DNA Collection from Animals


The Easiest Method of DNA Collection – Cheekswabs

The soft tissue inside the mouth is an easily accessed source for multitudes of cells from people, dogs and cats. Animals that eat alot of plant material have more calloused mouth tissue so cheek swabs don’t work as well in  horses, rabbits, or birds. Shipping a cheek swab is easy; as long as the swab stays dry the DNA is preserved for a long time. You can ship by regular mail but we suggest choosing Priority Mail with delivery confirmation so your sample is tracked until it arrives.

Using a Cheekswab to Collect DNA from Dogs and Cats

As a demonstration, take your finger, put it inside your mouth and pull your cheek to the side, distending the inside of the cheek. Now move your finger up and down, feeling the smooth, slippery surface of the inside of the cheek.

You are basically going to repeat that motion using a soft brush in place of your finger tip. As you move it up and down you can also twirl the brush a little so that all the bristles of the brush rub against the cheek.

You don’t need to rub hard- there should be no discomfort involved. Withdraw the brush and let it dry thoroughly, then put back in the paper envelope. Don’t put it in a plastic bag or sealed tube- the brush will have residual moisture and if you put it in a sealed container the mouth bacteria will start to grow and destroy the cells and DNA on the brush. This is IMPORTANT. If circumstances don’t allow you to use one of our preferred brushes, you can use cotton-tipped swabs (great for cats) or, for dogs, a new toothbrush (residual toothpaste on a used brush won’t be good for the DNA). You can find small ones designed for toddlers at your drug store.

Other sources of DNA for Animals

Blood Samples from Dogs, Cats, Horses, Rabbit, and Pocket Pets (rats, ferrets, etc.)

Your veterinarian can take a 1 ml blood sample in a lavender-top (EDTA) tube. The amount can be much less from smaller animals. Blood can be shipped by mail and does not require refrigeration but we recommend it be shipped promptly. Your sample is precious -we suggest using US Priority Mail with delivery confirmation so your sample is tracked up to arrival.  If you need to wait (ex. weekend) store the blood in the refrigerator, not in the freezer. Package securely by placing the blood vial in a pill vial or similar unbreakable container. During the hot summer months we recommend US Express Mail. Shipping of non-human blood is perfectly legal but the postal folks may be concerned (don’t know that it isn’t human blood in disguise)  so we suggest NOT labelling the package as containing a blood sample.

Blood Samples from Birds and Reptiles

Birds and reptiles have DNA in every one of their blood cells so lots of DNA can be purified from just a drop of blood. Your veterinarian may collect a small amount in an EDTA tube or blood can be spotted on a piece of paper, dried, and shipped in that form. Follow the shipping instructions above.

Fur, Whiskers, and Feathers

These are generally options for pets who have passed away and fur or feathers have been saved as a memento. A small amount of DNA can be purified from hair and feathers and a Life Jewel is still an ideal way to keep them close. No special shipping is required. Please note that we will add some botanical DNA in order to complete the Life Jewel helix.

Tissue Sample

If your pet has passed away at your veterinarian’s office a pea-size piece of tissue can be used to create a Life Jewel. The tissue should be immersed in alcohol in a leak-proof container and shipped as instructed for a blood sample above.

DNA Collection from Horses

Sampling options include a 1-2 ml blood sample in a lavender-top tube which can be done by your veterinarian when your horse is sedated for doing their teeth.  Swabs can be taken from inside the nostrils (the mouth is not a great source of DNA in the horse). Use a cotton-tipped swab and don’t insert further than you can see the end of the swab.

Horse mane and tail hair, especially the roots of properly pulled hairs, is a great source of DNA. About 10-15  hairs, 3-4 at a time, can be pulled from different areas of the tail along the tail bone or from the mane. Roots look like little hooks at the end of the hair.

Tips on pulling hair:

  • Wrap the hairs around your hand, then jerk down in one quick motion (or pull up for mane hairs).
  • To protect your hand, wrap masking tape around your pinkie finger.
  • Keeping the bulb ends together, trim off the excess hair leaving at least 4 inches from the bulb.

Tape the hairs to the paper with the bulb end towards the top of the paper and with the tape in the middle of the hair sample. Hairs do not need to be taped individually.

What About Cremated Ashes?

The high temperatures of cremation turn the DNA back to its native elements so that it is no longer biologically distinct. A Memorial Life Jewel can be made by adding a small amount of ashes to DNA from another source, such as a cheek swab from the submitter or another person or pet. The ashes make a fine texture on the Life Jewel helix. The effect is subtle so it is a aesthetic and life-affirming way to keep an animal companion close.