCR process then makes billions of copies of specific DNA segments through repeated cycling of heating and cooling. This amplifies the tiny amount of DNA from the cat hair to detectable levels for testing. The amplified DNA is then further purified and prepared for analysis.

According to research from the University of Leicester published on their news site, “The difficulty with the analysis often lies in isolating good quality DNA from the hair shaft….We have developed a method to extract and purify DNA from cat hairs with minimal damage to the internal DNA structure.” Their technique allows cat DNA from hairs to be used to identify individuals.

Testing the Sample

Once the DNA has been extracted from the cat hair sample, the lab can analyze it in several ways. The most common test is to look for genetic markers that can be used to identify the individual cat. Like human DNA, every cat has a unique genetic profile that can be compared to a DNA database or sample from a known cat to confirm identity. The lab uses a process called PCR (polymerase chain reaction) to copy and amplify specific locations on the cat’s DNA that contain these markers (Tarditi, 2011[1]).

The lab can also test for certain genetic traits or mutations that determine the cat’s physical characteristics. Coat color, pattern, fur length, and texture are all determined by specific genes that can be analyzed from the DNA. Even eye color, body size, and other phenotypic traits are encoded in the cat’s genetic sequence (New Atlas, 2023[2]). By sequencing the relevant genes, the lab can potentially predict the cat’s appearance and breed ancestry from just a hair sample.

In a forensic investigation, the DNA may be tested against samples from crime scenes to link the cat to a suspect or location. Labs can now get a DNA profile from a single cat hair using advanced methods, providing key evidence in criminal cases. However, consumer cat DNA tests for owners are more focused on revealing breed mix, personality traits, and hereditary disease risk from the genetic profile.


Cat DNA test results typically take 2-4 weeks to be processed and returned after the lab receives your cat’s sample. The waiting period allows the lab to properly extract DNA from the sample and analyze it for different genetic markers.

Results are presented in an easy-to-understand online report that can be accessed via the testing company’s website or app after logging into your account. The report outlines any breeds detected in your cat’s ancestry and provides information on genetic health risks and physical traits identified from your cat’s genes.

For example, the Wisdom Panel cat DNA test provides a breed mix analysis showing your cat’s likely breed composition across 5 generations of ancestry. The percentage for each detected breed is shown in a pie chart along with a list of associated traits and characteristics. This can help explain your cat’s appearance, behaviors, and health tendencies.

The report may also indicate genetic mutations associated with diseases like hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) so you can monitor your cat’s health. Photographs of your cat and genetic relatives are often included to further illustrate the results.


The reliability of cat DNA tests using hair samples can vary depending on the type of test and laboratory performing the analysis. According to Wisdom Panel, their tests using hair are 99.99% accurate. However, factors like hair quality, collection method, and database size can affect accuracy.

Hair quality is important – healthy, uncontaminated hair with intact follicles provides more DNA. Plucking hairs can damage follicles versus gently cutting them. Proper storage and handling of the sample prevents degradation.

Bigger breed databases give more precise results. Basepaws tests for the most genetic markers and has a large reference population for comparison. Wisdom Panel also has a robust database.

Overall, hair-based cat DNA tests from reputable companies like Wisdom Panel and Basepaws offer reliable breed ancestry and trait analysis. But factors like hair quality, collection, and database size can affect accuracy. Following best practices helps maximize reliability.


DNA tests using cat hair have some limitations compared to other sample types like blood or saliva. One major challenge with hair samples is that cat hair does not contain nuclear DNA located in the hair root, only mitochondrial DNA found in the hair shaft. This means DNA tests using cat hair cannot determine breed or other genetic traits, only maternal lineage (Lyons, 2014).

Another limitation is that hair samples may contain DNA from multiple cats if they groom each other. This makes the results less reliable compared to a sample directly from one cat. Environmental contamination of the hair can also affect DNA quality and introduce foreign DNA (Veterinary Genetics Laboratory).

In summary, while cat hair contains DNA, it does not provide enough genetic information for breed identification or disease screening. Tests are limited to basic maternal ancestry. Other limitations include potential multi-cat contamination and environmental degradation of DNA quality (Lyons, 2014; Veterinary Genetics Laboratory).


The cost of a cat DNA test using a hair sample can vary depending on the type of testing you want done. Prices typically range from $44-$100 per test [1]. Some of the main factors that influence cost include:

  • Health screening – Tests that screen for genetic diseases or traits cost around $44-50 per cat [2].
  • Breed identification – These tests tend to cost $60-100 per cat.
  • Parentage verification – Confirming parentage costs around $44 per cat.

More extensive testing panels that include multiple tests like health screening, parentage, and breed identification tend to cost $95-150 per cat. Additional fees may apply for expedited results or extra services.

Overall the price to do a cat DNA hair test can range from $44 for a basic single test to around $150 for a more complete panel. Doing multiple individual tests per cat can maximize cost savings compared to bundled panels.


In summary, cat hair can be used for DNA testing in certain situations. The main takeaways are:

  • Mitochondrial DNA can be extracted from hair shafts, even without the root, and analyzed to determine maternal lineage. This allows you to confirm if two cats are related through their mother’s lineage (Mitochondrial DNA Sequencing of Cat Hair: An Informative Forensic Tool for Cat Identification).
  • Nuclear DNA for more detailed testing requires the hair follicle. Tests like breed identification are only possible with the follicle intact (Can I DNA Test A Deceased Cat?).
  • For deceased cats, mitochondrial DNA from hair shafts may provide some ancestral information, but nuclear DNA tests require previously collected samples like blood or cheek swabs.
  • Overall, cat hair can provide useful DNA material, but the type of testing possible depends on whether the hair follicle is present.

In conclusion, while cat hair has limitations, mitochondrial and nuclear DNA extracted from it can offer valuable insights with the right testing methods.

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