Embark Overview: Reveal New Facts About Your Dog
Wondering about DNA testing for dogs? Maybe you already know a little bit about them, and are wondering which test is best: Wisdom Panel vs. Embark vs. Orivet vs. dozens of others. So, how do you know which is the best canine DNA test to learn more about your furry companion?
My dog, Kate, is a mixed-breed female from a local rescue group. We adopted her as a young adult, so it left us with questions like, “Is she susceptible to any genetic diseases?” and “What breeds does she represent?”
To figure it out, I researched all of the details about the best Dog DNA tests. Then Kat and I tried Embark. This canine DNA test has three areas of expertise:
- Breed Identification
- Genetic Health Risks
- Physical Traits
Overall, Embark proved to be very accurate, easy to use, and useful for me and my dog. It might not be suitable for dog breeders since it doesn’t reveal parentage, but it’s certainly a great choice for anyone interested in their dog’s breed and health.
How Embark Works: Simple, With Results In Just a Couple Weeks
The Embark dog DNA test kit contains all the supplies and instructions you’ll need, including:
- Pictorial directions
- Cheek swab
- Return shipping packaging
- Pre-paid label
The DNA test for dogs is simple to use, assuming that your dog is alright with participating. If you can brush your dog’s teeth for about 20 seconds, collecting the sample shouldn’t be an issue. And – if something does go wrong – just contact Embark’s Customer Service and you’ll get a free replacement sent!
Fortunately, the sample collection went well for us.
Sample processing happens according to the highest scientific standards, in a CLIA-certified laboratory that is specifically approved for processing canine samples. If there are any anomalies in the data, they are reviewed by leading veterinarians and canine scientists.
Embark sent many emails in between my kit activation and actually sending my results. Getting step-by-step emails about the sample processing helped build my excitement leading up to the results. So, I was a little disappointed after four weeks when the results came in multiple pieces spread out over a few days. Personally, I’d prefer to receive all of the results at once.
Embark Products and Services
Embarks’s Dog Breed DNA Test
Embark’s dog breed DNA test reveals so much information about your dog and your dog’s ancestral history! I was surprised at how many different facts the breed identification section covers. This includes:
- The breed(s) contributing to your dog’s unique genetic signature
- A family tree going back three generations that shows when those breeds entered your dog’s ancestry
- Other dogs that have a similar breed-mix to your dog
- Haplotype assignments using mitochondrial DNA and (for male dogs) Y-DNA
- A canine relative finder that matches shared DNA between your dog and others in the database
The microarray analyzes over 200,000 genetic markers. Then, about 256 quadrillion (500 million times 500 million) different possibilities for breed identifications and genetic ancestry combinations. Now that’s a ton of information!
Embark’s Genetic Health Test
Embark’s genetic health DNA testing for dogs provides many important insights into your dog’s wellbeing. A subset of conditions is sorted out depending on your dog’s breed(s).
For example, my dog is part Australian Cattle Dog, so screening for the PRCD mutation, which leads to progressive retinal atrophy, was highlighted in the breed-relevant conditions.
The genetic health conditions cover a wide range of topics, such as:
- Blood health
- Adult-onset vision loss
- Neurological risks
Another interesting feature of the genetic health report is the inbreeding and diversity section. This feature is quite useful for owners of purebreds (or nearly purebreds). Not surprisingly, my “Super Mutt” is less than one percent inbred. The map is shown on the right.
Embark’s Physical Traits Test
Embark’s DNA testing for dogs provides results for a variety of traits. These can be found in a few different places within your report. This includes details on your dog’s predicted physical traits, including:
- Coat color, pattern, and texture
- Other body features
- Body size
I found this information helpful because it gives you the confidence to be able to double-check Embark’s predictions based on features you can actually see.
Nutrition and Exercise
Participate in a brief survey about your dog’s diet and exercise habits. Then, you’ll get individualized nutrition and exercise recommendations! This is included with the Breed + Health Dog DNA test kit. Find out more information about:
- How much to feed your dog
- Which “stage” of dog food your dog should eat
- Discussion on probiotics, food allergies and intolerances
- Access to Cornell University nutritional consultations
Kate’s nutrition results suggested that she eat slightly more dog food than she currently does. However, her veterinarian suggested she try to lose three pounds (to get to a goal weight of 44 pounds). My interpretation? Our toddler sneaks Kate more table snacks than I gave him credit for!
Take this detailed survey about your dog’s symptoms and when the symptoms occur. Then, you’ll get information about potential triggers, environmental factors, or food allergies that may underlie the symptoms. These are broken down into three groups:
I was relieved to see that you can go back to edit your responses over time. After taking the survey, I felt like I had a better idea of what to look out for and which things to track. Fortunately, my dog Kate doesn’t suffer from allergies. If I notice any symptoms in the future, I’d watch for a few days and take the survey again.
Similar Tests to Consider
A quick internet search shows dozens of options to get DNA testing for dogs. How do you know which to choose? Don’t worry. After doing the research, I chose three top alternatives to Embark.
- Wisdom Panel is most similar to Embark. You’ll get an in-depth breed identification report, genetic health information, and traits prediction. Wisdom Panel also makes a canine family tree that reveals the likely breeds of your pet’s great-grandparents. Want to know more? Check out my Wisdom Panel review.
- 5Strands is a great option if you’re concerned your pet is showing symptoms of food or environmental intolerance. This test uses a hair sample to predict underlying causes of shabby coats, digestive issues, or persistent upper respiratory irritation and tells you which items to eliminate from your pet’s diet. 5Strands can test dogs, cats, and horses. For more information, read my 5Strands review.
- Orivet offers a range of pedigree breed products. These include dam/sire verification, full breed profiles, genetic disease, and genetic traits testing. Orivet products are geared towards breeders and veterinarians, so it’s best suited for purebred dogs. If you’re looking for parentage testing or other information Wisdom Panel and Embark don’t offer, Orivet is a strong option. Check it out at our Orivet Review.
5 Standout Features of Embark’s Dog DNA Test(s)
World’s First Canine Relative Finder
Embark has a canine DNA relative finder that connects you with other Embark dogs potentially related to your dog. Based on the amount of shared DNA, the potential relationship is listed.
Kate got many matches on the canine relative finder. The closest relation shares 31% of DNA with Kate, which is similar to human half-siblings, aunts/uncles, or grandparents. Another match shares 19% of DNA, and several others shared 9%. A nine percent match is roughly equivalent to human first cousins. In all, we’ve gotten 30 matches so far!
In-depth Ancestry Report Including Haplotype Assignment(s)
Embark’s dog breed DNA test generates a three-generation family tree for your dog! This means you’ll discover the breed(s) of your dog’s great-grandparents. Keep in mind that family trees are generated using mathematical models designed to predict which breed(s) entered your dog’s ancestry at which generation. It’s a fun and useful way to visualize your pet’s heritage.
Haplotype assignments are also provided for maternal lineages (mitochondrial DNA) and paternal lineages for male dogs (Y-chromosomal DNA). Haplotypes can help determine ancient migration patterns over time and provide insights towards ancient lineages. This is a definite value-added feature over competitors like Wisdom Panel, which do not include this information.
Genetic Health Information For 175+ Conditions
Using Embark’s Breed + Health Dog DNA Test Kit, you’ll get results for more than 175 genetic health conditions, all for less than what it typically costs for a visit to the veterinarian.
It’s a little long to read if you look at the full report. I preferred the way that Wisdom Panel grouped the results by categories. Nonetheless, you’ll get information that covers your dog’s metabolism, vision, mobility, blood, and neurological health. Plus, you’ll get tips on how and when to talk with your veterinarian.
I shared the full report with the veterinarian, so if Kate gets sick in the future, it can help rule out other conditions too! It’s important to always discuss results from DNA testing for dogs with your licensed veterinarian.
Detailed Breed Identification Report Plus “Breed Mix-Matches”
Do people always ask you what kind of dog you have? If so, Embark can answer that. Embark (and other canine DNA tests) compare genetic signatures from your dog against a purebred dog breed database with an algorithm looking for “matches” to determine which generation(s) contained which breed(s).
After getting the results and trying to “see” the breeds listed in Kate, some made sense to me, but others didn’t. I guess that’s why canine DNA tests are worth it!
Another fun feature from Embark is the “Mix Matches.” This lets you see profiles from other dogs with similar breed compositions – not necessarily relatives to your dog. (Mix Matches are separate from the Canine Relative Finder.) It’s fun to see the variety in how the adult dogs look!
Official Partners With Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine
Embark is an official research partner with world-leading canine experts at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. This partnership allows Embark to use cutting-edge technology and contribute to the forefront of scientific knowledge regarding canine research.
The bioinformatics pipeline developed by Embark and the top dog DNA scientists in the world uses a proprietary DNA microarray (i.e., a “chip”) and several custom-built algorithms to predict the genetic ancestry of your dog. In fact, over 200,000 genetic markers are analyzed. This means you’ll get the best and most recent information available. Plus, you’re contributing to the future of veterinary medicine and research efforts.
Understanding Your Embark Results
The results almost feel like their own website – there is so much information! However, Embark does a particularly good job of making the information easy to find and digest. Overall the report is extremely user-friendly, and I enjoyed exploring it!
You’ll get your results delivered via email, with a link to view online. You can share the report with friends, family, or your veterinarian. Kate’s results revealed new information about her breed, ancestry, health, and physical traits! Check out what her report said, next.
Dog Breed DNA Test Results – What Breed Is Your Dog, Anyways?
Kate is clearly a mixed-breed, and everyone always asks us, “what kind of dog is she?” Now, we finally have some information! The Embark Dog DNA Test results show Kate is approximately:
- 30% Labrador Retriever
- 25% Australian Cattle Dog
- 15% Australian Shepherd
- 15% German Shepherd
- 5% Rottweiler
- 4% Bulldog
- 6% Super Mutt
Generally, I agree with the breed results. She’s also taken the Wisdom Panel Dog DNA Test, which found her main breeds as Labrador Retriever, Australian Cattle Dog, Australian Shepherd, and German Shepherd. It also included an “other breeds group,” which is similar to Embark’s “Super Mutt.”
Embark’s breed identification results go on to describe the common characteristics attributed to each breed. I was disappointed the results didn’t mention which traits tend to be dominant when mixed with other breeds. Therefore, it was hard to draw conclusions that applied specifically to Kate.
Haplogroup and Haplotype Assignments
Along with the dog breed DNA test, you also get haplogroup and haplotype assignments. This gives you information about your dog’s ancient ancestry and potential migration patterns that occurred thousands of years ago.
Kate’s haplogroup is A1a, which is the most common maternal lineage among Western dogs. This lineage began in central Asia and migrated to Europe about 10,000 years ago. The lineage stayed in Europe for a few thousand years. About 300 years ago, prized females were chosen as founders for several dog breeds, including Labrador Retrievers.
The Haplotype assignment for Kate was A400. This haplotype is a subgroup of the A1a haplogroup and occurs most frequently in mixed breed dogs. Given that Kate is a mixed-breed, predominantly Labrador Retriever, I think her haplogroup and haplotype assignments make sense.
Another feature of the Embark Dog Breed DNA Test is the family tree. The family tree illustrates which breeds were present in the previous three generations of your dog’s ancestry. Potential relatives are not listed here; you can locate those in the Canine Relative Finder.
Kate’s results show one parent was an Australian Cattle Dog mix and the other was a Labrador Retriever mix. Her grandparents were likely a purebred Australian Cattle dog, a purebred Labrador Retriever, a German Shepherd/Bulldog mix; and an Australian Shepherd/Rottweiler mix. Kate’s mixed-breed lineage goes way back because even some of her great-grandparents were mixed breed dogs!
Genetic Health Results – Which Results Should You Share With Your Vet?
Embarks scans genes that contribute to over 170 genetic health conditions in dogs. Each result tells you a few key pieces of information that make this report actionable and easy to understand:
- Whether you need to contact your veterinarian
- The inheritance pattern for the condition (i.e., dominant, recessive, etc.)
- Basic information about the conditions your dog might be at increased risk of developing
Let’s take a look at Kate’s results:
Overall, she tested clear for 180 variants associated with genetic health conditions. However, she does have one variant that Embark suggests contacting our veterinarian about. It’s convenient that there’s a link to send your vet a report directly from your results!
Kate is a genetic carrier for Progressive Retinal Atrophy. Fortunately, since Kate is spayed there is no concern she’d pass on the condition. For the same reason, this isn’t a mutation that requires any action on our (or her veterinarian’s) part.
Embark does a good job of providing basic information about the condition that’s relevant to dog owners, like symptoms, diagnostic testing, and long-term health impacts.
It also gives a little background on how the disease is inherited (in this case, recessive) and how common it is among certain dog breeds. It made sense to me that Kate might carry this allele since she’s part Australian Cattle Dog – about 53% of those dogs carry this PRCD variant! However, this was not flagged in the genetic health report we got from Wisdom Panel about Kate.
Surprisingly, we got another result that recommended contacting Kate’s veterinarian. The Embark Dog DNA Test found Kate has one allele associated with low levels of the liver enzyme Alanine Aminotransferase, or ALT. Her health care team needs to know this when interpreting her liver enzyme results if she gets sick in the future. A result in the high-end of “normal” can mean trouble for a dog with this genotype.
I’m curious about how Kate’s ALT activity would measure on a liver enzyme panel from the veterinarian. Our Wisdom Panel report did not detect any potential concerns for this (or any other) genetic condition. A liver enzyme panel would be the most accurate way to confirm.
Physical Traits Test Results – Can It Actually Describe Your Dog?
The Embark DNA Test For Dogs promises to predict 20+ physical characteristics of your dog. This includes everything from your dog’s coat, eye color, tail length, to their appetite! But, do all of these predictions actually end up describing your dog? Let’s take a look at how well Kate’s results matched the predictions based on her DNA.
Here’s my dog! She’s an adult female mixed breed that’s 47 pounds and 19 inches tall. You’ll notice that she has smooth, short, black fur and a medium-length muzzle. If you’re thinking it looks like she sheds a lot, you’re right!
Embark predicted that Kate’s adult weight would be 44 pounds. I’ve got to admit, I laughed out loud when I saw that – it’s the goal weight prescribed by her veterinarian, too!
The “wolfiness” score is based on ancient genetic signatures that wolves share. It’s normal for dogs to have “wolfiness” scores of less than one percent, and two-four percent is considered high. Anything less than ten percent is considered due to ancient genetic signatures rather than recent wolf ancestry.
The genetic age is calculated from the estimated birth date you provide plus genetic signatures. So, the genetic age is different for dogs of various sizes and breeds (large dogs age faster). The genetic age for Kate (six calendar years old) was 51 genetic age years. I’d agree that Kate seems like a middle-aged person.
Next, you get a large group of physical traits results. The results are divided into categories with certain genes tested assigned to each one. For example, the Base Coat Color group genotypes the MC1R, TYRP1, and MLPH genes for dark/light fur, brown/black pigment, and color dilution, respectively.
Embark Pricing: Reasonable, Plus Many Ways To Save
Embark is one of the best dog DNA tests on the market – if not the best. Now you’re probably wondering, “Well, how much does a dog DNA test like that cost?”
Overall, Embark is an excellent value for your dollar, with starting prices atUS$99,00. For the amount of information you get, Embark’s tests are pretty cheap compared to many human DNA testing options. Plus, taking a puppy DNA test can help save money at the veterinarian’s office over your dog’s life.
Embark is priced at a few hundred dollars, which is only slightly higher than its main competitor, Wisdom Panel. However, Embark offers more features (like the canine relative finder), and additional flexibility in payment options. Accepted payment methods include:
- Google Pay
- Amazon Pay
- Major credit cards
You also have the option of breaking up the total amount into monthly payments using Affirm. There are also regular discounts, including one if you have multiple pets.
You can also make money by referring your friends! For every friend you refer, they’ll get a big discount, and you’ll get money to spend at Amazon. Make sure to follow the directions and spread the word!
Note: Shipping costs extra if you are located outside of the USA.
Embark Customer Support: Get In Line And Be Ready To Wait
Embark has many self-help features that make finding answers to your questions relatively easy. There’s an extensive blog, complete with scientific information, videos, and tutorials. This is a great place to look if you have sample collection questions, too.
The FAQ page has a simple layout that will answer most basic questions.
You can also contact Embark via social media on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and YouTube. If you’d like more direct support, you can submit an online ticket, send an email, or leave a voicemail.
Over the course of my research into Embark, I reached out to Embark via online ticket, phone, and email. After submitting the online ticket, I received an auto-reply stating I’d get a response within 48 hours. It’s more than 72 hours later, and still no response. Next, I left a voicemail, and again, after 72 hours I still haven’t received a callback.
The email I sent only received an auto-reply. This suggests a few links to help you answer your own question. If it does, you can click the box and close your service request. If Embark consistently has a long queue of customers waiting for help, this is a nice feature. However, the long response time is certainly a drawback.
Does Embark Pass the Test?
Wondering about dog DNA test accuracy? You shouldn’t. Embark reviews consistently rank Embark as highly accurate, and the best dog DNA test! In fact, Embark is a great choice for most dog owners whether you’re curious, planning for the future, or considering breeding.
If you’re a dog breeder, you may want to consider other options. One to consider is Orivet, which offers parentage and lineage testing. While Embark offers a separate dog breeder’s panel, it doesn’t include several standout features, like its canine relative finder.
Did the Embark research survey predict your dog may have allergies? Is your dog experiencing allergy or intolerance symptoms? If so, you may want to check out 5Strands. This company specializes in elimination diets to determine what is triggering your dog’s symptoms.
Overall, Embark’s DNA test for dogs gave me many new insights about Kate. I was surprised that Embark’s genetic health screening detected two genetic variants that Wisdom Panel’s Dog DNA Test did not. In addition, Embark also offers haplotype assignments, breed mix-matches, and the world’s first canine relative finder!
How accurate is Embark’s Dog DNA Test?
Embark’s DNA testing for dogs is very accurate. You should probably be aware of a few factors that can affect dog DNA test accuracy. These include:
- Quality of the sample. If the sample is contaminated or doesn’t contain enough DNA, your results will not be accurate. Make sure you follow the directions in the test kit to prevent this.
- Number of Contributing Breeds. The larger the number of breeds, the more difficult it is to accurately predict the exact contribution from each breed. Dog DNA tests are extremely accurate for dogs that are only a few breeds.
- Number of Generations. How many generations that have passed since the DNA entered the line can also affect the accuracy. For example, if your dog is 98% Labrador Retriever and the “other” DNA entered the gene pool eight generations ago, accurately identifying the “other” breed could be challenging.
As more dogs get DNA tested, the accuracy of the tests will continue to improve. It’s also important to note that breed IDs, such as “Super Mutt,” reflect lower confidence matches, often due to factors two and three listed above.
Is Embark or Wisdom Panel better?
Embark vs. Wisdom Panel: this can be a difficult choice. Both tests offer high-quality results for a reasonable price. A few factors may sway your decision, however:
- Embark offers a variety of research surveys, lifestyle and diet recommendations, and the world’s first canine relative finder.
- Wisdom Panel offers more genetic health information, is less expensive compared to Embark, and features an interactive traits report. For more details, check out my Wisdom Panel Review.
Both companies are leaders in the canine DNA test market, so it really comes down to which features are the most important to you.
What genetic diseases does Embark test for?
Embark’s DNA testing for dogs looks at more than 175 genetic health conditions. For each one, you will learn about how it’s inherited, if you should contact your veterinarian, your dog’s genotype, and a little about the disease. Here are a few details to keep in mind:
- Your results will have a section for breed-related diseases pertinent to your dog
- Other non-breed diseases will be listed separately
- You’ll get an inbreeding and genetic diversity report
There’s an option to share your results with your vet straight from the report. Do it. Even if your dog gets a “clear” result, it could help rule out conditions if your dog gets sick in the future.
What kind of dog DNA tests does Embark offer?
The Embark Dog DNA Test offers insights about your furry friend across a variety of categories, including:
- Breed identification
- Genetic health risks
- Physical traits
- Ideal weight
- “Wolfiness” Score
The breed identification report provides details about the breeds contributing to your dog’s unique makeup, down to a tenth of a percent. You’ll also get a percentage of how much your dog’s DNA has genetic signatures for wild wolves (i.e., the “wolfiness score”) – anything less than five percent is normal, less than one percent is typical.
The ancestry report includes a family tree and breed information going back for the last three generations. This means you’ll find out the breeds of your dog’s great-grandparents. The ancestry report also includes a haplotype classification which gives insights about your dog’s ancient ancestry.
Genetic health testing reveals your dog’s genotype and risk for over 175 genetic health conditions. You’ll also get recommendations about when to contact your veterinarian for further testing. The “share” button is right there in the digital report!
The physical traits report includes over 20 characteristics, and an ideal adult weight prediction. It’s a great way to be able to visualize the accuracy of your Embark Dog DNA Test.