Now You Can Test Your Cat’s DNA

Analysis by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

cat dna test

Story at-a-glance -

  • A cat DNA test may reveal how closely related your cat is to certain select cat breeds and wild cats, like lions and tigers
  • Cat DNA tests may also identify abnormalities in certain genes, along with personality and physical traits of your cat
  • A cat DNA test is also available to trace your cat’s lineage and determine which of eight geographic regions your cat descends from
  • If you do decide to have your cat’s DNA tested, understand you’re doing it primarily for fun in these early stages of this technology

Have you ever wondered which of the nearly 50 cat breeds give your kitty her extra-long coat, spots or affinity for water? Or whether your cat’s ancestral roots could tell you something about her risk of certain diseases? “The world’s first” cat DNA test could answer these questions and more — for a price, of course.

The DNA test, by a company called Basepaws, costs $95 and uses your cat’s hair and cheek cells to sequence your cat’s DNA. “More than 99 [percent] of your cat’s genetic sequence will be similar to every other cat,” the company states, but it’s that last 1 percent that’s interesting and unique to your cat.1

What Can You Learn From a Cat DNA Test?

By sequencing your cat’s DNA, Basepaws hopes to learn more about cats as a whole. To be clear, the test sequences 27 million nucleotides of your cat’s DNA, which is only part of the genome, in order to keep it affordable, but they’re saving data on unknown genes to hopefully learn more in the future. (If you want your cat’s entire genome sequenced, they’ll do it for $1,700.)

“Cat genetics has been mostly ignored by scientists (with the exception of a few amazing pioneers in this space!), who often focus on mice and dogs,” they note. With a growing database of kitty DNA to draw from, however, it’s possible they could help to fill in the many knowledge gaps. For now, a cat DNA test will reveal how closely related your cat is to certain select cat breeds and wild cats, like lions and tigers.

It can also identify abnormalities in certain genes, along with personality and physical traits of your cat. They use predictive algorithms to reportedly help identify what diet may be best for your cat as well and even offer more in-depth genetic testing, such as testing specific cellular tissues for gene expression that may be helpful for cats suffering from certain diseases, like cancer.

They’re also working on studying genetically occurring diseases in pets and will provide free test kits to certain cats suffering from certain diseases, such as irritable bowel syndrome, asthma or allergy. The company also promises to update customers on emerging genetic data that’s relevant to their cat as more becomes available.

If you do decide to have your cat’s DNA tested, be sure you’re doing it primarily for fun and take the results with a grain of salt, especially those related to diet. As Debbie Phillips-Donaldson, editor-in-chief of Petfood Industry, stated, while there’s large variability in the DNA of dogs, which comprise about 160 different breeds, this isn’t the case with cats.

“There are only about 50 cat breeds worldwide, and among those, there is really not that much variation, give or take a brachycephalic face here or folded ears there,” she said.

“So, even if Basepaws’ database grows, will there truly be enough information available to accurately indicate specific nutrition needs for individual cats? And would that information be understandable and actionable enough to really help cat owners in making feeding choices? I question if even veterinarians would find much use for this information.”2

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What Researchers Learned When They Analyzed Ancient Cat DNA

It’s not only modern-day cats’ DNA that holds interest for researchers. Ancient cat DNA also holds a number of as-yet-undiscovered secrets. One relatively new revelation came from researchers with the University of Leuven in Belgium, who analyzed the mitochondrial DNA (which is passed down from mothers to offspring) of 209 ancient cats’ remains.

Some of the samples were up to 8,500 years old and came from around the world, including Bulgaria and Romania, Egypt, Spain, Iran, Kenya and Tanzania. By tracking mutations in the DNA, researchers were able to uncover dates and ancestry of the remains, which revealed cats as we know them today likely emerged during at least two separate domestication events.3

Wild cats from both Near Eastern and Egyptian populations contributed to the gene pool of today’s domestic cats, but at different times in history. It’s thought cats from South Asia reached Europe around 4400 BC, while a separate lineage of cats was represented in paintings and mummies found in Egyptian tombs; DNA from the Egyptian cat was widespread by the year 1000.

Also intriguing, it’s thought that cats won over humans more so due to their behaviors than their looks. This may explain why cats haven’t changed much in terms of size or body shape the way dogs have.

Your Cat’s Ancestry Can Also Be Traced

Although Basepaws bills its DNA test as the world’s first, the Lyon's Feline Genetics Laboratory in the Department of Population Health and Reproduction, at the School of Veterinary Medicine of the University of California at Davis, has developed a test of their own, which traces the lineage of your cat.4

Similar to the Basepaws test, you swab your cat’s cheek, send in the sample and the cat ancestry test will determine some unique information about where your cat comes from. In this case, they call the test a “novelty” to determine which of the following eight geographic regions your cat descends from:

Western Europe

Egypt

East Mediterranean

Iran/Iraq

Arabian Sea

India

South Asia

East Asia

Since cats have historically been under-represented in research studies, and continue to be largely overlooked to this day, the insights gleaned from cat DNA tests can only add to our knowledge about these intriguing animals.

As noted by UC Davis, most cat breeds are less than 100 years old, which means your cat’s wild roots may still be very much apparent. If you’re curious about where your cat may originate from — or what breeds or wild cats he’s closest to — there’s no harm in trying a kitty DNA test, and possibly much to learn.

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