Why Do Dalmatians Have Spots?

Dalmatians have spots because of their genetic makeup. This was a trait that breeders found desirable. Yet, why Dalmatians have spots is just part of the story!

Mar 23, 2024By Thalia Oosthuizen
why do dalmatians have spots

When it comes to dogs that stand out because of their appearance, Dalmatians are usually the first to come to mind. Known for being spotted, large, and active, these amazing dogs are a delightful addition to any family. Dalmatians are so unique that they even have their own Disney movie!

There are not many dog breeds that can say the same! With so many intriguing features, these dogs are truly exceptional. What should every dog lover know about Dalmatians? Let’s find out!

Dalmatians Have Spots Because of Genes

dalmatian panting
Image credit: MP Labo

Many dog lovers are curious about Dalmatians’ spots. However, it is not only dog-lovers who are intrigued by these spotty canines. Scientists have been studying these fantastic fur babies for decades––and the results are absolutely fascinating.

According to BMC Veterinary Research, Dalmatians have spots thanks to their unique genetic makeup. More specifically, the 38th chromosome of a Dalmatian has a very unusual pattern. As a result, the Dalmatian’s genes look quite different from other dogs, resulting in their beautiful spots.

Dalmatian Breeders Wanted Spots for Cosmetic Purposes

dobie and dalmatian
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Some dogs are bred a specific way for a specific purpose. For instance, it’s believed that bulldogs were bred to have flat faces, so bulls couldn’t gore their snouts. Great Danes are so large because they were bred to hunt boar and other large game.

The same cannot be said for the spotted Dalmatian. Their spots serve no purpose aside from their cosmetic appeal. When these dogs first appeared in ancient times, people thought the spots were cool and continued to breed spotted dogs. End of story.

The Dalmatian isn’t the only dog with a distinctive look for a cosmetic purpose, however. The Bull Terrier is known for its triangular eyes and wedge-shaped skull. This feature has no purpose. Breeders just thought it looked neat.

The Dalmatian Breed Standard Calls for Spots

dog show dalmatian
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

If you want to enter your Dalmatian in a dog show, it must have its iconic spots. Otherwise, it doesn’t meet the breed’s standard. This is a set of rules that many organizations use to judge dog shows. For instance, according to the American Kennel Club: “The ground color is pure white. In black-spotted dogs the spots are dense black. In liver-spotted dogs the spots are liver brown. Any color markings other than black or liver are disqualified.”

The Kennel Club has similar sentiments: “Ground colour pure white. Black spotted having dense black spots, liver spotted, liver brown spots; not running together but round and well defined... Tricolours and spotting other than black or liver unacceptable.”

Each Dalmatian Has Its Own Distinctive Spots

White And Black Dalmatian Puppy On Red Chair
Image credit: Pexels

For us humans, it is our fingerprints that set us apart. For these fur babies, it is their spots. No two Dalmatians have the same spots. The number of spots also differs greatly from dog to dog, with some having a few and others having hundreds. It is estimated that the average number of spots on a Dalmatian range between 50 and 250.

Here are some other amazing facts about Dalmatian’s spots:

  • Dalmatians are born without spots! A Dalmatian pup is initially a pudgy, white cutie. The pups’ distinctive spots are usually only visible after four weeks of age.
  • If you think that Dalmatian spots are only on the outside of their bodies, guess again! Spots can be found all over their bodies, including inside their mouths and ears.
  • Dalmatians with brown spots are known as “Liver Dalmatians,” and they are less common than their black-spotted friends because of a recessive gene that they carry.
  • It is also not unusual for Dalmatians’ spots to discolor as they age. Senior dogs normally lose the spotty colors around their muzzles first.

Deafness: Another Common Trait in Dalmatians

Adult White and Black Dalmatian Near Person Sitting on Chair
Image credit: Pexels

Dalmatians’ genes do more than give them a spotted appearance; they also contribute to deafness in one-third of the breed. In addition, up to 8% of Dalmatians are completely deaf. However, since these dogs are smart, well-tempered, and very trainable, deafness usually doesn’t limit their quality of life. Owners of deaf Dalmatians often praise their dogs’ abilities to react to hand signals and other non-verbal cues.

However, here’s something that’s a common health issue among some Dalmatians: kidney disease and allergies. To mitigate these issues, owners must keep their beloved spotty furballs on a healthy diet. With proper exercise and nutrition, these dogs can hit the 13-year mark. Not bad!

Dalmatians Aren’t the Only Dogs With Spots

spotted great dane
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Whenever people think of dogs with spots, it is natural to think of Dalmatians first. Interestingly enough, there are a few other breeds that also have spots. Some popular dog breeds that regularly sport spots include:

  • The English Springer Spaniel. These dogs are known for their ability to “spring” on flocks of birds, forcing them into flight. Like Dalmatians, this beloved breed comes in black and white, and liver and white.
  • German Shorthaired Pointers. These gun dogs have spots, too! Yet, these spots are usually called “flecked” or “ticked” because these dogs have solid patches on their bodies. These dogs are usually liver and white or black and white.
  • Great Danes.Great Danes come in many colors—but none are quite as striking as Harlequin. These black and white giants don’t even look like dogs; they look like cows!
  • Mixed-breed dogs. These dogs generally get “the best of both worlds” from their parents. If your dog has spots against a white background, it could be a Dalmatian mix! You could run a doggy DNA test to check out your theory.

Dalmatians Are Unique Dogs

Woman Holding Adult Dalmatian Dog
Image credit: Pexels

People around the world are proud owners of these adorable, affectionate canines. Even though their appearances are bold and unmistakable, these wonderful furbabies effortlessly glide their way into the hearts of every dog lover who crosses their paths. When it comes to selecting a man’s best friend, Dalmatians are a choice that will reward them with love, loyalty, and endless memories.

Thalia Oosthuizen
By Thalia Oosthuizen

Thalia has been a freelance writer for over a decade and a dog (and animal) lover for over 30 years. She grew up on a farm where, at one stage, she had 15 dogs. She currently has one dog, Avery - an adorable pavement special with an extra toe on each foot, and two rescue cats - Boris and Mango. In her spare time, Thalia enjoys running, cycling, swimming, and reading