Pet Age recently spoke with Ryan Boyko, who launched Embark Veterinary Inc. in 2015 with his brother Adam Boyko. Embark’s dog DNA tests help dog owners, breeders and veterinarians learn about their dog’s breed, health and ancestry. Embark is an official research partner of Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine and was named to the Inc. 5000 list for the past two years.
How does an Embark dog DNA test work and what is covered in the results?
Embark’s veterinarian-developed dog DNA test helps pet owners learn about their dog’s breed, ancestry and health. The test itself is simple: A cheek swab and instructions are included in the kit, and a sample is taken in under a minute at home by swabbing your dog’s cheek. The sample is then mailed back to Embark with the included pre-paid return envelope.
Once it arrives at our state-of-the-art, CLIA-certified, dog-approved lab facility, your dog’s DNA is extracted and analyzed by our custom-built genetics chip, a proprietary DNA microarray with over 230,000 markers. This produces an incredibly detailed view of your dog’s genome, which is run through our bioinformatics pipeline. Your dog’s results go through several steps for verification and quality control developed by our scientific experts, so you know you can trust our findings.
When results are delivered online two to four weeks after the swab is received, they cover your dog’s breed, ancestry and health. We test for over 350 breeds — even wolf, coyote, dingo and village dog ancestry, covering over 98 percent of dogs in America. Embark is also the only test that can test for village dogs, and we can even distinguish where those village dogs come from.
Embark also tests for over 210 genetic health risks, and that number will increase as we complete more research.
How do the test results help improve a dog’s health?
Because Embark tests for over 210 genetic health risks, dog owners can learn if their dog is at risk for a specific genetic health condition, driving changes that improve their dog’s overall health. That can mean anything from adjusting exercise routines, changing diet, shifting veterinary diagnostics and more. In fact, 75 percent of dogs tested by Embark are either at risk for, or a carrier of, a genetic disease, and 61 percent of customers plan to adjust their dog’s routine or feel more prepared to be a good pet parent after testing with Embark.
Genetic testing is also a significant tool in a breeder’s toolkit that has a big impact on improving the health of dogs — breeders use Embark to optimize and refine their breeding program through a unique suite of tools and services: All participants have access to Embark’s in-house veterinary geneticists for individualized genetic counseling, and Embark’s pair checker evaluates potential mating dogs, with a dedicated customer service team that analyzes each proposed pair to identify optimal genetic matches that maximize the health and success of a potential litter.
Additionally, every dog owner who opts into sharing their dog’s genetic data empowers us to make future genetic discoveries — we use those genetic samples, as well as the surveys we ask dog owners to complete, to actually discover the genetic causes of diseases we don’t currently know what genes are responsible for. The more dogs that are tested, the better we are able to drive new discoveries — ultimately helping achieve our goal of extending dogs’ lives by three years within the decade.
Beyond health, what else can the test results reveal about a dog?
Embark also offers the world’s only canine DNA relative finder. Dog owners who test their dogs with Embark can find and connect with other dogs who share their dog’s DNA. In fact, 90 percent of dogs tested with Embark will have at least one dog in Embark’s database as genetically related as human first cousins, and 12 percent of dogs tested with Embark discover their dog’s siblings, parents or offspring.
Not only does this feature generate fun connections and even some family reunion puppy playdates, but it also contributes to the health benefits of genetic testing your dog. While the genetic link hasn’t yet been discovered for all canine health conditions, learning your dog’s family medical history via other dog owners with related dogs can be crucial in your dog’s care plan.
What are the benefits for a pet retailer or veterinarian who carries the Embark dog DNA test?
Pet wellness, like human wellness, is a fast growing market in the United States. Retailers and veterinarians carrying Embark’s dog DNA test have the opportunity to put themselves at the forefront of veterinary genomics by partnering with a science-forward company to improve care for dogs everywhere. Specifically, veterinarians can achieve better patient outcomes, generate economic value for the practice, advance veterinary medicine and strengthen bonds with pet owners by carrying Embark.