Cayman Compass: Tracing your dog’s heritage


(Published in the Cayman Compass, April 4, 2014)

Ever wondered the mystery behind your dog’s mutt-dom? Thanks to the modern marvel of doggie DNA testing, pet owners can now unravel the mystery behind their four-legged friend’s ancestry. 
Cayman Animal Hospital is offering quarterly DNA clinics exposing dogs for what they really are, genetically speaking, of course, and offering an interesting insight into the gene pool of Cayman’s island dogs.

“In two years, we have tested over 40 dogs,” said Jessica Manson, the veterinarian nurse who runs the DNA clinic. “The majority have been ‘island dogs’ and there have been a few breeds that have dominated. Specifically, Chow Chow, Akita, German Shepherd, Shar Pei, Great Pyrenees and Labrador. Office manager Nadine Brandson, who has been working at CAH for more than 15 years, remembers that years ago there was a male Shar Pei who roamed the streets of South Sound.

“She also recalls that the previous owner of Cayman Pet Paradise had a pair of breeding Great Pyrenees. It is highly likely this is how their genetics have been mixed up in the island dog gene pool,” she said.

Dog breed DNA testing initially became available in 2007. Over the years, more companies have jumped on the bandwagon, offering DNA kits that are able to detect a growing list of breeds. Interestingly, the tests work by detecting not the genes, but genetic markers, small mutations within each genome which form signatures particular to each breed.

While DNA testing offers a bit of fun for dog enthusiasts, Manson said that knowing your dog’s breed mix is important to better understanding not only your dog’s personality, but also its health.

“Many dogs are known for certain traits,” Manson said. “Labradors, for example, are laid back, loyal, enthusiastic, happy disposition, water lovers. German Shepherds are intelligent, protective, loyal and shy, while Shih Tzu are affectionate, happy, outgoing, companion dogs.

“Knowing your dog’s DNA genetic profile enables you to understand their personality traits and any potential genetic health concerns,” she said. “This is particularly helpful when training your pet and learning how they might react when integrated into the household, or simply may help you understand them a little better and, therefore, help you to accommodate their idiosyncrasies.

“From a health point of view, perhaps the dog has genetics that are associated with chronic disease, such as hip dysplasia, that we see all too commonly in our larger breed dogs.”

My experience 

I’ve always wondered what brew of canine breeds my rescue dog Daisy is. Over the years I’ve had a whole host of breeds suggested by enthusiastic dog lovers and veterinarians, with husky-mix always being the front runner. It turns out her predominant breed is Akita – no surprises there – with a little bit of American Staffordshire Terrier, Bull Terrier and a slight hint of St. Bernard. Akita makes sense; St. Bernard is certainly a surprise.


Testing is simple, painless and takes a matter of minutes. A swab is taken from the dog’s cheek to obtain unique cells, packaged and sent to a genotyping clinic in the United States. The clinic tests for more than 125 common dog breeds and then breaks down the predominant breeds detected into four levels.

“Level 1” contains a majority of one specific breed, 75 percent or greater. Most mixed-breed dogs will not usually have a breed in this category unless one or both of their parents are purebred.

“Level 2” lists breeds made up between 37 to 74 percent, followed by “Level 3” at 20 to 36 percent, “Level 4” for 10 to 20 percent of the breed DNA, and finally “Level 5” for breeds carried over from several generations, which is where Daisy’s surprise St. Bernard fell.

Results typically take around two to three weeks and include a photo certificate and full report on your dog’s dominant breed’s personality traits and health issues.

“From our point of view, we have had a few ‘surprises’ but really nothing you wouldn’t believe,” Manson adds. “Some folks are shocked and dismiss the results, but after some thought they start to see personality traits within their pet. As for physical traits, some results are clearly obvious, but in many ‘island dogs,’ there are a number of breeds detected but their physical appearance may lend to only one type or something completely unexpected.”

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