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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

All foodstuffs contain compounds known as purines.  Dalmatians carry a genetic mutation which prevents them from processing purines completely, and this results in them producing higher levels of uric acid in their urine (a condition known medically as ‘hyperuricosuria’).  Uric acid is not very soluble, and there is a risk that it can deposit in the bladder as urate salts, and sometimes in the kidney. Initially, the deposits resemble fine sand, but they can subsequently progress to coarser grit and eventually to a urate stone. The presence of urate crystals, whether large or small, can also 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 towards urinary stones, believed to reflect the anatomical differences in their urinary tracts.  Although Dalmatians excrete higher concentrations of uric acid, only a relatively minor proportion actually develop stone problems.

Your Dalmatian should always have fresh clean water and the opportunity to relieve himself regularly.

How common are Urate Stones in Dalmatians? 

The most recent data (2013 survey) suggests an incidence of about 5% overall in UK Dalmatians.  This figure should be regarded as indicative only, though further periodic surveys will give more confidence in the results.  (A 2018 survey is in progress)

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

Since uric acid originates from the purines contained in food, then it is logical that the choice of a ‘low-purine’ diet will contribute to reducing the risk of urate stones.  For owners using ‘home-made’ diets, lists are available of the purine levels of many foods, and generally they are classified as low, medium or high.  Offal of all kinds is high in purines and yeast products very high, so should be avoided.

When using proprietary dog foods, it is important to be aware that a low protein diet does not mean that it is low in purines, because it depends upon the sources and food types used in the formulation.   One commercial ‘complete’ food manufacture, Royal Canin, produces a food specifically for Dalmatians.  It is roughly 1/3 reduced in purine content compared with other complete dog foods.  (There are also prescription-only diets which are very low in purines, and these are frequently used as part of the treatment for a Dalmatian which has presented with urate stones).

Apart from consideration of choice of food, other steps can be taken to help reduce the risk of stones. Encourage your dog to drink more water, which will increase urine production and help dilute the concentration of uric acid in the urinary system.  You can do this, for example, by refreshing the water bowl often.  Frequent replacement of water arouses curiosity from a dog, and a desire to drink.  Add water to your dog’s food, especially if you feed a ‘dry’ diet. There is no need to wait for the water to soak in and the dog will take in the water as it eats. Encourage your Dalmatian to urinate more by frequently letting or taking it out. This will reduce the time that urine resides in the bladder, and therefore reduces the opportunity for urate crystals to form.

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 or difficulty with urination, and possibly arching of the back, urgent veterinary attention is essential.  A dog experiencing pain for any reason should always be referred immediately to a vet

What treatments are available for Dalmatians with Urinary Stones?

Urate 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.