Health benefits of DNA testing


Lindsey Kock, DVM, and Jenna Dockweiler, MS DVM, DACT, CCRT, CVAT dive into the health benefits of DNA testing and how it can strengthen the human animal bond.

Sponsored by Embark

Adam Christman, DVM, MBA: How does knowing a dog's genetic background make visits to the clinic easier for both the practitioner and for the pet owner?

Lindsey Kock, DVM: I mean, it's such a great way to really be prepared, right? The whole care team can be prepared. So as a veterinarian, you can be on the lookout for different conditions that you may not otherwise be on the lookout for and make whittling down those lists of differential diagnoses a lot easier. It also prepares your veterinary technicians, your front office staff, the pet owners as well, on things that they could know about their dog to help enrich its life. To help them take better care of their pet is such a great start on really providing great health care from the whole team throughout their life.

Adam Christman, DVM, MBA: Like a team care approach to genetic counseling, right? Love it. What are some of the health benefits that we could talk about with the DNA testing?

Jenna Dockweiler, MS DVM, DACT, CCRT, CVAT: We can test for about 250 health conditions currently, and that covers all body systems. There are skin conditions, there are urinary conditions. You name it, we can test for various conditions that affect the dog. And then kind of the other side of that is knowing the breed actually can be quite helpful for health conditions as well. Breed mix is often very difficult to determine visually. So, for example, many golden retriever mixes are going to be black and they're going to have short hair. They're not going to necessarily look anything like a golden retriever mix. But if you have a patient who comes in, who maybe is, 70% golden retriever but doesn't necessarily look like a golden retriever, I would bet you're going to check those lymph nodes extra close at each of their wellness exams.

Adam Christman, DVM, MBA: Yes. If you guys ever get a chance to go to the conferences, you'll see their Embark booth that's there. It is so funny because there's so many “aha” moments that the whole crowd gets because they think they know what the dog is made up of and then when they show the results they’re like, “oh my gosh”. They have these “aha” moments. What do you think that means to the veterinarian too when they see those results? Like that's got to be so powerful knowing how they're going to go ahead and practice and take care of that pet.

Jenna Dockweiler, MS DVM, DACT, CCRT, CVAT: Absolutely. And it can, like you say, be very surprising what those results come back as, and that can really help you narrow down some differential lists.

Adam Christman, DVM, MBA: Yeah, big time. How does genetic testing help strengthen the human animal bond?

Lindsey Kock, DVM: I think it's interesting in veterinary medicine. I think that genetic testing and, you know, the breed part of that is one of the few diagnostic tests we get to do that's fun. I think a lot of times when we do diagnostic tests, it's usually looking for a disease, it's preparing for a surgical procedure. Talking through a CBC chem is nothing like getting to discover what breed your dog is. I’m speaking as a pet owner too, and just how neat that is to find out about your pet. So, I think there's that piece of strengthening the bond, that it's fun. But the second piece of that and having that positive experience is being able to focus on the more serious side of genetics. So regardless of if it's a mixed breed dog or if it's a purebred dog, we all have DNA, right? And that tells a story about that animal's health and some things we can do throughout their life. So, you know, things like making diet recommendations, looking out for different health conditions. And I think that really strengthens the bond in knowing that you're doing all that you can do to take care of your pet and take care of that patient as a veterinarian too.

Adam Christman, DVM, MBA: It seems to me that pet owners are so much more passionate about DNA tests and then sometimes the veterinarians are, almost as if we don't have enough time to go over those kinds of results or whatnot. So, I'm curious to get your feedback on that. When a pet owner actually is recommending that they want to DNA test their dog and the veterinarian may show some trepidation to that, how do you go about leveraging that conversation?

Lindsey Kock, DVM: I think sometimes veterinarians will say, “well you know the vast majority of the time it's normal. There's nothing there.” I think that as a veterinarian myself, we tend to look for the problems. That's natural. That's our job, but I think a negative test and knowing that it's clear of all the markers that we're testing for is awesome. We need to remember that. That's a positive experience for that client. It’s a way that we can build trust with them. It's a way that they can learn about their pet. And gosh, I mean, all the things that you can find out with genetics that may be rare. I'm thinking about all the things that you would want to know before a surgical procedure—clotting disorders, different sensitivities to the anesthetic drugs, and pre-meds that we use, right? So malignant hyperthermia, not super common. But if you have a sight hound with that mutation, that's a huge deal, right? MDR mutations, sensitivity to acepromazine, butorphanol, things that we use a lot of times with pre-meds. So, when you do find those zebras, so to speak, it's impactful.

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