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How Accurate Is Cat DNA Testing? What You Need To Know!

Keri-Beth Clur

By Keri-Beth Clur

veterinarian feeds the cat using a syringe

If you’re passionate about finding out where your cat came from—their unique genetic traits, wild cat index, and predisposed health risks—then a cat DNA test is what you need. Some people are concerned about the accuracy of these tests. However, vets and geneticists have developed many of them, and they’re surprisingly accurate.

Most pet DNA tests are relatively accurate, but there haven’t been enough large scale studies to test exactly how accurate they are. Different companies use different methods when testing DNA and a reputable laboratory will validate their results. There has been no peer-reviewed research or publications on the accuracy of the results.

Of course, where you purchase and how much you pay for your at-home cat DNA test will determine the level of accuracy in the results you get back. For the most effective, accurate, and in-depth information, use cat DNA tests that have been developed by recognized and well-supported brands, such as Basepaws and Wisdom Panel.

One thing to remember is that while dog breeds are typically clear-cut due to breeding for certain traits, behaviors, and skills, cats are not. Cat breeds were only identified and developed a few centuries ago. Therefore, there’s a lot more information and data on dog breeds and less on cat genetics.

How Accurate is a Cat DNA Test?

Wisdom Panel Complete Cat DNA Test

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Acat DNA test is an easy, at-home DNA kit that comes with clear and easy-to-understand instructions on the inside of the box. It also comes with a swab that you need to use to collect your cat’s DNA, by simply rubbing it on the inside of your cat’s cheek for around 10 seconds.

Once you’ve collected your cat’s DNA, place the swab into the provided tube and back into the box. Lastly, you’ll have to send it back to whichever company you got your kit from, and they’ll send it to the lab for processing.

Depending on which cat DNA kit you bought, you’ll receive an in-depth report on your cat’s ancestry, traits, health risks, blood type, and wild cat index. The company will compare your cat’s DNA with other cat’s DNA in their database and provide you with information on the breeds your cat is the most similar to. You may also be able to discuss your cats’ results with the company veterinarian.

The Wisdom Panel reports being able to give your cats breed make up down to 1% however it does not state the accuracy of the health panel for cats, another website claims it to be 90% accurate.

A cat DNA report can highlight health problems that your cat’s genetic makeup is predisposed to, allowing you to discuss with your vet and take the necessary precautions to best care for your cat. Once you know what your cat does or doesn’t need, you can adjust their diet and lifestyle accordingly.

Knowing what breeds your cat is made up of will also help you understand why they look or behave a certain way. This test also helps you discover a bit more about your cat if you adopted it, as in these cases records and information about your cat are often few or non-existent.

How to Get the Most Accurate Readings

Although a lab processes the DNA and provides you with the results, it’s your responsibility to gather enough uncontaminated DNA from your cat’s mouth for them to process. Otherwise, the swab may not be usable. Another factor that will prevent you from receiving an accurate report is if the swab gets cross-contaminated with another pet’s DNA.

There are a few tips to get the most accurate readings:
  1. Don’t test a kitten that is still nursing. You can test the DNA of a cat regardless of its age. However, if it’s still nursing and in close contact with other kittens, the swab may be unusable due to cross-contamination.
  2. Keep your cat isolated before testing. Keep your cat in a room alone and out of reach from other pets for about an hour before testing to avoid cross-contamination.
  3. Don’t give your cat food or water. Food and contaminants in water can result in a poor test. Don’t let your cat eat or drink anything for an hour before the test.
  4. Don’t touch the swab tip. It is possible to mix your DNA with your cat’s by touching the swab tip or dropping it on the ground. Be careful when handling the swab and only touch it where you’ve been instructed to.
  5. Wait until your cat is relaxed. Avoid testing your cat when they’re in a playful mood, as it’ll make holding the swab in your cat’s cheek pocket for 10 seconds very difficult. If your cat keeps breaking free from the swab, you may not get enough DNA, or you may end up cross-contaminating the swab during the struggle. Working with your cat when they’re relaxed will be a smoother process.

Should All Cats Be DNA Tested?

Cat getting blood sample
Image Credit: SingingMedia, Shutterstock

There is no rule that requires all cat owners to DNA test their cats. Many people perform the tests out of curiosity or to uncover health risks that their cat may have or encounter.

However, many people feel strongly that all cats should be DNA tested. When you buy or adopt a cat they become your responsibility, including their health. Performing a DNA test on your cat could be vital for their health as it brings awareness to you and the vet regarding their unique health risks, allowing you to care for them appropriately. But remember these tests are still in their infancy and there are no large scale studies showing the reliability of these tests for disease detection.  They are useful for discovering your cat’s blood type which may be needed if they become unwell.

You’re also given the opportunity to change their diet and lifestyle to better suit their medical needs.

Can You Use a Cat DNA Test on Other Pets?

A cat DNA test can be performed on a pedigree or mixed-breed cat by you, a breeder, or a vet.

However, you cannot use a cat DNA test on any other animal apart from cats. This is because the animal’s DNA will be compared with the cat DNA in the database, ready to match up and determine the breed it’s most similar to. If you use horse DNA on a cat DNA test, for example, it won’t match with any of the database’s DNA.

Specific DNA test kits are available for dogs, horses, and birds.

Conclusion

Overall, cat DNA testing is mostly accurate. If you buy a DNA test for your cat, you’ll be pleased to know a bit of its origin and whether you need to take action to prevent any health risks from affecting it.

DNA testing on your cat is easy to do but be careful to avoid cross-contamination to get the most accurate results possible. Remember, you can only test one cat at a time, and you cannot use the cat DNA test on any other pet, except for a cat.


Featured Image Credit: frantic00, Shutterstock

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