Demand for pet DNA testing increasing – could medicinal cannabis for animals also catch on?

With the popularity of genealogy websites like Ancestry.com growing, more and more people are using the technology to investigate not only their own heritage, but that of their furry family members as well. Brittany Keogh reports.

Organizations that offer DNA testing for pets say the demand for this service is increasing. Pedigree breeders often use it to find out if their animals carry genes for hereditary diseases, while mom-and-dad owners want to learn more about the breed and background of their pooch or moggie.

Michelle Fremaux, director of the Center for Equine Parentage and Animal Genetic Services at Massey University, said genetic science is “incredibly fast” with new research being released all the time.

As science developed, the center had seen an increase in requests for “genetic counseling” – the interpretation of genetic results – and genetic testing for dogs. It also offers tests on alpaca, llama, camel, birds, cattle, horses, sheep and goats. There are also plans to offer DNA testing for cats soon.

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Persian cats used to have a common type of kidney disease that can now be detected with DNA testing.  (File photo)

Sean Gallup / Getty Images

Persian cats used to have a common type of kidney disease that can now be detected with DNA testing. (File photo)

Fremaux said the use of DNA testing by pet breeders is a positive thing as it allows them to eliminate hereditary diseases from their bloodlines by only breeding animals without the genes that cause the conditions.

While a 2018 article in the scientific journal Nature raised concerns that the results of genetic testing could frighten pet owners and euthanize pets with treatable genetic conditions, Fremaux had never heard of it in New Zealand. She said that breeders who ran the tests took great care of their animals.

Robyn Morrison raises Persian and exotic cats from her home in Warkworth, north of Auckland.

She said advances in DNA testing bring “big” benefits for breeders, allowing them to “breed healthier cats that live longer and don’t cost their owner an arm and a leg.”

Their breed is free of polycystic kidney disease – a genetic disease that previously affected 40 to 50 percent of Persians.

She relied on ultrasound scans before breeding to make sure her cats weren’t carrying the gene responsible for PKD before breeding them, but in recent years she had used DNA testing instead, which was much easier and cheaper and is done could when the cat was much younger.

Morrison takes a cheek swab or blood sample from her kittens and sends them to a laboratory at the University of California at Davis in the United States. The results confirm that the cats are PKD-free and tell them what coat colors the cat has in their genetic line, which is helpful as they specialize in chocolate and lilac.

Orivet.com allows pet owners to order swabs to collect samples of their DNA that they can send for testing, much like Ancestry.com does. The company conducts both breed ID (origin) tests and genetic screenings for diseases in cats and dogs.

Melbourne-based co-founder and managing director George Sofronidis said pet owners are becoming more informed and doing more research on the genetic conditions that different breeds are susceptible to.

“I have and see an increase in genetic testing. The industry is becoming more and more “regulated”. Breeding clubs and member associations have a code of ethics. All of this means that you must do everything possible to ensure that you breed “healthy and healthy” dogs.

“Tests have become more accessible and technology has advanced to enable mass array screening.”

Rescue dog owners were primarily looking for breed ID tests, which cost $ 120, Sofronidis said.

Genetic tests identify specific DNA mutations that are responsible for disease.

Medical cannabis for pets does not contain the THC, which is what causes the high in humans.

Chris Skelton / stuff

Medical cannabis for pets does not contain the THC, which is what causes the high in humans.

Could cannabis be the next big pet health trend?

In Auckland, a pet food supplement company is testing another health product that is normally used by humans and that it believes can help pets too – medical cannabis.

Hale Animal Health is developing what its managing director Leila de Koster hopes for, the world’s first registered CBD oils for dogs and cats.

CBD oils are extracted from the hemp plant. They don’t contain the chemical THC that causes the high when people smoke cannabis.

They are increasingly used to treat conditions such as pain and inflammation in humans, and there is evidence that they can also help animals with anxiety, stress, nausea, skin conditions, arthritis, and seizures.

Partly owned by medical cannabis company Helius Therapeutics, Hale Animal Health has partnered with several organizations overseas to conduct clinical trials for a medical cannabis tincture for pets.

De Koster said that while the product is at least a few years away from making shelves – it has yet to be approved by New Zealand’s Agricultural Compounds and Veterinary Medicines – demand already appears to be high.

“We get a lot of inquiries from pet owners every week [about medicinal cannabis]. “

She added that the regulatory process is “very strict”.

Leila de Koster is the managing director of Hale Animal Health, which is developing a cannabis-based dietary supplement for the treatment of osteoporosis in dogs.

Chris McKeen / Stuff

Leila de Koster is the executive director of Hale Animal Health, which is developing a cannabis-based dietary supplement for the treatment of osteoporosis in dogs.

“Before publication, you have to be 100 percent sure that it does what it says on the tin.”

To encourage more discussion of the potential benefits of medical cannabis for pets, Hale Animal Health is hosting an event for veterinarians on June 29 at its East Tamaki headquarters. About 30 veterinarians are expected.

Nick Cave, associate professor of small animal medicine and nutrition at Massey University, said interest in the use of cannabis to treat diseases in animals had grown as it became a more popular cure for human health problems, but the results of studies on its effectiveness varied and left him behind. skeptical”.

While some research suggested it might provide modest relief from osteoarthritis in dogs, other projects had found that CBD had little to no effect in treating anxiety, or found no CBD in the dog’s bloodstream, meaning it may is not absorbed, he said.

“Does that mean that no product would work without a dose? Absolutely not. But there is still no evidence.

“The puzzles for a company, or the challenges, would be to show that their product is actually absorbed and that they provide better evidence than is currently available. Then we have to do studies on the long-term effects on top of that. “

Cave said medical cannabis companies would need to demonstrate, based on independent double-blind, placebo-controlled studies, that they have a significant impact on certain diseases before he is convinced of their effectiveness.