Basepaws is one of the only companies offering DNA testing for cats. How much can the test tell you about your cat, and is it worth the money? In this article, we’ll explore what Basepaws is, how it works, and who will get the most out of this DNA testing service.
Most customers come to Basepaws looking for insights into their cat’s breed history. Maybe your cat has what appear to be a Maine Coon’s tufted ears or a Russian Blue’s dense grey coat, and you want to know if they’re hiding some purebred genes.
If this is you, let’s adjust those expectations right now.
The Basepaws cat DNA test will not tell you if one of your cat’s parents was a Maine Coon or that they’re 30% Russian Blue.
And that’s not because Basepaws is doing anything wrong—cats simply aren’t “mixed breed” in the same way dogs are. Except for the 3% or so of cats who are pedigreed purebreds, most cats don’t have purebred ancestry.
Between the fact that our moggies didn’t descend from distinct breeds and the relatively small size of the company’s reference database, Basepaws can’t give breed ancestry. Instead, it will tell you which breeds seem to share the most ancestors with your cat.
While it doesn’t give you the cut-and-dry breed background so many are looking for, Basepaws testing provides a lot of valuable insights into your cat’s genetic makeup. The health report can give you potentially life-saving information on health predispositions, and the included dental report is also a powerful tool for preventative care.
With a series of updates set to come out within the next month or so (October 2021), Basepaws seems to be on the cutting edge of feline genome research and provides a mix of genetic and microbiological reports you won’t get anywhere else.
Let’s learn more about how it works.
What Is The Basepaws Cat DNA Test?
Basepaws is intended to work like 23andMe for cats, revealing genetic patterns that help you to “understand your cat from the inside out”.
Like 23andMe and other human DNA tests, Basepaws takes a sample of your cat’s cells, extracts the DNA molecule from the cell, and sequences it to read and interpret the genetic code written in their chromosomes.
In practical terms, this means you’ll gather a sample from your cat’s cheek, package it up, send it to the lab, and receive a report detailing Basepaw’s findings on your cat’s genetic makeup.
The company offers three kits—the basic breed and health kit, a whole-genome sequencing package, and a dental kit. In this article, we’re focusing on the basic breed and health kit, which now comes with a free dental report.
To fully understand the Basepaws cat DNA test, we need to understand DNA testing in general.
When Basepaws analyzes your cat’s DNA, they are extracting and interpreting the genetic code built into their chromosomes.
Every cat has 18 pairs of autosomal chromosomes and 1 pair of sex chromosomes. These chromosomes are built with tens of thousands of genes, which are made up of combinations of nucleotides. Imagine the classic image of a double helix strand of DNA—a long, wrapping ladder of nucleotide pairs.
There are four types of nucleotides—adenine, cytosine, thymine, and guanine. Each attaches to another in what is called a base pair.
These base pairs spell out a unique genetic code that’s about 2.7 billion bases long. With four types of nucleotides and over a billion pairs in the feline genome, the number of potential combinations is hard to fathom.
While this code is unique from cat to cat, almost all of it is identical among felines. Certain genetic patterns, however, differentiate individual cats from one another. These patterns manifest in things like variations in coat type, behavioral tendencies, predispositions to health conditions, and the clusters of traits that make cat breeds distinct.
After extracting your cat’s DNA from the cheek cell sample, Basepaws uses Next Generation Sequencing (NGS) to sequence their DNA. This means that they’re identifying the base pairs—those combinations of nucleotides that spell out your cat’s genetic identity.
The lab then aligns the decoded fragments with the sequenced DNA of other cats. By comparing your cat’s sample to reference DNA, Basepaws can discover your cat’s genotype and identify things like genomic similarity to breeds, health markers, commonalities with wildcats, and more.
The result is the Breed and Health Report. To get a better understanding of how this report looks and what it means, it makes sense to look at my personal experience using Basepaws.
Let’s Talk About My Experience With Basepaws
I’ve tried Basepaws twice—first in 2020 with my cat Wessie, then in 2021 with Forest. Both of them are cats of unknown genetic origin or DSH’s (domestic shorthairs).
The Basepaws DNA Test Kit Contained Everything I Needed To Submit My Sample.
To get started with Basepaws, I ordered a test kit, which is a small box containing the supplies you need to collect and submit a sample.
Inside of the box is a cotton collection swab, a jar containing a stabilizing liquid, a plastic pouch with a biohazard label, and instructions on how to get your sample.
Collecting the sample was a straightforward—if slightly daunting—process. Basepaws says you should do this at least 30 minutes after your cat has had anything to eat or drink, so I approached Wessie and Forest in the middle of the day during one of their snooze sessions.
I held them still, pried their lips back a little bit, and maneuvered the swab into the cheek area. If you’ve brushed your cat’s teeth before, you know how this goes.
They protested with lip licks and gnawing, but I maintained my presence in the mouth and counted to ten. After the recommended ten seconds, I could only assume that the slime on the swab carried all the genetic material Basepaws would need.
Once you’ve gathered the sample, you need to record your 14-digit identifier code and register your kit through the Basepaws website. It’s important to do this before you send the sample off. The code is only present on the tube, and it’s the only way Basepaws can connect you to the sample.
After registration, you’ll slide the tube into the biohazard bag, pop it back in the box, seal it up, and send it off to the lab.
If you’re in the United States, postage is already covered. If you live in Canada or another country outside of the United States, you’ll have to pay for shipping, and it’ll take a bit longer to arrive at Basepaws.
The Results Come Back In 4-6 Weeks.
The first time I submitted a sample in 2020, it took about 6 weeks for my report to arrive via email. The second time, I only waited for 2 weeks. Basepaws says that between 4 and 6 weeks is typical, but your experience will vary slightly.
In both cases, the results came announced with a festive email. Inside of the email is an invitation to learn more about the terms used in the report and guidance on interpreting your cat’s results, along with a button directing you to the results themselves.
What’s In The Basepaws Cat Breed & Health Report?
As of September 2021, the current version of the Basepaws Breed & Health Report is 36 pages long.
The first page explains how DNA testing works and clarifies that it doesn’t give you your cat’s purebred ancestry—it only shows your cat’s similarity to four breed groups or gene pools.
The Breed Analysis page shows your cat’s genetic similarity to each of these four breed groups. Their similarity to the Western, Eastern, Persian, and Exotic breed groups is mapped out in a percentage breakdown on the left side of the page, with a slider allowing you to adjust the accuracy of your results.
A chromosome map plots out genetic markers on your cat’s autosomal chromosomes, showing which chromosomes—and which parts of those chromosomes—bear patterns that make them genetically close to the listed breed groups.
Wessie’s report showed that he had the most genetic similarity to the Western breed group, with Polycat (seemingly, the part of the genotype that Basepaws can’t connect to any existing pure breed gene pools) coming up second.
Of the specific breeds in that Western group breakdown, Ragdoll came up first, but for the most part, we can only say that he shares the most similarity with the “broadly Western” group. Does that mean Wessie is part Ragdoll? Not necessarily.
Instead, it means that Wessie shares genetic similarities with the cats in that Western group, which includes Norwegian Forest Cats, Siberians, Maine Coons, Ragdolls, and American Shorthairs.
As we can see in the breed report shown above, Forest also showed the strongest similarity to the Western group.
How this information translates to physical and behavioral traits remains a mystery. Are Wessie and Forest’s tabby coats related to their proximity to the Western breed group? Does Wessie have the gene that makes Ragdolls floppy? Right now, these are questions Basepaws is unable to answer.
The Next Part Of The Report Is What Basepaws Calls The Wildcat Index.
This segment compares your cat’s genetic makeup to that of four wildcats—leopards, cheetahs, cougars, and tigers.
Wessie was apparently most like a leopard, while Forest shares more in common with the cheetah.
While fun to look at, this part of the report doesn’t have any practical information. Your cat’s similarities to different wildcats don’t relate to any common traits. They come from random mutations that happened to match random genetic mutations seen in those top-ranked wildcats.
Finally, The Document Includes A Health Markers Report.
Probably the most useful part of the report, this segment shows you parts of your cat’s DNA that may indicate a predisposition to 16 health conditions. During testing, Basepaws looks at 38 markers associated with an increased likelihood of developing one of these conditions.
The Health Markers section describes all of these conditions and your cat’s results for each.
Your cat may be either:
- Clear (no mutations associated with the condition)
- A carrier, meaning that they may pass it along to their children (if they have kittens)
- At risk of developing the condition
- At high risk of developing the condition
Both Wessie and Forest’s reports came back clear of all health markers.
Basepaws Promises That There Are Big Changes On The Horizon
The company plans to release several significant updates to the report in October 2021. These updates include 100+ health markers, 30+ traits, and 5 new reference breeds.
With additional breeds in the system, we can expect the breed report to be more substantial and provide more useful information. The addition of traits will also beef up the report and give us further insights into how these genetic markers influence our cats.
In addition to the breed and health report, all kits now come with a free dental health report.
The dental health report is a microbiological report that looks at the organisms in your cat’s mouth and identifies those consistent with oral health conditions, including bad breath, periodontitis, and tooth resorption.
In conjunction with the DNA test results, this report is a powerful asset in your preventative care toolkit.
By sharing the health and dental reports with your veterinarian, you can get early insights into conditions that could have cost you hundreds or even thousands of dollars over time.
Because each sample helps to contribute to our understanding of feline genetics, potentially helping us to learn more about genetic health conditions, traits, and more, participating in Basepaws doesn’t just help you—it helps all of us understand our cats better.
Overall, Is The Basepaws Cat DNA Test Worth It?
Whether or not the Basepaws cat DNA test is going to be a good choice for you depends on who you are and what you’re expecting. Again, I suspect that people who get the Basepaws DNA test to identify their cat’s breed will be disappointed.
The information in the breed report is limited, both by feline genetics themselves and our knowledge and understanding of the feline genome. If you’re expecting to uncover your cat’s breed ancestry, Basepaws will not give you what you’re looking for.
Even if your cat is, in fact, part purebred, the results probably won’t be as specific as you would hope. For example, several Basepaws users say that their purebred cats didn’t get 100% matches with their breeds. A Norwegian Forest Cat, for example, was marked as 20% similar to their breed.
But when we look beyond the breed report, we can see that the Basepaws test provides invaluable information on vital details like genetic mutations and oral health. Between these two health reports and combined with the fact that it’s an ever-updating living document, you’re getting a lot of value from this test, both now and for years into the future.
Where To Buy The Basepaws Cat DNA Test
You can purchase the Basepaws cat DNA test kit through the Basepaws store.
The kit currently costs $159.00, and again, it comes with a free dental health report, which costs $99.00 on its own.
However, there are a few opportunities to get the DNA test cheaper.
Through September 30th, Basepaws will be celebrating National Cat DNA Day with a $40 off coupon. Enter CATDNA40 at checkout to secure your discount.
In addition to the Cat DNA Day sale, you’re eligible to win a free DNA test kit through our giveaway. Through October 7th, we’re working with Basepaws to give away one FREE cat DNA test kit to a member of the All About Cats community.
The only requirements are that you live in the United States and follow the steps described here. To enter the giveaway, just visit the Basepaws Facebook page (no obligation to like or interact with the page in any way) and, optionally, answer a quick question for bonus points. The winner will be announced on October 11th and will receive a free DNA test kit in the mail.