Dalmatians are active, intelligent dogs that perform well as working dogs, show animals or family pets. Although best known in the United States for their role as firehouse dogs and mascots, these animals have held jobs as retrievers, shepherds and war dogs in earlier eras. They have high energy levels and require regular exercise, but have minimal grooming requirements aside from a daily brushing to control shedding. Several genetic health issues affect dalmatians.
Deafness is one of the most significant physical problems in dalmatians. According to E.J. Cargill et al at Texas A & M University, approximately 30 percent of dalmatians in the United States are born congenitally deaf in one or both ears. Blue-eyed dogs with a large amount of white in their coat are at higher risk of deafness than other members of the breed, and females are at higher risk than males.
Some dalmatians have a genetic disorder that makes it difficult for their bodies to completely break down urates, which are salts that form during the protein digestion process. Tiny crystals in the urine clump together to form stones. Sometimes these stones block the urinary tract and make it difficult for dogs to urinate. Females with urinary stones may lick the genital area and might have housebreaking accidents, while males are often unable to urinate. Urinary blockage is an emergency situation and the dog will need immediate veterinary care.
Some dalmatian puppies are born with incorrectly-developed iris sphincter muscles; the pupils cannot contract normally when the dog is exposed to bright sunlight, so exposure to bright lights can be painful. Dogs may squint when outdoors. Entropion is a condition where the eyelid rolls inward and the eyelashes rub against the surface of the eye, causing irritation. This disorder can lead to vision loss over time. Other visual conditions include glaucoma, or a buildup of pressure within the eye; pannus, which is an inflammation of the cornea; ceroid lipofuscinosis, a metabolic disorder that deteriorates the retina, and dermoids, which are folds of skin that form near the eye and irritate the cornea or conjunctiva.
Dalmatian puppies sometimes succumb to a nervous system disorder called laryngeal paralysis. Puppies with this disorder usually show symptoms before they are six months old. They may have difficulty breathing and usually die of pneumonia within several months of diagnosis. Common symptoms include loss of muscle tone and generalized weakness, as well as coughing. Degenerative myelopathy is another nervous system issue. The myelin that protects the nerves in the spinal cord deteriorates. Affected dogs may have progressive difficulty using their back legs.
By Stephany Elsworth
Louisiana State University: Heritability and Segregation Analysis of Deafness in U.S. Dalmatians; E.J. Cargill et al; November 2003
Canine Inherited Disorders Database: What is Deafness?
The Dalmatian Club of America: Urinary Stone Disease in Dalmatians
Canine Inherited Disorders Database: What is Urolithiasis?
The Dalmatian Club of America: A Look at Iris Sphincter Dysplasia in Dalmatians
Dalmatian Club of America National Specialty: Dalmatian
Canine Inherited Disorders Database: What is Pannus?
Canine Inherited Disorders Database: What are Peripheral Neuropathies?
Pet Doc: Degenerative Myelopathy in Dogs; Marcie Whidden
American Kennel Club: Dalmatian
About the Author
Stephany Elsworth holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts in fine arts/curriculum and instruction from Texas State University and a Master of Education in reading education from Grand Canyon University. She enjoys gardening, arts and crafts and spending time with family.