Last updated August 1, 2018 at 10:12 am
Pet genetic testing is not offering useful insight to pet owners, due to lack of regulation.
The love between a pet owner and their pet is limitless. Some owners are prepared to dig very deep into their wallets.
Looking after your pets is an expensive industry especially with countless companies offering pet genetic testing.
Global trends have shown that owners are spending more than ever; the worldwide annual spend on pet care is estimated to be about US$109 billion.
Genetic testing for your pets is a newcomer into the industry, but with unregulated practices, experts are warning not to fall for weak science.
In a brutal commentary piece in Nature Comment, Lisa Moses, Steve Niemi, and Elinor Karlsson, write about the three major problems with pet genetic testing.
The authors suggest for more regulation. They recommend that five steps be taken immediately, including the sharing of pet genetic databases from industry, academia and government agencies, and the establishment of pet genetic counselors to explain ― to owners and to vets ― what genetic testing is and what test results may mean.
Lack of validation
Finding a gene associated with a risk of disease is not always the same as it causing the disease.
“In both humans and animals, mapping genetic variants to risk of disease is incredibly challenging,” write the authors, “But most dog genetic tests are based on studies of candidate genes, which is a problematic approach.”
“In such studies, researchers test a handful of human or animal genes for mutations that both match an expected inheritance pattern.”
Even if you have the test results, there’s very few case studies that check the accuracy of the genetic test’s health predictions.
“Currently, pet owners can purchase the tests directly from companies and obtain results that ostensibly report on risk for more than 100 different diseases for less than $200, and some kits provide a ‘health report’ to take to the vet,” caution the authors.
Tsunami of data
Veterinary medicine is just one of many sciences that is being impacted by genomic data.
Whilst genetic testing has useful potential to predict the risk of common pet diseases, the science is still not quite there to provide enough confidence that it will be useful.
At the moment, many vets don’t know enough about genetic studies to be able to advise owners who have received test results. The interpretation of this data is yet to be fully understood.
The trusted use of data by for-profit companies remains an important debate.
Five steps for taming the wilderness of pet genetic testing
The authors propose five steps to address to prepare for a future of genomic data for pets.
- Establish standards – standardise testing methodology across the industry and for the reporting of results
- Create guidelines – stakeholders should work together to develop guidelines that ideally would be adopted worldwide, similar to ethics guidelines in research
- Share data – existing pet genetic databases from industry, academia, and government, should be shared
- Recruit tools and expertise – call in bioinformaticians, computer scientists, machine learning experts, and others to manage and analyse big data
- Educate counsellors – there should be professionals who can provide pet owners and vets with advice and support following a genetic test
The commentary article was published in Nature Comment.