Congenital Deafness

Dalmatians are one of a number of breeds of dog which can suffer from congenital deafness in one or both ears.  As the name suggests, the condition is present at or shortly after birth, and is generally understood to be linked to a white coat. 

Fortunately, there is a clinical test – known as a BAER test – which has been available for a number of years now and which can determine the hearing status of a puppy (or adult) in each ear individually. It is the only definitive and reliable test, and should not be confused with any other test. It is available at a number of recognised testing centres, distributed throughout the country.

How common is deafness in Dalmatians?

Dalmatians may have hearing in both ears (bilateral hearing), one ear (unilateral hearing unilateral deafness), or in neither ear (bilateral deafness).  A Dalmatian with unilateral hearing enjoys a perfectly normal lifestyle, which is not impaired in any way by its hearing status.  Nor does its unilateral deafness imply that it has any increased risk of losing the hearing in its other ear.  However, it is strongly advised that such Dalmatians are not bred from.  By selective breeding, it has been possible to reduce the incidence of deafness.  Current UK data indicate that about 4% of Dalmatian puppies are born with bilateral deafness, and about a further 10% have unilateral hearing. 

What can be done to reduce the incidence of deafness?

Scientific research has clearly demonstrated that the incidence of deafness, both unilateral and bilateral, is reduced by breeding only from dogs and bitches which have been BAER tested as having bilateral hearing.  Quite simply, DO NOT BREED from any Dalmatian which has impaired hearing.  It is by following this criterion that responsible breeders have been able to reduce the prevalence of hearing impairment and hope to continue to do so.
Research continues into the genetic mechanism of congenital deafness, but this is a very complex subject, and a short-term answer is not likely. 

How can I tell if a Dalmatian has been BAER tested? 

The results of every BAER test are issued to the owner (or breeder) in the form of a certificate showing the hearing status of each ear individually and unambiguously.  The certificate will bear the signature of a representative of the testing centre, and the official heading of that organisation.  If you are told a puppy’s hearing status, but a BAER certificate is not available, then you should not accept any claim as to hearing. 

Urate Stones

Urinary stones can take many forms, but the type most relevant to Dalmatian health & welfare is uric acid (or ‘urate’) stones. All Dalmatians carry a genetic mutation which prevents them from processing uric acid, a bi-product from all kinds of foods.  Instead it is excreted in urine. Although Dalmatians excrete higher concentrations of uric acid, only a minor proportion develop stone problems. Uric acid is not very soluble, and there is a risk that it can deposit in the bladder, and sometimes the kidney. Initially, the deposits resemble fine sand, but can subsequently progress to coarser grit and eventually to a stone.  The presence of uric acid crystals, whether large or small, can cause irritation to the bladder and urinary tract, giving rise to infection. Urinary stones which pass into the urinary tract can cause blockage, which is very serious and requires immediate veterinary attention. Dogs appear to be at higher risk than bitches to urinary stones, believed to reflect the anatomical differences in their urinary tracts.

 How common are Urate Stones in Dalmatians? 

It is very difficult to be precise.  The only available UK data is from the KC/BSAVA Health Survey for Dalmatians. The epidemiologist who analysed the data advised that the incidence is somewhere within a ‘best case’ scenario of 1.1%, a ‘worst case’ of 3.5%, and a reasoned ‘middle-of-the-road’ value of 1.8%.  These figures are indicative, hence some caution is required. They were based upon a sample of 452 live dogs and 199 deaths (none of the latter of which were attributed to urinary stones). 

What can be done to reduce the risk of Urate Stones?

It is important that a dog is given frequent opportunity to urinate, since this causes any sediment to be ‘flushed out’ before it can progress to a stone.  Ready availability of fresh water for any dog is an essential, but it is advantageous to encourage water intake in order to increase the frequency of urination and to dilute any uric acid in the urinary system. Frequent replacement of water arouses curiosity from a dog, and a desire to drink. If you feed a ‘dry’ diet, put some water on it. There is no need to allow it to soak and the dog will take in the water as it eats. There is a proprietary Breed-specific diet available from normal retail outlets, which is low in ‘purines’ (the principal food source of uric acid).  Some owners have formulated their own diets which are also low purine. Further information is available if required. 

What are the signs of Urinary Stone formation?

Any urinary infection or apparent discomfort on urination, should be regarded with caution, and veterinary advice sought. If a dog is exhibiting clear pain, especially with a lack of urination, and possibly arching of the back, urgent veterinary attention is essential. 

What treatments are available for Dalmatians with Urinary Stones?

Uric acid crystals or stones can sometimes be dissolved using prescription diets or medication, or more commonly a combination of both.  In extreme cases, surgical intervention may be necessary. 

A dog experiencing pain for any reason should always be referred immediately to a vet … If in any doubt, always consult your vet.