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Large golden retriever dog lying on grass

The promise of a sequenced genome is like a wrapped present, containing exactly what you always wanted but never knew you could get: predictions of all your future health problems and instructions for how to avoid them. Pet owners are the latest to fall prey to the myth of the “magic genome,” hoping that genetic testing will keep their animal companions alive and healthy for longer than ever before. The claims of many genetic testing companies encourage these unrealistic expectations.

The pet genetic testing industry has boomed in recent years as sequencing technology has improved and costs have plummeted. Several companies now tout direct-to-consumer tests that can screen companion animals, mostly dogs, for more than 150 genetic diseases including heart disease, kidney disease, and epilepsy. As a veterinarian and genomics researcher, I encounter dog owners who truly believe that genetic sequencing will save their animals’ lives.

What most pet genetic testing companies fail to make clear, though, is that genetic testing is riddled with uncertainty. Not all pets that test “clear” for a disease are truly safe from that condition....