Taking its lead from the 2010 U.S. Census forms out for completion this year, Mars is asking pet owners to complete an online National Mutt Census for their mixed-breed dogs.
The website muttcensus.com was recently launched to promote not only the survey, but also Mars’ at-home DNA test for pet owners who want to learn the ancestry of their mixed breed dogs.
Sometime in the fall after the census is complete, Mars will publish results of the survey as well as a compilation of DNA test results.
Estimates are that about half the dogs in the U.S. are mutts, and well over three quarters of dog owners are unsure of their pup’s breed ancestry.
You love your dog regardless of his genetic makeup, of course. But parents of mixed breed dogs are growing more interested these days in learning about the specific genetic identities of their lovable mutts.
Is Learning My Dog’s Breed Really Important?
Besides plain old curiosity about the genetic makeup of your dog, knowing which breeds are predominant can help you fine-tune the care you give him.
For example, if your mutt resembles a retriever but has no interest in playing fetch, it’s possible retriever isn’t his significant breed identity. He could be more herder than retriever.
Or if your pup has what you consider a bad habit – digging or barking, perhaps – it’s possible she’s exhibiting a natural tendency for her primary breed. If you learn why your pup performs certain behaviors, you’ll be in a better position to channel that energy into more productive activities.
The health of your dog is another important reason to learn her breed ancestry.
Your Mixed Breed Dog May Be Predisposed to Certain Disorders
Different dog breeds have different inherited disease tendencies, so knowing what conditions or disorders to watch out for in your pup can help you give him the best care possible for his health and longevity.
For example, you might discover through DNA testing that your dog is at least 50 percent one of the following breeds:
- Golden Retriever
These breeds are known to be prone to allergies. And if you discover your mutt is, say, half Terrier and half Dalmatian, you know you’ve got a dog that might have an inherited tendency toward allergic sensitivity from both sides of the aisle.
That knowledge can help you learn how to prevent and treat allergies in your pet.
Another example of why DNA testing could be important to your dog’s health is the increasing incidence of canine cancers in certain breeds.
Nearly 40 percent of Boxers and Giant Schnauzers die of cancer, and there is a rising trend in lymphoma cancers at young ages in certain breeds including Basset Hounds, Poodles and Rottweilers.
Suppose you learn through DNA testing your dog is predominantly a breed at high risk for developing canine cancer.
Armed with that knowledge, you can seek out a holistic vet in your area who will work with you to bring your pup to optimal natural health through nutrition and lifestyle adjustments, if necessary. This will help your dog resist the diseases she’s prone to, and better fight them if she must.
Help! My Lapdog Won’t Sit Still!
Let’s say you’ve adopted a small mixed breed dog from your local shelter. (This is a wonderful way to add a dog to your family, by the way, and I applaud you!)
You did your homework and decided a Chihuahua would perfectly suit your home and lifestyle. You wanted a compact dog that would curl up in your lap for the evening after dinner and a few minutes of indoor playtime.
Chihuahuas are small, require minimal grooming, love to cuddle with their people, and have less strenuous exercise requirements.
At the shelter, you found a little fellow that seemed a perfect match. He was around 10 pounds, described as a “Chihuahua mix,” and when you stopped at his enclosure to get a closer look at him, he jumped up and down, so excited was he to come home with you.
So now you’re Paco’s new parent. And he’s turning out to be the perfect little companion … except for one small but surprising problem. Paco, the Chihuahua with low exercise requirements, never sits still.
He’s 10 pounds of constant motion. The only time he even touches your lap is when he uses it as a launch pad to shoot himself halfway across your living room in his seemingly unquenchable thirst for physical activity of any kind.
As you contemplate this blur of fur dressed as a lapdog, your mind is filled with questions. Is this canine ADHD? Is there too much sugar in the food you’re feeding Paco? Is it bad breeding? Are Chihuahua’s known to be mentally unbalanced?
Then it hits you – Paco is a Chihuahua mix. So now you’re wondering just what, exactly, is in this mix? You take little Paco for a DNA test at your veterinarian’s office.
And guess what? While Paco does have some Chihuahua in him, his predominant breed is Parson Russell Terrier, also known as the Jack Russell Terrier. “Jacks” as they are affectionately called are considered to be among the most energetic, athletic, determined and intense of all the dog breeds.
So now you know the truth – your lapdog doesn’t need a nap, he needs a gym membership and a personal trainer.
Armed with that information, you can re-set your expectations for Paco and learn to help him expend all that energy in ways you can both appreciate.
The good news is after appropriate amounts of mental and physical stimulation, Paco will be happy to crash in your lap for the evening. And you’ll have peace of mind knowing exactly what your canine companion needs to be healthy and happy.
How Can I Get My Dog’s DNA Tested?
Many veterinarian offices do DNA testing.
Do-it-yourselfers can order a home kit online from Mars, Inc., or any number of other canine DNA test kit manufacturers.
You can also pick up a test kit at your local pet specialty store like PetSmart or Petco.