At-home DNA tests have proven to be a mainstay in society. Whether you’re looking to discover your ancestry or assess your genetic health risks, acquiring such data is as easy as 1-2-3. And that goes for pets, too! Let’s take a look at everything you need to know about cat DNA tests and some of the best options if you’re looking to purchase.
Why purchase a cat DNA test?
One reason that many pet parents purchase a cat DNA test is simple curiosity about their cat’s breed.
But there are practical reasons to do so, as well: By knowing your cat’s breed and genetic risks, you can better prepare for their overall health and what to expect as they age. For instance, if you learn that your cat is at risk for a breed-specific disease, you might decide to invest in pet insurance early on in your cat’s life, or create a separate savings account in case of emergency. You can also keep an eye out for symptoms associated with those disorders and traits identified as potential future issues.
What does a cat DNA test reveal?
Depending on which kit you purchase, a cat DNA test may reveal breed, ancestry, health risks, and other genetic traits.
A cat DNA test can benefit both breeders and cat parents. While some tests provide more involved information than others, any test should be able to identify a purebred cat. However, domestic cats are a bit trickier: The cat DNA test Basepaws points out that, unlike dogs, most cats do not have purebred ancestors.
Optimal Selection™ provides a feline genetic breeding analysis specific to purebred cats. The at-home swab test helps breeders develop “proactive, sustainable breeding programs” by testing for multiple diseases and traits. For example, a sample from a Ragdoll will detect whether the cat is at risk for hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a heart disorder known to this particular breed. The test relays genetic diversity information for the tested cat, the overall breed population, and the related breed group.
For pet parents simply interested in learning more about their cat, including their potential breed matches—even if they appear to be a plain ol’ domestic shorthair—a cat DNA test like Basepaws can offer a variety of insights.
Basepaws compares your cat’s DNA sequence to sequences from other Basepaws cats and the scientific community. Therefore, the test can tell you which breeds your cat most closely matches, but not the precise percentage of his breed makeup.
So, if your cat has more DNA in common with a certain breed, it indicates that your cat probably shares recent ancestors with cats of that breed (compared to an average cat). The site provides the example that “if your cat is a purebred Bengal, then there is a good chance that it will also be highly related to the Egyptian Mau. This is because Egyptian Maus were originally bred with the Asian leopard cat to create the Bengal breed.”
Another plus from using a cat DNA test is learning about any possible health and wellness risks that may be present in your cat’s DNA. For example, the Feline Comprehensive Genetic Profile from Orivet screens your cat’s DNA sample for over 40 genetic diseases and traits. The test results include information about your cat’s risk for particular diseases, and details about their inherited traits.
It’s important to keep in mind, however, that just because genetic markers show up on a DNA test doesn’t mean your cat will develop the disease. Talk to your vet if you have any concerns about your cat’s current or future health.
How much does a cat DNA test cost?
Costs vary from company to company, but generally start around $100 and run to $400+ for whole genome sequencing.
How do you collect DNA from your cat for testing?
Most at-home kits require you to collect a sample of your cat’s DNA by swabbing the inside of their cheek. Doing so can be an ordeal, so we suggest you try it first while your cat is already napping or sleepy.
The best cat DNA tests
Basepaws arguably popularized cat DNA tests, and has been the leader of at-home feline genetic testing for several years now. Basepaws currently offers three cat DNA tests:
- Breed + Health Test: This comprehensive kit tests a cat’s DNA for all breed groups and breed similarities with the top cat breeds. It also tests for 43 genetic conditions, 3 common dental conditions, and 25 traits, including blood type and resistance to FIV.
- Dental Health Test: This kit screens for microbial signatures associated with the most common oral health conditions in cats: Periodontal Disease, Tooth Resorption, Halitosis (bad breath).
- Whole Genome Test: For the whole she-bang (and $400+), whole genome sequencing gives you access to your cat’s complete genetic information, along with a lifetime of health and breed report updates and a 1-hour consultation with a feline genetics coach.
Optimal Selection™ is geared towards breeders because it offers a testing panel for both pedigreed and mixed-breed cats. The kit includes 40+ genetic health tests, and tests for blood type, physical traits, and genetic diversity. This test doesn’t, however, offer information about a cat’s breed makeup or background.
Orivet offers health-specific screening. You won’t learn anything about your cat’s breed with this DNA test, but you will receive a health risk analysis based on your cat’s genetics, breed, age, weight, gender, and more. One downside: You must know the breeds that make up your cat in order to accurately use this test.
A relative newcomer to the cat scene, Wisdom Panel™ is better known for dog DNA testing. Wisdom Panel™ for cats detects over 70 cat breeds and populations and delivers a breed breakdown (you’ll see a breed mix reported down to 1%). It also includes 45 health tests and 25 trait tests.
Which cat DNA test is right for you depends on what you’re hoping to learn about your kitty. Remember, no DNA test will tell you with 100% certainty what breed your cat is or whether they’ll develop certain health conditions down the line. Our best advice is to see your vet regularly and enjoy your kitty for their uniqueness, regardless of their ancestry!
Header image: © Chris Yarzab / Flickr / CC-BY-SA-2.0