Information about the Dalmatian

The Dalmatian (Croatian: Dalmatinac, Dalmatiner) is a breed of dog whose roots are often said to trace back to Dalmatia, a region of Croatia where the first illustrations of the dog have been found. The Dalmatian is noted for its unique black- or brown-spotted coat and was mainly used as a carriage dog in its early days. Today, this dog remains a well-loved family pet and many dog enthusiasts enter their pets into the competitions of many kennel clubs.

The Dalmatian is a mid-sized, well-defined, muscular dog with excellent endurance and stamina. When full grown, its weight normally ranges between 35 and 70 pounds (16 and 32 kg) and it stands from 19 to 24 inches (48 to 61 cm) tall, with males usually slightly larger than females. The body is as long from forechest to buttocks as it is tall at the withers, and the shoulders are laid back. The Dalmatian’s feet are round with well-arched toes, and the nails are usually white or the same color as the dog’s spots. The thin ears taper towards the tip and are set fairly high and close to the head. Eye color varies between brown, amber, or blue, with some dogs having one blue eye and one brown eye, or other combinations.

Dalmatian puppies are born with plain white coats, and their first spots usually appear within a week after birth. After about a month, they have most of their spots, although they continue to develop throughout life at a much slower rate. Spots usually range in size from 30 to 60 mm, and are most commonly black or brown (liver) on a white background. Other more rare colors include blue (a blue-grayish color), brindle, mosaic, tricolored (with tan spotting on the eyebrows, cheeks, legs, and chest), and orange or lemon (dark to pale yellow). Patches of color appear anywhere on the body, mostly on the head or ears, and usually consist of a solid color.

The Dalmatian coat is usually short, fine, and dense, although smooth-coated Dalmatians occasionally produce long-coated offspring which shed less often. They shed considerably year-round. The short, stiff hairs often weave into clothing, upholstery and nearly any other kind of fabric and can be difficult to remove. Weekly grooming with a hound mitt or curry can lessen the amount of hair Dalmatians shed, although nothing can completely prevent shedding. Due to the minimal amount of oil in their coats, Dalmatians lack a “dog” smell and stay fairly clean.

The Dalmatian is often used as a rescue dog, guardian, athletic partner, and most often an active family member. Dalmatians are a very active, high maintenance breed. Pet owners should be willing to put extra time and effort into the care of this dog. They normally have a big appetite and will eat whatever is put in front of them, so pet owners should carefully control food intake. This fun-loving breed is very easily trained and rarely aggressive, and owners should find it relatively simple to train their dogs to participate in activities such as jogging, horseback riding, agility, flyball, and common dog tricks. Dalmatians need plenty of exercise, otherwise they may develop anxieties, but if given ample room to run and romp 30 to 40 minutes daily, this should be sufficient.

Dalmatians usually have litters of fewer than 10 pups, but they have been known to have larger litters on occasion. In January 2009, a Dalmatian gave birth to the massive brood, 18 puppies, and all were healthy.

Like other breeds, Dalmatians display a propensity towards certain health problems. Hip dysplasia (which affects only 4.6% of purebred Dalmatians) is not a major issue in this breed. The Dalmatian Club of America lists the average lifespan of a Dalmatian at between 11 and 13 years, although some can live as long as 15 to 16 years. Breed health surveys in the US and UK shows an average lifespan of 9.9 and 11.55 years, respectively. In their late teens, both males and females may suffer bone spurs and arthritic conditions. Autoimmune thyroiditis is a relatively common condition for the breed, affecting 10.4% of dogs.

A genetic predisposition for deafness is a serious health problem for Dalmatians; only about 70% have normal hearing. Deafness was not recognized by early breeders, so the breed was thought to be unintelligent. Even after recognizing the problem as a genetic fault, breeders did not understand the dogs’ nature, and deafness in Dalmatians continues to be a frequent problem.

Researchers now know deafness in albino and piebald animals is caused by the absence of mature melanocytes in the inner ear. This may affect one or both ears. The condition is also common in other canine breeds that share a genetic propensity for light pigmentation. This includes, but is not limited to Bull Terriers, Poodles, Boxers, Border Collies and Great Danes.

Only dogs with bilateral hearing should be allowed to breed, although those with unilateral hearing, and even dogs with bilateral deafness, make fine pets with appropriate training. The Dalmatian Club of America states that deaf pups should always be euthanized and never be sold or placed to pet homes. Dalmatians with large patches of color present at birth have a lower rate of deafness, and breeding for this trait, which is currently prohibited in the breed standard, might reduce the frequency of deafness in the breed. One of the leading reasons patches are a disqualifying factor in Dalmatians is to preserve the much-prized spotted coat (the continual breeding of patched dogs would result in heavily patched Dalmatians with few spots).

Blue-eyed Dalmatians have a greater incidence of deafness than brown-eyed Dalmatians, although an absolute link between the two characteristics has yet to be conclusively proven. Though blue-eyed Dalmatians are not necessarily deaf, many kennel clubs consider blue eyes to be a fault or even a disqualification, and some discourage the use of blue-eyed dogs in breeding programs.