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I Had My Dog Take a DNA & Health Test So I Could Learn How to Prolong Her Lifespan

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Meet Pepper. She’s a three-year-old German Shepherd-Cane Corso mix (emphasis on German Shepherd—she’s 75 percent, according to the neighbor from whom I adopted her). Likes: Belly rubs, morning zoomies, and pepperoni as a bedtime snack. Dislikes: When I leave for work, if I give my other dog “too much” attention, and anyone who has the audacity to ring the doorbell. I know as much as I can about Pepper: her health — according to annual vet visits — is in good shape, and she doesn’t seem to have any allergies, aside from dry skin from time to time.

But I could always learn more, so that not only would I know for sure what her genetic markers say about her overall health and prognosis. That way, I can take the steps needed to make sure she lives a long, happy life. Since she’s a large breed (90 pounds!) I know she runs the risk of hip dysplasia and heart disease. She’s not the most active dog (my other dog, a purebred GSD, can circle laps around her — Pepper mostly just wants to cuddle), so we’re already careful about how many treats we give her (and make sure the ingredients are as wholesome as possible). Luckily, there’s a way to be even more proactive: You can test for genetic risk factors (and breed traits) with a DNA test, and the one I’m currently testing is Basepaws Breed + Health Dog DNA Test ($85, originally $149).

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Basepaws Dog DNA Test

How Basepaws Breed + Health Dog DNA Test Works

Completing the Basepaws Dog DNA Test is pretty simple: You sign up on, create an account and register your kit — this is where your pup’s information will be stored, and you’ll get emails notifying you that Basepaws received the kit and that the sample is being sequenced (and eventually you’ll get a messaging saying the results are in, which you would then check on the website).

Once you set up your account, open the packaging, which has two key parts: A swab, and a tube containing stabilizing liquid. You take the swab and run it along your dog’s gums and cheek pockets for 5-10 seconds, fully coating it with saliva. Then, put the swab into the tube and make sure it’s sealed. Lastly, you send it off (shipping is free). The whole process takes about three minutes, and that’s including the sign-up process. From there, you should get your results 4-6 weeks later.

Photo: Gina Vaynshteyn
Photo: Gina Vaynshteyn

We spoke with  Anya Ryan, Head of Marketing at Basepaws, who explained the process even further. “The oral swab that a pet parent uses for our feline and canine DNA tests provides Basepaws with a saliva sample. From this sample we extract DNA and sequence a pet’s genetic material to uncover: 1. A pet’s risk for potentially developing a genetic disease based on the genetic markers we screen for. 2. A pet’s risk (the cat DNA test has this info, the dog DNA test will have it in 2024) for having — at the time of testing — a current, actively developing dental disease that, if left untreated, can lead to other systemic diseases such as diabetes, a heart condition, or kidney disease.”

We asked how exactly Basepaws is able to identify dog breeds, and their team explained that it’s a process of comparing hundreds of different canine breeds in their database. “For our breed analysis, we compare sections of your dog’s DNA to the DNA from over 300 different canine breeds that are in our proprietary canine genomic database and public databases,” Ryan says. “As we make these comparisons, we find regions of similarity and dissimilarity between your dog’s DNA and the DNA of the dogs in these databases.”

Ryan adds, “Based on this comprehensive analysis of your dog’s DNA, we display your dog’s top breed matches. Each match is associated with what we call a ‘breed similarity score.’ This is simply a ranking system to reflect the level of similarity that your dog’s DNA shares with each of their breed matches, starting with the highest level of shared similarity they have with a particular breed, down to the lowest level of shared similarity. Genomic similarity is rated on a scale of 0 to 10.”

While it’s great to know more about your dog, the best use this kit has is actually for their health. “DNA testing your pet is more for potential health risks than breed. In these cases, breed similarities have little value other than for ‘fun.’ It’s more important to identify any potential genetic mutations so lifestyle changes, vigilant monitoring, or medical interventions can be pursued,” Ryan says, adding, “The genetic health section of your dog’s report indicates the diseases that they have clear, carrier, or at-risk results for. Taken together, your dog’s breed plus health results help you to get a glimpse into their genomic similarity to different breeds and the genetic health conditions that they may be at risk for.”

My Honest Review of Basepaws Breed + Health Dog DNA Test

Taking Pepper’s sample and completing the process so I can send off my Basepaws Breed + Health Dog DNA Test was simple and really quick. The instructions are easy to follow and also include illustrations, which I was thankful for, because the swabbing part kind of freaked Pepper out. While the swab shouldn’t hurt (it’s just a soft cotton swab), she didn’t like how it felt, and certainly made that very known. I rubbed the cotton swab along her gums — both sides, for good measure — for 10 seconds. Sealing the tube and packing it back into the box the tools came from took a couple minutes.

Photo: Gina Vaynshteyn
Photo: Gina Vaynshteyn

I mailed the DNA kit on October 31, and on November 2, I got an email saying Pepper’s kit has been received. On November 16, I received an email letting me know that her DNA sample was being sequenced (this is where DNA is analyzed). The next time I got an update from the Basepaws team was December 15 — about six weeks after I sent in the kit. Unfortunately, Pepper’s sample got contaminated somehow. It may have been due to food she still had in her mouth (I tried to make sure she didn’t eat anything for at least a couple hours before I collected the sample, but it’s very possible she found a “snack”). Samples can also get compromised if your dog is taking any meds. Pepper wasn’t, so I don’t think that was the case here.

With this update, Basepaws recommended they send a replacement kit completely free of charge, which I opted for. The kit arrived 2-3 days later, and we plan on re-taking the sample. While I’m bummed I didn’t get Pepper’s results — because I truly am excited to see what her breed traits and genetic health markers are so that we can be as proactive about her health and wellness as possible — I’m really impressed the Basepaws team came up with a solution right away.

What Makes Basepaws Breed + Health Dog DNA Test So Cool

While I’m definitely curious if Pepper indeed is a German Shepherd-Cane Corso mix (and if she’s perhaps a mix of other breeds, she certainly has the cuddly-ness of a lab), I’m mostly interested in her genetic health markers. With two large breeds, I’ve done extensive research on behavioral traits as well as common health concerns as they get older, so that I can train them properly and give them the nutrients and care for a (long!) life well-lived.

For example, large breeds can develop joint and hip issues, so my two get vitamin “treats” every day with their dinner. And they’re always up-to-date on their annual vet visits and vaccinations. But if there’s more I can do, you bet I’m doing it, which is why I was really excited to try Basepaws.

Basepaws has partnerships with veterinary professionals and university researchers, which allows them to collect clinical data and studies, and get samples from pets that match study criteria. They’ve also done studies of their own, using Basepaws customer data (with their consent!). All this to say: Basepaws has a breadth of knowledge and data it uses to sequence samples and give pet parents actually helpful results they can put into action. Results can indicate increased risk for specific diseases so that pets can get the care they need earlier on — when it matters most.

Dogs are only with us for such a short time — and large dogs get the shortest lifespan of all. I know I want to make sure mine live their fullest, longest, healthiest life — and that they’re happy every day. Stay tuned for Pepper’s results! I’ll be sharing everything I receive from the Basepaws team, and what my next steps for her may be.

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