With DNA testing for both pets and humans becoming more popular with each passing month, people are getting accustomed to its benefits. However, as with any new technology, there are still a lot of ways for genetic testing to be improved. In particular, dog DNA tests continue to prove questionable as people seem to misuse them.
For example, a story about a 13-year-old dog named Petunia recently came into the news. The dog started having troubles walking, which concerned her owners. Understandably, they bought a $65 genetic test to see if it can give them some useful information. And it did. The test ended up being positive for a degenerative disease mutation that resembles ALS in humans.
Since that seemed to explain Petunia’s walking problems and spelled a lot of future suffering for the dog, her owners put her to sleep.
While this story seems to talk about the positives of genetic testing, scientists point out that “genetic potential” doesn’t mean “certainty”. Instead, in most cases where a DNA test shows potential for a disease, the chances for this disease to actually form are still small. Or to put it even more plainly – there’s a huge chance that Petunia’s owners killed her needlessly.
That is a real case,” said Dr. Lisa Moses. She is a veterinarian at the MSPCA-Angell Animal Medical Center in Boston. She is also a research scholar on bioethics at Harvard. “And it is one, but there have been many of them. In fact, a number of cases just like that one are what started me thinking about this years ago, when the first genetic tests started to be used routinely.”
“People are trying to make decisions to spare what they see as future suffering — which I totally understand and support,” Moses said. “I just want to make sure that we’re making those decisions for really good reasons.”
A lot of other specialists also side with Dr. Moses. The problem is that while the science behind most dog DNA tests is adequate, they are still treated as “just a business” by most companies.
And selling genetic information about loved ones shouldn’t be treated as selling them waffles.
Dr. Adam Boyko is an associate professor at Cornell and chief scientific officer at the Boston-based testing company Embark Veterinary. He is on record saying that a set of rules for genetic companies should be established.
“We don’t want it to be the Wild West.” Dr. Boyko remarks. “DNA testing done in certified laboratories to high standards, and data being used and shared in a way that accelerates discovery, and owners understand the process, and breeders can use this information to make healthy dogs.”
For now, most scientists such as Dr. Boyko and Dr. Moses seem to agree, that while genetic tests provide valuable information, they should be used mindfully. People should realize what DNA is, what it means, and how to proceed based on information provided by dog DNA tests. And most importantly – they shouldn’t hesitate to ask questions.