What to Know About Dalmatians

Medically Reviewed by Vanesa Farmer, DVM on April 28, 2022
6 min read

The widely coveted and ultra-popular Dalmatian has a more complex personality than you might expect. They’re fun, affectionate dogs with a lot of energy, but they’re also sensitive creatures and need time with their families. They love human companionship

The Dalmatian is the only spotted dog breed and has a long working and sporting history. 

They were once carriage dogs and had an affinity for horses, making them great sidekicks for horse-drawn fire-fighting wagons. This is why they still have a connection to firehouses. Dalmatians have great speed and endurance and are natural protectors. 

Interestingly, Dalmatian puppies are born with no spots. They’re completely white when born and get their spots as they get older. Their coat is so unique that no two Dalmatians have the exact same pattern of spots.

Dalmatians have one of the most distinctive coats among animals. They’re graceful and elegant dogs with well-proportioned bodies. They’re muscular with powerful back legs that help them run incredibly quickly and smoothly. 

Dalmatians were originally bred to guard horses and coaches, and they still have some of those protective instincts. They can come off as reserved, but they simply have dignified characteristics. They’re dependable watchdogs and loyal to their preferred humans. They make excellent house dogs. They’re solid and active and like to go on runs or hikes. 

Dalmatians are a large breed that stands between 19 and 24 inches tall. They typically weigh between 45 and 70 pounds. The Dalmatian lifespan averages around 11 to 13 years.

The Dalmatian coat is a work of art and luckily doesn’t take too much to keep it looking good. The occasional bath and weekly brushing will keep dead hairs away. A horsehair mutt or rubber curry comb will often do the job. 

Dalmatians also need their nails trimmed monthly. 

Moreover, they need routine cleanings and vet checks. Your veterinarian can check their ears regularly since Dalmatians’ ears flop down. Establishing a good routine early will make caring for them easier. 

Another essential part of routine care is daily teeth brushing. Starting early can help your dog get used to brushing. If your dog is not cooperating, you can talk to your vet about teeth cleaning options. 

Other important parts of routine vet care include flea, tick, and heartworm prevention. It’s essential to get your dog on preventative medication all year long. They also need a core set of vaccinations to keep them healthy and prevent them from catching contagious illnesses. 

Dalmatians are active dogs and need plenty of exercise to stay in shape. Activities you can do with them include tossing a ball or frisbee in the backyard or letting them run alongside you, whether you prefer to bike or jog. They also like going on long hikes and being outdoors. 

Dalmatians are very intelligent and love learning new tricks. Spending five minutes a day learning a new trick can help keep them mentally stimulated. 

Dalmatians can get frustrated if they don’t get enough mental or physical exercise. They’re high-energy dogs and can be mischievous if they’re not properly trained and socialized. Introducing your Dalmatian puppy to new experiences is vital for their development. Socializing your dog teaches them that new places and people aren’t things they should be afraid of.

If you want your Dalmatian to accompany you on your errands, they should be well-trained. Keep in mind: They’re sensitive dogs and do best with positive, reward-based training

Reputable breeders should genetically test their dogs before breeding. Recommended health tests include: 

  • Hip evaluation
  • BAER Testing 

A common condition in Dalmatians is deafness. If a parent is affected, their litter can be too. Breeders should check each dog to ensure they can hear. If your Dalmatian is deaf in one ear, they can typically lead an average life. However, a dog who is deaf in both ears will need special considerations for developing and training. 

Kidney stones are another common condition in Dalmatians. A consistent diet approved by your vet or breeder can help avoid the stones. Dalmatians aren’t picky eaters, so finding high-quality food they can stick with is essential.

Eye problems can occur later in life. Dalmatians are prone to inheriting different eye conditions that can cause blindness if not correctly treated. These eye conditions include: 

  • Glaucoma
  • Cataracts
  • Entropion
  • Tissue growth in abnormal places

A liver disorder called copper hepatopathy can also affect Dalmatians between two to four years old. Symptoms include jaundice of their eyes, gums, and skin. If they are left untreated, toxic levels of copper build in their liver and cause liver failure.

Dalmatians often develop allergies. They can get a skin allergy that affects their feet, belly, folds of their skin, and ears. You’ll start to see symptoms around one to three years old. They can get worse every year.

Another inherited condition called hyperuricosuria is common in Dalmatians. This happens when there’s too much uric acid in your dog’s urine. This can cause bladder stone development and kidney stones too. DNA tests can be done to see if your dog has a specific mutation for the condition.

Dalmatians are also prone to a heart condition called dilated cardiomyopathy. This is when their heart becomes enlarged, making it thin and weak. This keeps blood from properly pumping through the body. If they are affected, you’ll notice your dog acting weak or tired. They may faint or collapse, breathe laboriously, or even cough. An annual electrical heart screening will help look for abnormal heart rhythms.   

When Dalmatians grow too fast, they can get a joint disease. Surgery can fix the condition if caught early. If your dog has inflammation in the long bones in their legs, you may notice your dog limping or compensating for their sore leg. This condition may appear around six to ten months from birth.  

Laryngeal paralysis is a disease that causes Dalmatians' vocal cords to be paralyzed and hang in their airway. You may notice noisy breathing in hot and humid weather or after exercising. In severe cases, your pet could collapse.

Epilepsy is common in Dalmatians. You may notice the signs between six months and three years of age. The vet will help you determine the right medication to control the seizures. Your vet may also request annual blood testing.

Dalmatians can have teeth abnormalities. This is common in purebred dogs. If an overbite or underbite is present, your vet may recommend braces or extractions. This will require close attention to your pet's teeth and health.

Dalmatians can be rowdy dogs, especially as puppies. They need a lot of exercise and plenty of space to run. Dalmatians also tend to escape and wander away. Work on call-and-response with your dog so that if they move too far from you, you can trust they’ll come back when called. 

Dalmatians can also develop separation anxiety when left alone too often. If your dog is crated or left at home for long stretches during the day, they can become anxious and get clingy when you are home. 

Doggy daycare could be a good option if you work long hours, but if your Dalmatian isn’t properly socialized as puppies, they could be aggressive, fearful, or snippy with other dogs and strangers. They have some territorial tendencies around larger dogs, especially those of the same sex.

Dalmatians aren’t known as vocal dogs, but they can start barking if they’re bored or lonely. This is their way of communicating with you that they aren’t happy. Dalmatians like to get out and about. They’re great for active families and love to spend time with their people. 

Dalmatians benefit from, at minimum, two hours of exercise daily. Make sure you’re not doing it all at once, though. You can take them on two walks, let them run in a secure area, or have playtime in the backyard coupled with training sessions for their mental stimulation.

Socialized Dalmatians are good with dogs and children. Their high energy can make them a little rowdy, though, and they should be supervised around smaller children. 

Dalmatians have a mysterious origin. They’ve been theorized to have been bred in the British Isles, Europe, North Africa, and Asia. However, by the early 1800s, they were associated with an area in Central Europe along the Adriatic Sea. This area was once called Dalmatia. 

Dalmatians are a very old breed, and though there’s little evidence of a specific origin, there have been spotted dogs painted on the walls of Egyptian tombs. They’re depicted as running alongside chariots. Dalmatians, too, are coaching dogs, and their job was to run alongside horse-drawn coaches to guard the horses and carriage when they were unattended. 

Dalmatians were entered into the AKC Stud Book in 1888.