Blue-eyed Dalmatians (What you should know)

A Dalmatian’s eye color can range from dark brown to hazel green/amber to hazel blue or blue. Black spotted Dalmatians have dark brown eyes, brown or liver spotted ones have amber or hazel green eyes, and blue spotted Dals have hazel blue eyes.

However, any Dalmatian can have striking icy blue eyes. Blue may be on one or both eyes. When the dog only has one blue eye this is known as heterochromia and the color of the non-blue eye will depend on the color of the spots.

Interestingly enough, blue eyes are caused by a complete absence of color pigment (eumelanin) in the dog’s iris (colored part of the eye). Eumelanin is the pigment that is black by default and responsible for the eye, skin, and/or coat color. A lack of pigment in the iris changes how the reflects light causing them to appear icy blue.

Causes of blue eyes in Dalmatians

In Dalmatians, the lack of eye pigment is believed to be caused by the piebald gene (Sp).

There are two copies of the piebald gene (SpSp) in all Dalmatians that removes pigment from the coat causing it to appear white. This gene also removes pigment from the skin and may also remove pigment from the nose and eyes.

The workings of the piebald gene are complex and most of it remains elusive to geneticists. What is known for now is that piebald seems to be an incomplete dominant gene. This means that one copy of the gene may have minimal to moderate effects on the coat but 2 copies have more extensive white markings.

On some dogs such as Dalmatians, 2 copies of piebald cause extreme white markings (extreme piebald). Extreme piebald can remove pigment from one or both eyes on some dogs depending on its level of penetration. On other Dalmatians, the extreme piebald gene may not be powerful enough to remove pigment from either eye.

As I mentioned, piebald is a complex gene whose effects are still being studied by researchers.

Hazel blue & green eyes

Piebald is not the only gene responsible for bluish eye color. The dilution and brown gene can also cause the eyes to appear slightly bluish or light brown respectively.

  • Dilution gene (d)– This gene reduces the intensity of eumelanin pigment on the coat and skin to blue and eyes to hazel blue. The dilution gene is responsible for blue-spotted Dalmatians. Dilution is a recessive trait denoted as lowercase “d”. Two copies of the dilution gene “dd” are should be present to reduce the intensity of the color pigment. The blue eyes due to dilution are darker compared to the sky or icy blue shade on a piebald dog.
  • Brown gene (b)– This is another recessive gene that changes the structure of the eumelanin pigment causing it to appear brown. The brown gene is responsible for liver-spotted Dalmatians and the hazel green/amber/light brown eye color and brown noses that accompany them.

A Dally with normal black pigmentation (black-spotted) has dark brown eyes.

Heterochromia in Dalmatians

A dog with heterochromia has one icy blue eye and dark brown, hazel blue, or hazel green eyes depending on the color of the spots. This is caused by the piebald gene that inhibits pigment production in one eye.

Not all Dalmatians have blue eyes and not all blue-eyed Dalmatians have heterochromia. This is because the effects of piebald are random and vary in level of penetration in different dogs.

Most cases of heterochromia don’t have any related health issues. However, heterochromia that develops later in the dog’s life can be due to health complications and will require a vet examination.

Are blue-eyed dalmatians deaf?

Higher amounts of white markings and the presence of blue eyes are associated with an increased risk of deafness.

The piebald gene is believed to remove pigment in inner structures of the ear that appear to require pigment for proper function. One or both ears may be deaf depending on the intensiveness of the piebald gene.

It has been reported that up to 30% of Dalmatians had unilateral (one ear) or bilateral (two ears) deafness. A significant number of dogs seem to have blue eyes, pink spots on the nose, and extensive white markings. Dalmatians with larger and more colored patches seem to have fewer cases of deafness.

However, the number seems to have dropped to about 17.8% of Dalmatians with hearing complications. The drop is attributed to breeders’ attempts to avoid breeding blue-eyed Dalmatians with various degrees of success. But deaf pups often appear even in non-blue-eyed dogs due to the lack of pigment in the ear.

If you have a blue-eyed pup that you suspect has a hearing impairment, a hearing test may be necessary. A BAER test has been the standard for some years and can be carried out on pups that are at least 5 weeks old.

The test will show if the dog is deaf in one or both ears. However, if present, the condition cannot be cured.

Living with a deaf dog

Dogs with only one deaf year can sustain a normal life but one that is completely deaf will be severely handicapped.

Deaf dogs are at higher risk of accidents, more vulnerable to environmental changes, more difficult to train, and have a difficult time socializing and interacting.

Many breeders choose to put down deaf dogs. But although it is difficult to live with a deaf dog, you can take some measures to keep the dog safe at home and outside. Some of these measures include;

  • Train your dog to respond to and follow hand and facial gestures. This is a huge undertaking but is doable since dogs are incredibly good at picking up physical cues.
  • Keep the dog on a leash outdoors and stay vigilant during walks.
  • Ensure your home is escape-proof and has a proper fence if you have an outdoor area for the dog to explore.
  • Attach a small bell to the dog’s collar to monitor his movements

There you go, WOOF!