Is a Test from Etalon Diagnostics as Good as It Seems?
Etalon Diagnostics markets itself as a resource designed by horse lovers for fellow horse lovers, and I think it’s being honest about that. Everything on the company’s site seems tailor-made for the benefit and convenience of people who appreciate horses just as much as Etalon appears to; it’s also accessible to the layman.
Researching and writing about this company turned out to be a walk in the park. Etalon’s platform is really user-friendly. It presents everything in a way that’s totally accessible for anyone who wants to know more about their horse. So, whether you’re an owner, rider, or breeder, I honestly think you’ll get a lot out of your investment in this company.
If you’re a breeder that wants to predict and/or plan the appearance of a horse, Etalon has got you covered there. Or maybe you’re a rider who wants to know your horse’s strong points. Again, you probably won’t be disappointed by Etalon, because it’ll give you laboratory feedback about that too. And if you’re worried about your horse’s health risks, that’s covered too.
But don’t take my word for it…at least, not yet. Let’s take a look at the details and make sure that this is really where you should be putting your money. I took a hard look at Etalon Diagnostics and I want to share my findings with you.
Easy Sample Collection
As far as you’re concerned, there’s nothing difficult about this test at all. You don’t need to draw blood, worry about your horse being in pain, or use a needle. The test requires only root hairs. And while hair from the tail is best (especially for foals), all you really need for a good sample is 30-40 hairs from the mane. Just put the hairs in the envelope and send it back to Etalon. Aside from that, all you have to do is keep the sample dry and below 80°F.
If that method doesn’t work for you, however, Etalon can accommodate other kinds of DNA samples, e.g., blood, tissue, etc. Just make sure to reach out to the company directly and specify your situation. That way, Etalon can prepare accordingly.
5 Standout Features of Etalon Diagnostics
1. Ongoing Results for a Single Price
I was more than a little shocked when I saw this, but it actually turns out to be true: for less than $100, Etalon is offering what works out to be the majority of its services. This is a heck of a lot of data. At a price that’s pretty much standard for the basic packages with most DNA testing companies, you’ll get DNA-based insights on:
- Coat Color & Patterns
- Health & Disease Risk
- Abilities & Performance Genetics
And on top of that, Etalon will regularly update your results at no extra charge, which is great given the fact that the methodologies and science behind DNA testing is always improving.
There are other equine DNA testing companies other there, like EasyDNA, and yes, some of those might be cheaper. However, I really think you’ll get more for your hard-earned money with Etalon than you would with those.
2. Screens for Dozens of Diseases
With a panel that includes more than 50 genetic tests, Etalon Diagnostics screens for ALL (at least allegedly) equine genetic diseases included on the standard five panel test: GBED, HERDA, HYPP, MH, and PSSM1.
Here’s a really short list of the diseases/disorders that are included in the report:
- West Nile Virus Risk
- Lethal White Overo
- Hoof Wall Separation Disease
- Hereditary Equine Regional Dermal Asthenia
- Impaired Acrosomal Reaction
- Lordosis (Swayback)
3. Genetic Feedback Coat Color and Patterns
A test that tells you the genetic factors that contributed to your horse’s appearance is nice to have, but it doesn’t really give you that much useful information. Etalon offers more than an explanation for why your horse looks the way it does.
In your report, you’ll also discover what chances your horse’s offspring has of having the same coloring and features as one or both of its parents. Etalon provides you with more than enough genetic information about basic colors, patterns, and modifiers of various horses.
4. Insight into Your Horse’s Abilities and Performance
Genes affect any animal – including horses – in the same ways they affect us. This applies to not only their susceptibilities to certain diseases and how they look, but also how they act and what physical activities they’re predisposed to excelling at.
Etalon Diagnostics will tell you how your horse’s DNA contributes to and probably affects their:
- Temperament (e.g., curiosity and vigilance)
- Gait (e.g., gallop or canter)
- Speed and muscle development
And all of these insights are founded on reputable scientific research and publications, which are provided on Etalon’s website.
5. Scientifically Sound DNA-Based Insights
Along with guaranteeing at least a 99.54% degree of accuracy for the test results, Etalon Diagnostics is backed by an in-house team of qualified and licensed experts that includes scientists, veterinarians, and sports and fitness advisors. Moreover, it’s approved by the APHA (American Public Health Association), has accreditation from the ISAG (International Society for Animal Genetics), and has a first-class, state-of-the-art lab.
Everything Is Presented for the Layman
The DNA samples you submit to Etalon are processed at the beginning of every week. You’re advised to send your sample with UPS or FedEx. It’s important to keep this in mind: if your envelope arrives at Etalon on Friday, it only has to wait two days before going under the microscope.
You will be notified by email when your results are ready. They come in the form of a detailed, easy-to-understand PDF, which contains easily-accessible links for reference material if you have any other questions regarding the genes that are tested or the science in the report.
After getting through this basic background intro, you’ll get a rundown about the genes in horses that are associated with certain diseases and disorders. Here’s what that will look like:
You’ll also get easy-to-understand feedback about your horse’s colors and patterns. In the example below, you can see the likelihood of coloring for the test horse’s offspring:
Finally, you’ll get feedback about how genes have affected your horse’s abilities and performance:
All of the above information is included in the two tests that Etalon Diagnostics offers. However, in the premium version (DNA Minipanel Plus), you’ll also get reports on:
- Warmblood Fragile Foal Syndrome
- Hoof Wall Separation Disease
Nothing in the reports seems to be particularly baffling, and I think it’s unlikely that you’d need to contact customer support for further clarification. I’ve looked at plenty of DNA test results from various companies; and yes, sometimes it really can be difficult to understand some points, especially when it comes to health screening. But I’d bet you won’t have that issue with Etalon.
Etalon makes a point to stipulate, however, that while most of the particular genes identified on its panel are highly researched and very accurate (more than 97%), it’s still investigating those genetic components with customers, owners, and the scientific community. Accordingly, Etalon also admits that its reports include some “non-validated” points (i.e., the precision isn’t guaranteed).
The Most Basic Package Offers Great Value for Your Money
While there are some competitors in the equine DNA testing market, the marketplace is still pretty small.
That being said, Etalon tests for considerably more diseases and more comprehensively covers other areas than much of what you’ll find online, including EasyDNA and Animal Genetics; and it does so at a comparatively affordable price. Plus, I think the other competitors look a little shoddy in comparison to Etalon’s more polished presentation. For example, the offerings provided by EasyDNA pale in comparison.
Conclusion: you get more for your money with Etalon.
Even the cheapest package from Etalon (its “DNA Minipanel” product) offers most of the DNA-based insights that the company has to offer, at just under US$149,00. You get an extra three reports for about $30 more by upgrading to the DNA Minipanel Plus. While Etalon’s price is higher than others (EasyDNA’s pricing starts at US$169,00), the amount of additional information you get is much more, better quality, and much more reliable.
If I had a horse (which would be totally awesome), I’d probably go with the Minipanel package. Considering that it comes with most of what Etalon has on the shelf, this product has the biggest bargain for your money.
Unfortunately, however, there are no warranties or guarantees of results, and all sales are basically final after the results have been provided. Refunds due to customer dissatisfaction or testing issues are decided on a case-by-case basis.
As far as payment methods, Etalon Diagnostics accepts major credit cards.
Some of the Best Customer Service I’ve Seen
Let’s get the negatives out of the way first…
Etalon Diagnostics’ website doesn’t have a specifically designated “knowledge base” as such, nor does it have a live chat option, which I always say puts a company’s customer service a cut above the rest. Call me crazy, but when I have a question, I like to get an answer as quickly as possible.
But on the bright side, the website has a decent FAQ section, which should answer most basic questions, and the site in general is very navigable, and has plenty of relevant, useful information spread throughout; so you shouldn’t be too lost.
If you want to speak with someone from Etalon Diagnostics directly, you can contact the support staff easily by telephone (Monday – Friday (9 am-6 pm Pacific Time)), regular post, and email. I chose to reach out to Etalon Diagnostics with several questions via email; and I’ve gotta say that it really shined in this department.
Etalon’s response time was extremely quick. In one case, I asked about whether it provides insights that would be particularly useful for breeders, and I got a response that was both informative and virtually instantaneous (within a few minutes).
And at one point, probably because I was bombarding Etalon with one question after another, I was even invited to call the CEO directly on her cell phone (which, for obvious reasons, I won’t post here):
Granted, this level of customer support might’ve been due to the time of day I reached out, the relatively small size of the company, or maybe even just the mood of the person that responded to me. However, that doesn’t change the fact that I’ve never experienced that degree of accommodation – “Here’s our boss’s number. Give her a call.” That’s a first!
A Great Option for People Who Really Love Horses
I’d recommend Etalon Diagnostics for a variety of reasons – and not just because there aren’t that many options of its kind out there! You get a lot of value for your money, the reports are undeniably in-depth, the customer support is some of the best I’ve had, and the platform as a whole is clearly designed for anyone who loves horses.
The only real downside worth mentioning when talking about Etalon is a practical one: it’s working in a field that’s still very much in its infancy. There’s still a great deal of research that needs to be done until equine DNA testing gets to the level of reliability that, say, 23andMe (which has FDA approval) is at.
This is evidenced by the fact that Etalon markets itself as a company that’s eager for customer input. Not only does it admit that a significant portion of its reports are still in the “discovery stage,” but it also seeks out your personal feedback to improve its services.
But I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that Etalon is really transparent in this regard. It’s a self-aware company that obviously knows its limitations, and accordingly invites everyone in the horse-loving community to participate in its evolving mission to provide the most accurate DNA-based insights about horses that it can.
If you’re looking for insights about parentage, you might want to consider other vendors, like EasyDNA or Animal Genetics. But definitely go with Etalon if you want possibly the best, most cost-effective products that provide genetic insights about your horse’s genetic predispositions and, more centrally, if you want to contribute toward making such services increasingly better.
What animals does Etalon Diagnostics cover in its pet DNA tests?
Etalon Diagnostics’ tests solely focus on horses – offering equine DNA testing.
How do genetics determine a horse’s coloring?
Many horse owners care about the genetics influencing coat color. For example, some breed registries have certain color restrictions. It may also be easier to sell certain colors or patterns than others. By understanding dominant and recessive genotypes, you can get a sense of the physical traits that a horse is likely to pass on to its offspring. And while there is always some level of chance when it comes to genetics, taking an equine DNA test will help you make confident breeding decisions.
How does Etalon Diagnostics compare to other brands?
Etalon Diagnostics is obviously a company that’s designed by horse lovers for fellow horse lovers. It seeks to provide in-depth insights on equine health and fitness, as well as temperament and performance. This can help you not only better understand your horse, but also to possibly breed a healthy, well-tempered, beautiful horse that performs amazingly.
Few companies even operate in this same space. EasyDNA offers parentage testing and a genetic identification test (if you need to prove a horse is yours down the line). It would be worth going with this competitor if you are looking for these specific services. However, EasyDNA doesn’t currently offer hereditary disease testing or insight into your horse’s temperament or the coloring of its offspring. You’ll want to stick with Etalon for those reports.
How can genetics influence horse breeding?
Every horse’s DNA has a real and visible effect on their appearance, health, temperament, and performance capabilities, just as it does with humans. The combination of DNA between different horses affects what the offspring will be like. If you know the genetics of your horses, you can breed one with traits that help you reliably predict certain breeding features, such as speed or coloring.
How much does a horse DNA test cost?
It really depends on what you’re looking for. Etalon Diagnostics, for example, offers insights about a horse’s genetic predispositions for health, appearance, and performance and abilities for US$149,00. However, there’s no completely reliable parentage test.
Alternatively, DDC Veterinary will give you “definitive proof of parentage” for less than $40 (EasyDNA also has a parentage test, but it is much more expensive). Neither of these competitors provides the depth of insights that Etalon offers regarding medical predispositions.
Both EasyDNA and Animal Genetics make you pay separately for each category and test; and if you want the same range, you can end up paying much, much more than you would for Etalon’s Minipanel, which offers most of its services at one flat price.