The Breed History
Artwork depicts a dog of this type back into antiquity in various countries, especially India but the first written records date from the mid 1800s in the region of Dalmatia in western Yugoslavia. Their popularity surged after the Disney movie One Hundred and One Dalmatians.
Breeding for Function
Though the breed's utility as a dog accompanying the coach or fire truck of old times is well known, this dog is much more versatile, having been of service in sentry, draft, circus, sheep herding and vermin control. Also less commonly appreciated are the strengths of this breed as a versatile hunter dog performing scenting, bird dog, and retriever functions. Also was used in pack-based hunting for larger game such as wild boar and deer. Today, they serve primarily in companionship roles.
Height at Withers: 19-23" (48-58.5 cm)
Weight: 50-55 lb (23-25 kg)
Coat: Born pure white as puppies, their spots develop as they mature starting at two weeks of age. The flat, short glossy coat consists of fine straight hairs and is black and white or liver and white (the latter is uncommon and is of recessive inheritance). Markings are well demarcated from the white, should not overlap, and should be round with specified minimum and maximum size. If patches of color are present from birth and they have irregular margins-they are a disqualification.
Longevity: 12-14 years
Points of Conformation: As one would expect in a coach dog, a strong, smooth, speedy but effortless ground covering stride and presence of mind and judgment around horses and traffic are paramount. Endurance is a breed hallmark. They are square in conformation and have a muscular, lithe, trim build. They have an alert expression. The skin on the skull is tight (unwrinkled), eyes are deep set and rounded, brown or blue colored and medium-sized. Palpebral margins should be completely pigmented. Ears taper to rounded tips and are moderately sized, pendulous and triangular in shape, lying close to the head. The leather is fine. The stop is moderate, skull is flat, muzzle blocky, and the nose is black or brown to match the coat. The lips are close and dry. The neck is fairly long, not throaty, and is slightly arched. The topline smoothly descends towards the rear. The thorax is deep, ribs are well sprung, and the abdomen has a moderate tuck up. The curved tail tapers at the tip and reaches the tarsus at rest. Limbs are straight boned, dewclaws may be removed. Feet are very compact with very tough thick pads. Strong nails match the coat color or are white, and the toes are very well arched up.
Recognized Behavior Issues and Traits
Reported breed traits include: Highly intelligent, loyal and quick to protect home and family, good watchdog, quick to learn, very high activity levels (exuberant) and high exercise needs, extroverted, playful and sensitive.
They need only low grooming levels and are moderate shedders. Inter-male aggression is sometimes a problem, as can be snippiness and aggression towards people. They can be a bit too lively for very small children but good for older quiet children if socialized. They are generally aloof with strangers and some lines may be a bit high strung. They need human companionship and need activities to keep them busy or they may develop boredom vices.
Normal Physiologic Variations
Hyperuricosuria (Abnormal Purine Metabolism): All Dalmatians are homozygous recessive for a mutation in the SLC2A9 gene causing abnormal purine metabolism and hyperuricosuria. This can predispose to urate bladder stones and Dalmatian bronzing syndrome. A Dalmatian back-cross project begun in 1973 with a breeding between a Dalmatian and an English Pointer reintroduced the normal allele for purine metablism. Repeated matings back to Dalmatians over 13+ generations have produced phenotypically normal Dalamtians that carry the normal allele. These dogs are now registerable as Dalamtians by the UKC, and the AKC.
Dal Red Blood Cell Type: Some Dalmatians lack a red blood cell antigen that causes them to develop novel IgG alloantibodies post-transfusion. These dogs are at risk of delayed and acute hemolytic reactions after subsequent transfusions. Crossmating should be performed for all Dalmatian transfusions.
Deafness: Congenital deafness can be unilateral or bilateral. Diagnosed by BAER testing. Strain reports total (uni or bilateral) deafness frequency of 29.9% based on BAER testing. 21.9% of all Dalmatians test unilaterally deaf, and 8.0% test bilaterally deaf. Heritability is estimated at 0.73-0.75 with a polygenic mode of inheritance. Dorn reports a 409.34x odds ratio versus other breeds. Blue eyed Dalmatians (only allowed in the US standard, not internationally) have a much higher incidence of deafness than brown eyed dogs. Deafness and blue eye color are both associated with the MITF gene.
Hip Dysplasia: Polygenically inherited trait causing degenerative joint disease and hip arthritis. OFA reports 4.6% affected.
Elbow Dysplasia: Polygenically inherited trait causing elbow arthritis. OFA reports 0.4% affected.
Patella Luxation: Polygenically inherited laxity of patellar ligaments, causing luxation, lameness, and later degenerative joint disease. Treat surgically if causing clinical signs. Too few Dalmatians have been screened by OFA to determine an accurate frequency.
Urate Urolithiasis: All Dalmatians are affected with hyperuricosuria, and urate crystals are uniformly formed in the breed. Reports show that 34% of male Dalmatians go on to form urate stones. Male Dalmatians have a 14.0x odds ratio for forming urate stones versus female Dalmatians. The heritability of urate bladder stone formation is reported to be 0.87. Dorn reports a 9.03x odds ratio versus other breeds. Treatment is with surgical removal, and prevention with medications. Reported at a frequency of 3.0% in the 2002 Dalmatian Club of America Health Survey.
Hypothyroidism: Inherited autoimmune thyroiditis. 16.3% positive for thyroid autoantibodies based on testing at Michigan State University. (Ave. for all breeds is 7.5%) Reported at a frequency of 3.0% in the 2002 Dalmatian Club of America Health Survey.
Allergic Dermatitis: Inhalant or food allergy. Presents with pruritis and pyotraumatic dermatitis. Dalmatians have a significantly increased risk for atopy versus other breeds. Reported at a frequency of 9.0% in the 2002 Dalmatian Club of America Health Survey.
Dalmatian Bronzing Syndrome (Xanthomatosis): Skin condition in dalmatians characterized by a patchy haircoat and bronze hue with folliculitis. This appears to be related to the excessive uric acid excretion that occurs in the Dalmatian. Not all Dalmatians are affected, even though all have elevated uric acid excretion.
Distichiasis: Abnormally placed eyelashes that irritate the cornea and conjunctiva. Can cause secondary corneal ulceration. Identified in 2.37% of Dalmatians CERF-examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005.
Corneal Dystrophy: The breed can have an epithelial/stromal form of corneal dystrophy. Age of onset 2-5 years. Identified in 2.37% of Dalmatians CERF-examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005.
Idiopathic Epilepsy: Inherited seizures. The breed is reported with both generalized and partial-onset seizures. 18.2% start as generalized seizures, and 36.4% begin as partial seizures (with the rest mixed) at a mean age of 3.2 years. 91% of affected Dalmatians progress to generalized seizures. Dorn reports a 4.05x odds ratio versus other breeds. Reported at a frequency of 2.0% in the 2002 Dalmatian Club of America Health Survey. Control with anti-seizure medication. Unknown mode of inheritance.
Demodicosis (Generalized): Demodectic mange has an underlying immunodeficiency in its pathogenesis. Dorn reports a 1.42x odds ratio versus other breeds. Reported at a frequency of 2.0% in the 2002 Dalmatian Club of America Health Survey.
Behavioral Problems: Dalmatians are over-represented in veterinary behavioral consultations versus other breeds in all categories, including aggression, anxiety, house soiling, and phobias.
Glaucoma: Primary, narrow angle glaucoma occurs in the breed. Can cause blindness due to retinal damage, or secondary lens luxation. Screen with gonioscopy and tonometry. Reported increased incidence in Dalmatians versus other breeds. CERF does not recommend breeding any Dalmatian with glaucoma.
Cataracts: Intermediate cataracts predominate in the breed. Reported in 1.69% of Dalmatians CERF examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005. CERF does not recommend breeding any Dalmatian with a cataract.
Iris Coloboma: Developmental defect of the iris. Identified in 1.52% of Dalmatians CERF-examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005. CERF does not recommend breeding any Dalmatian with a coloboma.
Persistent Pupillary Membranes: Strands of fetal remnant connecting; iris to iris, cornea, lens, or involving sheets of tissue. The later three forms can impair vision, and dogs affected with these forms should not be bred. Identified in 1.18% of Dalmatians CERF examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005.
Iris Sphincter Dysplasia (ISD): Abnormality of persistently dilated pupils seen in the breed. The majority of affected dogs are liver spotted, but black spotted dogs with this disorder have also been identified. Slit lamp examination of the eyes by an ophthalmologist reveals dysplasia (abnormal development) or atrophy (degeneration) of the muscles responsible for pupillary contraction. This iris sphincter dysplasia has been noted in puppies as young as 13 weeks of age as well as in adults.
Cervical Spondylomyelopathy (Wobbler Syndrome): Presents with neck pain, UMN spasticity and ataxia. Imaging studies suggest that the primary lesion is spinal cord compression at C5-6 or C6-7. MRI is superior to myelography in determining site, severity, and nature of the spinal cord compression. Seen at an increased incidence in the breed. Undetermined mode of inheritance.
Copper-Associated Liver Disease: Copper toxicosis is a documented disorder in Dalmatians. Affected dogs present with gastrointestinal clinical signs, including anorexia and vomiting. All animals have increased ALT and ALP without cholestasis. The mean hepatic copper concentration for nine Dalmatians was 3,197 microg/g dry weight liver (normal, < 450 microg/g) in one report. The findings indicate a primary metabolic defect in hepatic copper metabolism.
Actinic Keratosis: Affected dogs present with alopecia, erythema, comedones, scales, excoriation, pustules, epidermal collarettes, crusts and scars, with pathologic development of epidermal hyperplasia, parakeratosis, and orthokeratosis. Lesions occur secondary to prolonged UV/sunlight exposure, and may be a precursor to squamous cell carcinoma. Seen at an increased frequency in the breed.
Laryngeal Paralysis-Polyneuropathy: Rare disorder in young Dalmatians presenting with laryngeal paralysis and megaesophagus. Neurogenic atrophy is present in intrinsic laryngeal and appendicular skeletal muscles. Pathology reveals a diffuse, generalized polyneuropathy, dominated by axonal degeneration. Unknown mode of inheritance.
Neuronal Ceroid-Lipofuscinosis (NCL): Rare, fatal inherited degenerative neurological disease. Affected Dalmatians present between 6-12 months of age, and die between 1.5 to 8 years of age. They present with variable signs of blindness, tremor, ataxia, and seizures. Also reported as leucodystrophy in earlier reports. Unknown mode of inheritance. CERF does not recommend breeding any Dalmatian with NCL.
Brachygnathism, Calcium Oxalate Urolithiasis, Ciliary Dyskinesia, Dermoid, Diabetes Mellitus, Entropion, IgA Deficiency, Microphthalmia, Muscular Dystrophy, Pannus, Prognathism, Progressive Retinal Atrophy, Sebaceous Adenitis, Spina Bifida, Uveal Hypopigmentation, and Wry Mouth are reported.
Isolated Case Studies
Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM): Identified in eight male Dalmatians fed low protein diets (for prevention of urate uroliths.) All dogs had left-sided heart failure with severe left ventricular dilatation. Mean age of onset was 6.8 years, with a median survival of 10 months. Taurine levels were normal in the affected dogs.
Alport Syndrome: Autosomal dominant Alport Syndrome was identified in a family of Dalmatians in Australia. Affected dogs presented with hematuria, renal failure and deafness at a mean age of 18 months.
Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy: This heart disease has been reported in the Dalmatian, possibly associated with mitral valve dysplasia.
Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS): Reported in 11 young Dalmatians from four litters. After trauma, tachypnea and noisy respiration progressed to strenuous and rapid respirations, cyanosis, vomiting, and death. Affected dogs had multiple foci of marked atypical hyperplasia and squamous metaplasia of the bronchiolar epithelium, patchy ongoing fibrosis with myofibroblastic metaplasia, smooth muscle hyperplasia and occasional honeycombing of alveolar walls, and hyperplasia of atypical type II pneumocytes. Some affected dogs had renal aplasia and hydrocephalus.
Cerebrospinal Hypomyelinogenesis: Identified in a newborn Dalmatian with generalized body tremors, which interfered with the pup's ability to suckle, walk, and maintain sternal recumbency. The pup was euthanatized at eight weeks of age.
Spinal Dysraphism (Syringomyelia, Myelodysplasia): Spinal cord disorder identified in a Dalmatian at 8 weeks of age. Presented as a bunny hopping gait with loss of reciprocal hind limb movement.
Tests of Genotype: Direct tests for black and liver (brown) colors, and black or brown nose are available from HealthGene and VetGen. Direct test for hyperuricosuria is available from UC-Davis VGL and the Animal Health Trust.
Tests of Phenotype: CHIC Certification: Required testing includes hip radiographs and BAER hearing test. Elective tests include CERF eye examination and thyroid profile including autoantibodies. (See CHIC website; caninehealthinfo.org).
Additional recommended tests include patella evaluation, elbow radiographs, and cardiac evaluation.
- Breed name synonyms: Coach Dog, Fire Dog, Fire House Dog, Carriage Dog
- Registries: AKC, UKC, CKC, KCGB (Kennel Club of Great Britain), ANKC (Australian National Kennel Club), NKC (National Kennel Club)
- AKC rank (year 2008): 76 (983 dogs registered)
- Internet resources: The Dalmation Club of America: thedca.org
The Dalmatian Club of Canada: dalmatianclubofcanada.ca
British Dalmatian Club: britishdalmatianclub.org.uk
Dalmatian Club of America Foundation (DCAF): dcaf.org
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