Why are Dalmatians Prone to Deafness?

Dalmatians are one of the only dog breeds with a beautifully dotted coat, but they also suffer from hearing problems from puppyhood into adulthood.

Feb 27, 2024byLisa Szymanski
why are dalmatians prone to deafness

Dalmatians might be a little odd in appearance with their spotted fur, but apart from their coat pattern, they’re prone to deafness. They’re one of the few dog breeds that have a high rate of both unilateral and bilateral deafness. That means some dogs are only deaf in one ear, while others are completely deaf. Around 30% of dogs are affected, but this doesn’t mean they can’t live a healthy and happy life. To learn more about this condition, I take a closer look at why Dalmatians are prone to deafness.

Are Dalmatians Born Deaf?

dalmatian puppy sleeping
It’s hard to tell if a young puppy is deaf.

Yes, Dalmatian pups are born partially or fully deaf. Most pups are unilaterally deaf, so you may not notice their impairment while they’re still very young. A smaller percentage of dogs have hearing loss in both ears. At around 6 weeks, pups can undergo a hearing test to check for deafness. It is an inherited condition that doesn’t affect all dogs, but it is unfortunately linked to their striking coat. The pigment gene responsible for a Dalmatian’s coat markings leads to hearing difficulties. This includes the suppression of a pigment-producing cell that is known as a melanocyte. It is similar to the Merle gene in Great Danes, which is also responsible for hearing loss.

Can a Dalmatian Puppy Become Deaf as They Grow Older?

dalmatian standing with front paws on railing outdoors
Dalmatians have congenital deafness.

Dalmatians are affected by congenital hearing loss, which means that they have an impairment at birth. Once they are diagnosed, the condition remains with them for life. Dalmatian puppies born with normal hearing do not become deaf as they get older unless it is due to an accident. Senior dogs are also at higher risk of losing their hearing, but this has nothing to do with inheriting deafness. Adult Dalmatians can carry the gene responsible for the condition and pass it on to their litters. For this reason, breeders carefully select healthy-hearing dogs for breeding to minimize the chances of disabled puppies.

Is a Specific Gender of Dalmatians at Higher Risk of Deafness?

dalmatian with one blue eye and one brown eye
A beautiful blue and brown-eyed Dalmatian.

Studies concerning the prevalence of deafness and gender in Dalmatians are ongoing; however, recent evidence has shown a correlation between the two. According to research, more female Dalmatians have been diagnosed with hearing impairments compared to males. Females are also shown to carry the gene for hearing loss in this dotted breed. Interestingly, Dalmatians with blue eyes are at higher risk of deafness than their darker-eyed counterparts.

Either way, if you are interested in adopting or purchasing a Dalmatian puppy, it is important to have them assessed by a veterinarian. In most cases, a reputable breeder will have puppies thoroughly examined and tested to avoid selling deaf puppies to inexperienced families. Dogs that cannot hear will require special care and a lot of patience to be raised as social and friendly pets while adapting to their environment.

How Can You Tell if a Dalmatian Puppy is Deaf?

dalmatian puppy wearing black harness
Deaf puppies won’t react to any sounds.

To the untrained eye, it’s not easy to tell if a young Dalmatian is deaf, but certain behaviors serve as clues. The most obvious sign is inattention. Puppies should respond to your calls, whistles, and sounds in their environment, so if your pup doesn’t appear to react, that’s a big problem. While observing their behavior, you’ll notice that deaf puppies tend to be short-tempered. They may get agitated quickly with their littermates or other pets while playing, and they’re quite rough. That’s because young pups, who cannot hear, don’t pick up on the sounds of other pets. While this isn’t always an indication of deafness, it’s a behavior that you should pay attention to.

The Brainstem Auditory Evoked Response, or BAER test is one of the more accurate tests to detect deafness in dogs. This specialized assessment is only offered at select veterinary clinics and universities; however, your local vet should assist with the appropriate diagnostics.

Can You Train a Deaf Dalmatian Puppy?

young dalmatian running on grass
Dalmatians love to run and play.

Yes, of course, you can train a deaf Dalmatian puppy. It will take a unique approach and extra time compared to a normal hearing dog, but a Dalmatian’s hearing loss does not affect their intelligence. These dogs are eager to learn, and they have an incredible amount of energy, much like a German shepherd. They’ll need regular walks and plenty of socialization with other pets to avoid fear and aggression. Some handlers of non-hearing Dalmatians use hand signals to teach basic obedience because verbal commands won’t work. It’s the best way to keep these medium-sized dogs under control.

Other methods include stimulating their keen sense of smell and eyesight by using treats and toys to reinforce good behavior. Toys offer a good distraction when they’re misbehaving, but most dogs that are bilaterally deaf will respond to hand signals and touch. Petting when they’re well-behaved will let them know they’ve done well, while a quick tap on the side of the body will stop unwanted behavior. Every command must be visual for dogs that cannot hear to encourage learning.

Can Deaf Dalmatians Live a Normal Life?

dalmatian running with terrier on grass
Hearing impairments won’t compromise your dog’s quality of life.

A deaf Dalmatian can live a perfectly normal life. From non-hearing puppies to adult dogs, they just learn things differently. Breeders and trainers who are experienced in raising hearing-impaired dogs can provide tips to work with your puppy. Remember that deaf dogs might get spooked easily by sudden touches, so be gentle and find ways to get their attention without scaring them.

Unilaterally deaf Dalmatians don’t require special training and can go on with regular walks, runs, playtime, and training tools. But if the puppy that you’ve picked has no auditory functioning, they need obedience, boundaries, and gentle socialization to become well-adjusted dogs. Even though hearing is a crucial part of a dog’s senses, they can navigate their environment with leadership from their handler. It certainly isn’t easy, but with the right amount of love and care, all dogs with hearing problems can be happy, healthy, and live a long life.

Lisa Szymanski
byLisa Szymanski

Lisa is a wildlife enthusiast who enjoys hiking and gardening and has four years of experience volunteering at pet shelters. She is the proud mom of two dogs, a Pitbull named Ragnar, a Boerboel named Blueberry, and four feisty chickens, or as she calls them, the \"queens of the yard,\" Goldie, Gray, Peaches, and Brownie.