All Dalmatians have a ‘fixed’ genetic defect that prevents them from metabolizing urates correctly. This defect in the Dalmatian breed was discovered in the early 1900’s and means that ALL Dalmatians (except the few that are part of the LUA breeding program) have high uric acid in their urine. Uric acid is the soluble (liquid) form of urates. The uric acid (urates) in Dalmatian urine is from 10 to 20 times higher than all other breeds of dogs.
How does the high urinary uric acid (urates) affect the Dalmatian? Most of the time there is no effect seen whatsoever. Some careful owners will notice that the urine of their Dalmatian is “cloudy” (due to the high urates), especially common in puppies where the urine is more concentrated and in the cold weather. We know that a number of factors can decrease the solubility (liquid phase) of uric acid. With water restriction, or on some diets high in purine proteins, the concentration of uric acid increases, and the solid urates can actually come out of solution in the urine to form crystals, clumps or even stones in the bladder.
It is this last thing – urate stones – in the Dalmatian that is the major problem. Fortunately, about 85% to 90% of all Dalmatians never have a problem with urate stones. In fact, the vast majority of female Dalmatians never have stone related problems even if they do have high urinary uric acid and urates. Why are the girls different? Anatomy!
In male Dalmatians the small caliber of the urinary tube in the penis serves as a ‘choke point’ for the passage of u
ate stones. Urinary obstruction from urate stones affects male Dalmatians 9 to 10 times more commonly than females. Overall, about 20% to 30% of all male Dalmatians will suffer from urinary blockage during their lifetime due to the high urinary uric acid, which leads to urate stone formation. This condition is painful for the dog (and the owner) and is a true veterinary emergency.
Fortunately through the concerted efforts of Dalmatian breeders, owners and fanciers, methods have been developed to manage the high urinary uric acid (especially in male Dalmatians), to avoid stone formation and urinary obstruction. The bottom line for the male Dalmatian owner is to be sure their dog has access to plenty of water because it helps to decrease the concentration of urates, that they are fed with foods low in purine proteins (~21% protein content), that the food is always provided soaking wet (not dry), and that their dog is given plenty of exercise with opportunities to pee frequently. These principles are intended to reduce the concentration of urates in the urine, and to keep the bladder emptied.
The fundamental principle of the LUA Dalmatians is that you can’t suffer from urinary obstruction due to urates (uric acid) if you don’t have the urates! The LUA (low uric acid, or sometimes called NUA, normal uric acid) Dalmatians do not have the 10x to 20x higher urinary uric acid seen in all other Dalmatians. Instead, the LUA Dalmatians have normal levels of uric acid just like all other breeds of dogs. You can’t build urate stones without urates!
How did the LUAs come about? In the late 1970s a geneticist, Dr. Robert Schaible with extensive scientific expertise and a love of the Dalmatian Breed, decided to try to do something about the “fixed” genetic defect. He bred one Pointer (male) to one Dalmatian (female) only one time. He got some funky looking spotted dogs in the first generation. But he persisted in many subsequent matings and always used Dalmatians and only Dalmatians afterward. This single Pointer gave the “normal” gene for uric acid metabolism that the Dalmatians needed and was never used again. After more than 14 generations and well over 10,000 Dalmatians in a pedigree, the present day dogs – LUA Dalmatians – look like and act like Dalmatians! In fact, by pedigree analysis, they are 99.998% Dalmatian.
In 2007, Dr. Danika Bannasch at the University of California (Davis) under a grant funded by the National Institutes of Health and others, identified the actual gene that the Dalmatian is missing. It is a transporter gene that all other dogs have, except those who form urate stones. Dr. Bannasch also developed a genetic test so we can determine if a puppy has one copy of this gene (heterozygous – has low uric acid, but can produce both low and high uric acid puppies) or two copies of this gene (homozygous – has low uric acid and all puppies produced will also have low uric acid).
There are less than 100 LUA Dalmatians in existence today, compared to the thousands of regular Dalmatians in the US, and tens of thousands worldwide. While the LUAs provide real hope for curing the problem of urinary obstruction due to urate stones that afflicts so many male Dalmatians, it is going to take many years before these dogs – the LUAs – are fully incorporated into Dalmatian breeding programs across the US and around the world.
In the meanwhile, there will continue to be many fine Dalmatians bred who will have the fixed genetic defect in uric acid metabolism. Fortunately, many dedicated breeders and owners have developed methods to manage the high urinary uric acid so as to minimize stone formation and urinary blockage.
As Dalmatian breeders, we consider it an ethical – and moral – obligation to make every reasonable attempt to improve the health of our beloved Breed. We are proud to be incorporating the LUA Dalmatians into our own Proctor Dalmatians breeding program.
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