Dalmatians have a number of health problems. The two most prolific issues are congenital deafness and a genetic defect which damages the liver’s ability to process uric acid, leading to high levels of uric acid which can cause kidney and bladder stones, kidney and urinary tract disorders, and a few other conditions (like Dalmatian bronzing syndrome).
Deafness is extremely common in Dalmatians, with between 1 in 3 and 1 in 4 Dalmatians being born either unilaterally or bilaterally deaf, the highest rate of deafness in any dog breed. (In reality, the prevalence of deafness in the breed is likely higher but the Dalmatian Club of America recommends that breeders euthanize deaf puppies rather than placing them in pet homes.) Deafness is inextricably linked with the Dalmatian’s unique spotted coat, as the same genes that control pigment in the coat also control pigment in the inner ear, and lack of pigment in the inner ear damages melanocytes which are essential to normal hearing. Dalmatians with patches rather than the typical spots are significantly less likely to be deaf than spotted Dalmatians (10.45% vs 31.49% deaf), and Dalmatians with brown eyes are also less likely to be deaf than Dalmatians with blue eyes (27.66% vs 50.86%); however, patched Dalmatians are a disqualification according to the breed standard so breeding for patches is strongly discouraged by breed clubs even though it would greatly reduce the rate of deafness in the breed. Until the breed standard is modified to favor patched rather than spotted Dalmatians, it’s highly unlikely that the rate of deafness will decrease in the breed.
The other common issue is the breed’s high level of uric acid which leads to numerous complications, most commonly urolithiasis (urinary stones) and dermatitis. Until quite recently, every Dalmatian was homozygous for an autosomal recessive gene which inhibited the ability of the liver to process uric acid. Since every Dalmatian was homozygous for the defective gene, meaning none carried the normal gene, “breeding out” this defect without crossing to another breed was impossible. In the 1970′s, an outcross program was founded upon a single Pointer x Dalmatian cross which re-introduced the normal gene into the breed. The progeny of this outcross were backcrossed with purebred Dalmatians, and now their descendants are both phenotypically and genetically indistinguishable from “pure” Dalmatians other than the presence of the normal gene. In 1981, theAKC decided that LUA were phenotypically similar enough to “pure” Dalmatians to permit registering them as purebred, but the Dalmatian Club of America disagreed with this decision which stopped registration efforts. After being pressured by the AKC to permit registration of LUA Dalmatians despite the DCA’s stubborn insistence that these dogs should not be registered for several decades, in 2011 the DCA finally opened registration for LUA Dalmatians. As a result, it’s now possible to find Dalmatians without a propensity for the diseases associated with high levels of uric acid. While it’s theoretically possible for the entire Dalmatian breed to eventually carry the normal gene, it’s improbable that the defective gene will ever be completely eliminated from the gene pool and other congenital diseases could appear as a result of genetic bottlenecking unless further outcrosses are performed in the future.
- Cancer (various)
- Ceroid lipofuscinosis
- Copper toxicosis
- Dalmatian bronzing syndrome
- Demodicosis / Demodectic mange
- Dilated cardiomyopathy
- Globoid cell leukodystrophy (galactocerebrosidosis)
- Hepatitis – copper associated chronic hepatitis (autoimmune liver disease)
- Hip dysplasia
- Hypertonic myopathies
- Laryngeal paralysis
- Microphthalmia; ocular dysgenesis
- Pannus - chronic superficial keratitis
- Peripheral neuropathies
- Progressive retinal atrophy
- Sebaceous adenitis
- Shoulder osteochondrosis
- Spina bifida
Anecdotally, the vet where I work does a lot of work with a large Dalmatian rescue, so I’ve seen quite a few Dalmatians over the past few years. Other than the prolific issues of deafness and urolithiasis, the most common issues I’ve seen firsthand are chronic atopy/dermatitis, dilated cardiomyopathy, glaucoma (requiring enucleation [surgical removal of the eye] in both cases), and laryngeal paralysis which most commonly manifests as megaesophagus (the only cases of megaesophagus I’ve ever seen have all been Dalmatians).