Here are several FAQ's and resources to break down common questions and health issues within the Dalmatian breed.
Genetic tests only test a dog's genome or genetic make up and cannot tell a person any physical issues a dog may have. These tests can tell an individual how a dog may look or diseases they may be effected by or carry and pass on to their offspring but doesn’t tell a person if a dog will ever develop or are demonstrating symptoms of the disease they are effected by or indicate if a dog will have physical health issues. Companies that perform these tests include, but are not limited to, Embark, GenSol Diagnostics, UC Davis, and Pawprint Genetics. Some companies only test for genetic diseases that are selected for by the breeder and others test for all known genetic diseases that they have a test for. Each breed is different and therefore has a different set of recommended genetic tests that be evaluated for in each dog. Because of this, it is important that if the breeder you choose utilizes one of the genetic testing companies that only tests for selected genetic diseases, rather than a full panel, that you are aware of what genetic diseases are prevalent within the breed. Many backyard breeders attempt to fool potential buyers that their breeding stock is fully health tested when in fact they have only performed genetic testing on their dogs.
Health tests are medical tests performed on a dog that evaluates their physical characteristics. Such tests must be performed by a veterinarian and can include radiographs (x-rays), blood tests, neurological stimulation tests, and examinations performed by specialists on various parts of the dog‘s anatomy. The recommended tests for each dog changes based on breed and the results are typically submitted by the breeder and stored in the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals’ (OFA) database.
The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) created the Canine Health Information Center (CHIC) program by partnering with participating parent clubs to research and maintain information on the health issues prevalent in specific breeds. The purpose of this program is to establish and maintain a central health information system in a manner that will support research into canine disease and provide health information to owners and breeders. For buyers, the CHIC program provides accurate information about the results of a breeder’s health testing. For diseases that are limited to phenotypic evaluations, there are no guarantees. However, the probability that an animal will develop an inherited disease is reduced (but not entirely eliminated) when its ancestry has tested normal. One of the downsides to this program is that, in order for a dog to receive a CHIC number, they just have to have had the testing performed and submitted to the OFA. This means that dog's that did not pass a test or have normal results will still receive their CHIC number as long as they have all of the required tests performed. Because of this, please ensure that you are reviewing both parent's posted test results when deciding whether to purchase from a breeder rather than just relying on the presence of a CHIC number to determine whether you will purchase from them.
The tests that have been identified and agreed upon by the OFA and Dalmatian Club of America (DCA) for Dalmatians to receive their CHIC number are the following:
PennHip or OFA Hip Evaluation for Dysplasia (final score provided at 2 years of age).
BAER hearing test evaluation by either OFA or GDC (performed at any age).
And ONE of the following:
OFA Thyroid evaluation (final results provided at 1 year of age).
ACVO Eye Exam (final result provided at 1 year of age).
Hip dysplasia is a common skeletal condition, often seen in large or giant breed dogs, although it can occur in smaller breeds, as well. Several factors lead to the development of hip dysplasia in dogs, beginning with genetics. Hip dysplasia is hereditary and is especially common in larger dogs. Other factors such as excessive growth rate, types of exercise, and improper weight and nutrition can magnify this genetic predisposition. Some dogs begin to show signs of hip dysplasia when they are as young as four months of age. Others develop it in conjunction with osteoarthritis as they age. In both cases, there are a few symptoms that owners should be familiar with. These symptoms may vary depending on the severity of the disease, the level of inflammation, the degree of looseness in the joint, and how long the dog has suffered from hip dysplasia.
The Dalmatian is not as prone to develop this disease as many other larger/giant breeds [ranks 170th among the dog breeds whose results are submitted to the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA)]. Due to its status as a medium/large breed the OFA and Dalmatian Club of America (DCA) have agreed that this test should be required to receive a Canine Health Information Center (CHIC) due to the dogs size, not necessarily because it is prevalent within the breed.
This test can be performed on a dog at almost any age but any evaluation performed prior to a dog turning 2 will be a preliminary evaluation and only the final evaluation can be considered for the CHIC program.
The Dalmatian is susceptible to congenital deafness which is thought to be inherited. The condition cannot be treated or cured, but controlled breeding can possibly prevent or minimize the occurrence.
Out of 1234 tested Dalmatians, the prevalence of overall deafness was 18.4%, of which 13.1% were unilaterally deaf (deaf in one ear), and 5.3% were bilaterally deaf (deaf in both ears). There was no association between deafness and either testing location or coat color but prevalence was strongly associated with the hearing status of the dam and sire (parents).
This is why all puppies are recommended to have their hearing tested by their breeder after the age of 6 weeks, and why this is a required test for the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) Canine Health Information Center (CHIC) program. Although Congenital Deafness does not cause disease or direct harm to the dog, it can cause a difference in the training methods and presents its own challenges for both the puppy and owner.
Prevalence and Prevention of Deafness
The Dalmatian used to rank 11th among all breeds for autoimmune thyroiditis prevalence but is now ranked as 6th by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) and with a 16.3% positivity rate of 3194 dogs tested. The disease is usually treatable, nonetheless learning that your dog has a thyroid condition is understandably concerning. The thyroid gland is located in your dog’s neck, where it produces the hormone thyroxine (T4), along with several other important thyroid hormones. These hormones play a large role in your dog’s metabolism and can cause major problems when they are not produced at normal levels. Symptoms vary based on whether the dog has hypo- or hyperthyroidism but the primary symptom relates to the dog’s metabolism and thus weight.
How Common Thyroid Disease is in the Dalmatian
Iris Sphincter Dysplasia (ISD) presents itself as persistently dilated pupils. The majority of affected dogs are liver spotted, but black spotted dogs with this disorder have also been identified. Evaluation by ophthalmologists reveal dysplasia (abnormal development) or atrophy (degeneration) of the muscles responsible for pupillary contraction. ISD has been noted in puppies as young as 13 weeks of age as well as in adults. This disorder/disease alone does not seriously affect the dog as they will be uncomfortable in bright sunlight. They may also be prone to development of ultraviolet light induced cataracts with age. Some older ISD affected dogs have also shown definite signs of some type of Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA) which initially presents as dim light or night blindness but it is not yet certain whether these 2 anomalies are linked. A study performed in 1999 showed a positivity rate of 15% in the 80 Dalmatians tested for ISD. This disease is not age-specific and there are strong indicators pointing to a genetic link which is why breeding stock should be evaluated multiple times throughout their life, not just once in order to obtain their CHIC number.
Dalmatians have a specific genetic defect that affects the metabolism of uric acid. This was discovered nearly a century ago and is caused by a homozygous recessive gene (uu) found in all purebred Dalmatians and all of these dogs are now referred to as as High Uric Acid (HUA) dogs. Because of this gene, metabolism of purine proteins stops at one step earlier - at uric acid. Although the Dalmatian has the normal enzyme called uricase to metabolize uric acid to allantoin, the uric acid just cannot get to the cell for the uricase to work on because there is a missing transporter protein that is responsible for doing that. So instead, uric acid is excreted into the urine by the kidneys. Uric acid is less soluble than allantoin, and under certain concentrations and pH conditions, uric acid can come out of solution as a salt called urate. Urates can form crystals, which can clump together to form aggregates, and even bigger pieces - stones. Stones can form of various sizes, and if large enough, stones can block the urethra - the tube leading from the bladder to the outside world of the Dalmatian and onto your carpet or the grass. This blockage is much more common in male Dalmatians than females because the males have something called the os penis - a bone in their penis that is very small in caliber and can easily become blocked. Although there is a large genetic component to the formation of these stones there are some environmental risk factors that increase the likelihood that urinary uric acid will form solids (stones) in the bladder, such as inadequate water intake, or if urine stays in the bladder for an extended period of time. Diets particularly rich in proteins, and specifically high in purine content (like feeding or baiting with liver) can increase the risk of increasing urinary uric acid. Sometimes local water properties can exacerbate the problem. Breeders and owners must manage the percentage of protein in the food that is provided to their Dalmatian - generally around 21% - and be cautious that the formula is relatively low in purine proteins - no liver. Adequate and liberal access to water is important, as are frequent opportunities to exercise and relieve the Dalmatian.
In order to mitigate the genetic factors of this disease the “Dalmatian Backcross Project” commenced in 1973 with the original outcross of an AKC registered Champion Pointer sire bred to an AKC registered Dalmatian dam. This was done to introduce the dominant HUU gene into the Dalmatian breed and this pairing resulted in offspring that presented as Uu or what we now consider as Low Uric Acid (LUA) dogs. Until 2005 there was only a single breeder assisting with the unofficial research and evaluating the pairings and whom did not have national club (including AKC) support. Due to this, the dogs were not able to be kennel club registered until 2011 when the AKC finally accepted the first LUA Dal into its registry.
All dogs of any age can be tested for this gene through various genetic testing companies such as UC Davis, GenSolDx, and Embark. UU and Uu dogs are considered LUA and uu is considered HUA. A UU dog will produce only LUA dogs whereas a Uu and uu dog can produce a combination of LUA or HUA dogs, all depending on the genetics of who they’re bred to. A HUA dog bred to another HUA dog (uu x uu) will only produce HUA progeny.
As a disclaimer, however, just because a dog is LUA does not mean that they will not develop stones in their life due to the fact that, as previously mentioned, there are other factors that cause stone formation. Being LUA just means that the dog is not GENETICALLY PRONE to the formation of stones.
As a basic breakdown, UU (Homozygous LUA) would be Clear, Uu (Heterozygous LUA) would be Carrier, and uu (HUA) would be Affected. To put this into perspective, when I pair Stoli with Ries, the statistical odds are that 50% of the puppies will be a Carrier (Heterozygous LUA) and 50% Affect (HUA). This is because Stoli is HUA (Affected) and Ries is Heterozygous LUA (Carrier). However, as we all know statistics and reality don’t always match up 100% so there is no guarantees that half of every litter they produce will be LUA. When I breed Bonnie or Jasmine to Stoli, 100% of their litters will be uu (HUA) as they are all Affected.
UC Davis on the Gene that Regulates Uric Acid
Hepatic copper toxicosis can result from either a primary metabolic defect in hepatic copper metabolism or from altered hepatic biliary excretion of copper. An inherited copper-associated hepatopathy has been documented in other breeds but not yet in the Dalmatian (meaning there is not yet a genetic test or evaluation to how this disease is passed on to a dog's offspring, at least not in the Dalmatian). All dogs that were positive for this disease presented with gastrointestinal signs including anorexia and vomiting. All animals also had increased alanine aminotransferase (ALT) enzyme activity which is measured in the blood (and is why routine bloodwork is recommended as every dogs ‘normal’ ALT level is different and what is evaluated as normal could actually be high if your particular dog’s normal is lower than the average dog’s). It has been found that there is a metabolic defect in how the Dalmatian stores copper in the liver, however the mechanism and potential genetics of this disease are still being researched and not much is yet known. What is known is that this disease can eventually cause liver failure and death if not treated.
Copper-Associated Liver Disease
The Coefficient of Inbreeding (COI) is the percentage of genes that is repeated in a dog‘s DNA. Calculating a breeding dog’s COI is important, especially when deciding on which dogs to pair together as doing so can assist the breeder in calculating the offspring’s probability of inheriting two copies of the same allele from an ancestor that occurs on both sides of the pedigree. So, for a mating that would result in offspring with an inbreeding coefficient of 10%, there is a one in 10 chance that any particular locus would have two copies of the same allele, and 10% of all of the genes in an animal will be homozygous. Dogs with high COI’s typically develop more health problems as they are more closely related than dogs with low COI’s. There also is a difference between genetic COI’s (gCOI's) and pedigree COI’s. When calculating a dogs COI based on pedigree only, you are only performing a statistical analysis of the dog’s previous 8 generations whereas with a gCOI you are looking at each dog‘s actual genetic makeup and seeing how many genes repeat themselves. For example, my male (Stoli) has a pedigree COI of 0.1253% but a gCOI of 13%. Ries, on the other hand, has a pedigree COI of 0.4532% and a gCOI of 14%. All offspring produced by this pairing would have a pedigree COI of 0.9733% but Embark has projected the gCOI as being 15.6%.
What would be considered a good COI for a breeding dog? In general, a COI less than 5% is best. Any dog with a COI higher than 5% will display the detrimental effects and risks of inbreeding, and the breeder needs to weigh these against whatever benefit is expected to be gained by that particular pairing. Inbreeding levels of 5-10% will have modest detrimental effects on the offspring. Inbreeding levels above 10% will have significant effects, not only on the quality of the offspring, but there will also be detrimental effects to the breed as a whole.
However, the reality of the Dalmatian breed is that the average COI of every purebred Dal is approximately 15% with majority of the European-bred dogs having a COI of roughly 20-25%. Even if these European dogs are not closely related by pedigree, these COI’s put them as the basic equivalent as the offspring of full siblings.
•Black-Black spots (same gene as the liver gene but dominant over liver).
•Liver-Brown spots (same gene as the black gene but recessive to black), no breeder should be breeding 2 liver spotted dogs together as this is a recessive gene and doing so can cause additional health issues and is a typical sign of a breeder breeding for color rather than for health.
Other naturally occurring colors, markings, and features but dogs with these features are major faults or disqualifications in conformation classes:
•Patches-Large spots present at the time of birth typically located on the ear(s) or eye(s) but can occur on the tail or shoulders. There is controversy regarding whether breeders should be breeding dogs with these markings as this is a fault as it is believed that patched dogs produce more patched offspring than non-patched dogs.
•Blue eyes-1 or both eyes are blue, some links to deafness. Due to being a fault and there being a link to deafness these dogs should not be bred.
•Kinked tail-A tail that is bent at birth.
•Non-solid colored noses-Nose is partially or completely pink. Most puppies (but not all) will have their nose color fill in if the pink is surrounded by black/brown but pink edges will most likely not fill in.
•Long coat-Long haired Dalmatians are a disqualification and there is some controversy of whether these dogs should be bred as some believe they are not as ‘purebred’.
•Lemon-Yellow spots with black or liver nose. No breeder should be breeding 2 lemon spotted dogs together as this is a recessive gene just like in liver spotted dogs. There is controversy over whether these dogs should be bred as oftentimes in order to obtain this color most (but not all) of the dogs are extremely inbred which can lead to other health issues and can be a sign of a breeder breeding for color rather than for health. This can also be a sign of a breeder breeding for color rather than for health so be sure to do your research before purchasing a lemon puppy.
•Orange-Orange spots with black or liver nose. There is controversy over whether these dogs should be bred as in order to obtain this color most (but not all) of the dogs are extremely inbred which can lead to other health issues and this can also be a sign of a breeder breeding for color rather than for health so be sure to do your research before purchasing an orange puppy.
•Tri-colored-Black and tan or liver and tan spots. Typically the tan is located on the dogs ‘points’ similar to a Doberman Pinscher or Rottweiler. There is controversy over whether these dogs should be bred as in order to obtain this color most (but not all) of the dogs are extremely inbred which can lead to other health issues and this can also be a sign of a breeder breeding for color rather than for health so be sure to do your research before purchasing a tri-colored puppy.
•Brindle-Spots are brown or liver with the brindling pattern within the spots. There is controversy over whether these dogs should be bred as in order to obtain this color most (but not all) of the dogs are extremely inbred which can lead to other health issues and this can also be a sign of a breeder breeding for color rather than for health so be sure to do your research before purchasing a brindle puppy.
•Trindles-Tri-colored and brindles spots. There is controversy over whether these dogs should be bred as in order to obtain this color most (but not all) of the dogs are extremely inbred which can lead to other health issues and this can also be a sign of a breeder breeding for color rather than for health so be sure to do your research before purchasing a trindle puppy.
•Blue-Blue (Gray) spots, these dogs are a black based dog with the homozygous recessive dilution gene. There is controversy over whether these dogs should be bred as in order to obtain this color most (but not all) of the dogs are extremely inbred which can lead to other health issues and this can also be a sign of a breeder breeding for color rather than for health so be sure to do your research before purchasing a blue puppy.
•Isabella-Pale tan spots, these dogs are a liver based dog with the homozygous recessive dilution gene. There is controversy over whether these dogs should be bred as in order to obtain this color most (but not all) of the dogs are extremely inbred which can lead to other health issues and this can also be a sign of a breeder breeding for color rather than for health so be sure to do your research before purchasing an isabella puppy.
•Mosaics-These dogs have a single spot of another color.
•Two-tone-Spots that have 2 tones of the same color with each spot. Oftentimes the spot is darker on the outside and lighter on the inside creating a spot that almost looks like a ring.
Dalmatians are a medium to large breed with the actual size largely depending on each individual’s lines/pedigree. AKC has a very strict standard for the Dal and states that the dogs should be 45 to 70 pounds and stand 19 to 24 inches at the wither (shoulder) and any individual taller or shorter than this will receive a fault, if not a disqualification. Many of the European kennel clubs do not have as strict of height requirements so because of this dogs from these lines tend to be larger than their American counterparts. The reason for the strict height requirements is due to the Dal’s original job of escorting coaches and carriages. Depending on the dog‘s preference and individual training, so Dals escorted the coach or carriage while underneath the vehicle which would not be possible if the dog was too tall.
Dalmatians shed A LOT. Because of this they are not highly recommended for families with members that have allergies. When they shed their hair gets stuck to all fabric and can be difficult to remove due to havibg a barb on the end that hooks onto cloth fibers. While Dalmatians shed year round, their is an increase in fall and spring months as the dogs blow their coat. Brushing Dals with a curry comb can help but will not eliminate the shedding entirely. With their short, slick coat they remain relatively clean with minimal odor. When they do get dirty they will typically be naturally clean again within hours with the exception being mud or similar type substrates.
Dalmatians are a very energetic breed bred to keep up with horses all day every day as they guarded the coach and scared off thieves and predator. They also oftentimes were responsible for hunting their own food as they escorted coaches and carriages. While the Dal is now out of a job due to the retirement of the use of coaches and carriages they have kept this energy level throughout the generations. Because of this, Dals must get plenty of exercise and mental stimulation on a daily basis and do very well with active families that like to jog, hike, or even go on trail rides with horses. A bored Dal is a destructive Dal so it is in both the owners and the dogs best interest to avoid boredom.
A lot of people ask how often should they breed and at what age is it safe to start breeding?
Way back when, the best practice for breeding was to wait until a dog was at least 2-4 years old, had at least 3 heat cycles to breed, and also to skip at least 1 cycle between litters. New data and research has now come out to challenge these old thought processes.
To address back-to-back breeding:
Traditionally, we thought that females needed a “break” between litters for their optimum health. That’s no longer considered best practice, for several reasons. First, when you look at the reproductive and nursing cycle of a dog and their healing needs, it’s fairly comparable to a human having a baby every 2 years or so. Dogs are not people and it is important to note this as this can be helpful to some who find initial mental resistance with breeding a female as frequently as twice a year. Next is the effect of progesterone on the uterus. One of the most vocal proponents of breeding back-to-back is well-known reproductive specialist Dr. Robert Hutchison. According to Dr. Hutchison, the progesterone level in the female remains elevated for two months after ovulation whether or not she has a pregnancy. This is a critical fact, since progesterone can be inflammatory and cause thickening of the lining of the uterus which is also one of the primary causes of pyometra (which can be deadly). Dogs also only shed their uterine lining when whelping. As linings stack up, they lose flexibility and elasticity, which can also contribute to fertility problems as that can affect the ability of eggs to attach. By skipping heat cycles you are also causing your female to be at an increased risk of phantom- aka false-pregnancies which in turn increases her risk of mammary cancers.
To address what age to start breeding your dogs:
Dr. Hutchison advises to start breeding your dogs young, typically between the ages of 1-2 but ideally around the 18 month mark for a female. Females that have their first litter after the age of 2 have an increased risk of dystocia (difficult birth). Studies show that females having their first litter after 2 years of age were 2.4 times more likely to experience dystocia compared to those having their first litter between 1 and 2 years of age. Dr. Hutchison even tells us that the reason that 2 became the socially approved guideline for starting age to breed is due to the influence of the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA). Previously, OFA finalized Hip Dysplasia evaluations at 18 months until they found that some dogs had their scores changing between the age of 18 months and 2 years which is why they then raised the age to obtain finalized scores. Because many people use OFA as the official guideline for all things breeding they took this to mean that no dog should be bred prior to the age of 2 since that’s when hip scores are finalized. Dr. Hutchison goes further to advise that as long as your dog is between the age of 1 and 2 and passes all of it's recommended breed specific health and genetic testing it is okay to breed barring any other factors such as competition, other health issues/concerns, etc.
What does this mean for the Dalmatian?
In the above sections there is information on all of the health testing recommend by the OFA for the Dalmatian. All of this testing can be completed after the age of 1 with the exception of the Hip Dysplasia evaluation. However, as also mentioned in the section on Hip Dysplasia, the only reason that this is a required test by the OFA is due to the Dal’s status as a medium/large breed dog, not because Hip Dysplasia is prevalent within the breed. Based on this information, it is my opinion that it is okay to breed Dalmatians after the age of 1 prior to finalized hip scores as long as all other health testing has been completed. Many others may disagree, but this is my opinion.
Dr. Hutchinson's Reproductive Seminar
I highly recommend you utilize the Dalmatian Club of America’s (DCA's) Breeder Listing Service to find your next family member. If you choose to not utilize the DCA's Breeder Listing Service to aid in your puppy search, please at least be sure that the parents of your next prospective puppy has had, at minimum, their BAER test performed and either posted to the Orthopedic Foundation of Animal's (OFA's) website or proof is readily available. Even better would be to ensure that the parents of your next prospective puppy has their CHIC number and to review the results to ensure they passed all of their tests.
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