Coton de Tulear

Gemma Gaitskell
Dr Gemma Gaitskell (BVetMed MSc MRCVS, Royal Veterinary College, London)
Photo of adult Coton de Tulear

The Coton de Tulear is a small happy, well balanced and playful breed that belongs to the toy category of breeds. It originates from Madagascar and is thought to have originally been used to catch rats and as a companion. This quality is reflected in the breed's extremely sociable nature and it is typically very good with children and other pets. The Coton de Tulear gets the first part of its name from its light and fluffy ‘cotton’ like coat that does not shed but requires regular brushing.

The breed is extremely friendly and intelligent, as well as eager to please and this means that training is not generally a problem. However, the Coton de Tulear’s sociable nature means that it can suffer from separation anxiety and is therefore not a breed that should be left alone for extended periods of time. The breed can suffer from some health problems so it is important to select a healthy family line.

About & History

The Coton de Tulear belongs to the toy group of breeds and gets its name from its ‘cotton’ like coat and the small port of Tuléar in Madagascar where it is from. It is still the Madagascan national dog. It is thought to be a descendent of the French Bichon Frise, Havanese, Maltese, and Italian Bolognese, although it is not known how it first arrived in Madagascar. The theory is that some of the previously mentioned breeds were brought to the island by sailors and crossed with the native terriers on the island to form the breed as we now know it today. It is uncertain what the exact job of the breed was but it was most likely used to control rats and also as a companion that is very evident in its sociable nature.

In the 1970’s, the breed was imported to America and Europe and although it is still relatively rare, is gaining in popularity. Today the Coton de Tulear is kept as a companion and family pet, although it can also enjoy participating in dog sports, such as agility.


Coton de Tulear Large Photo

The Coton de Tulear can come with several colours all combined with white which are accepted for registration with the UK Kennel Club:

  • White
  • White & Brown
  • White & Grey
  • White & Lemon
  • White & Tan

The Coton de Tulear should measure 25-32 cm at the withers and this height should be around 2/3 the length of the body. Male dogs should be slightly larger than female dogs. The American Coton de Tulear breed club allows dogs to be slightly larger and heavier than other breed standards around the world. The breed should have a medium length neck with a slight arch leading to sloping shoulders and straight front legs. The chest should be reasonably deep and there should be a slight rise in the back towards the hind end where the back legs are strong and stand parallel. The tail should be fairly low set and carried high during movement.

The head should be 2/5 the length of the body and the foreface should seem short and triangular when seen from above. The muzzle should be 5/9 the length of the skull, which is slightly convexed. The mouth should be formed by strong jaws and a perfect scissor bite with dark lips. The breed has dark, round expressive eyes and high set ears which fall onto the cheeks and are covered in delicate long hair.

The Coton de Tulear should move with a free flowing movement that looks sharp. Strides should be relatively short and the convex topline should remain visible while the dog is moving.

Character & Temperament

The Coton de Tulear is a happy, well-balanced, playful breed, which is extremely sociable. The breed has an excellent temperament and makes an exceptional companion. The Coton de Tulear is excellent with children and generally gets on well with other pets. Its extremely sociable nature means that the breed can be prone to suffering from separation anxiety as they become extremely attached to their owners.

This means that they should not be left for long periods of time and are not an appropriate choice for households where they will regularly be left without company. The Coton de Tulear is not typically used as a guard dog as it is not imposing but the breed will bark and be vocal to warn of danger to protect their family.


Photo of Coton de Tulear puppy

The Coton de Tulear is an intelligent breed, which is quick to learn and very eager to please their owner which means they are quick to pick up tricks and commands. Recall and house training are therefore not usually a problem, especially when dogs have a regular routine and plenty of access to outdoor spaces.

Consistent positive reinforcement training with plenty of mental stimulation is the key to maintaining the breed interested in what they are being asked to do and ensuring they do not become stubborn.


The Coton de Tulear has an average life expectancy of around 12 years of age and is classed as a Category 1 breed by the UK Kennel Club with no specific points of concern. There are no mandatory or recommended health schemes, which dogs should be tested under.

However, there are still some health conditions that can affect the breed and the relatively small gene pool due to the small numbers of the breed that makes it harder to eliminate these conditions. Some of these include:

Hip Dysplasia (HD)

This is usually a condition that is more common in larger dogs but is also seen in the Coton de Tulear. Abnormal development of the hips that can include several developmental problems or abnormalities leads to joint problems later in life.

Dogs have their hips x-rayed when they are over a year old and x-rays are scored by experts using fixed criteria. The maximum score is 106 and the lower the score the fewer signs of dysplasia are present. HD is transmitted genetically but environmental factors can also influence its development.

Patellar Luxation

The dog equivalent to the human knee joint in the hind leg is affected and the patella, or kneecap is temporarily displaced. The severity of the condition can vary and one or both hind legs can be affected. Sometimes surgery is necessary to try and correct the condition.

Canine Multifocal Retinopathy Type 2 (CMR2)

This condition is an inherited disease which can vary in severity causing minor retinal folding to fully detached retinas and blindness. Symptoms are usually seen before 4 months of age and progress to blindness as puppies mature.

Degenerative Myelopathy

This is a progressive degenerative disease which usually affects older dogs and causes a gradual loss of coordination until eventually mobility is affected. The disease is diagnosed by excluding other possibilities and is not painful but there is currently no known treatment.

Neonatal Ataxia

A genetic mutation causes damage to the cerebellum – the part of the brain which controls coordination and movement. Dogs that are affected fall over onto their sides and are unable to walk. There is no treatment or cure and puppies that are affected will never be able to walk.

Exercise and Activity Levels

The Coton de Tulear is a toy breed and does not require a lot of exercise. 30 to 45 minutes of walking a day is usually sufficient to keep dogs happy and healthy. Although dogs enjoy being off the lead, it is not essential and lead walking can be sufficient to tire them out.

The Coton de Tulear is a breed that is ideal for a city lifestyle or those living in smaller spaces, such as apartments. Despite this, it is important that dogs are walked regularly and the Coton de Tulear will still enjoy playing off the lead in open spaces, as well as swimming.


The Coton de Tulear has a single layered, fine, soft coat that appears to have a fluffy ‘cotton’ like texture. The coat can grow long if left but it does not shed. Despite this, it does require regular brushing to remove any loose hair and prevent it from becoming knotted and matted. The breed should be bathed around once a month and should be trimmed by a professional groomer a couple of times a year to keep hair from getting too long.

Famous Cotons de Tulear

Some examples of famous Coton de Tulear dogs include:

  • Samantha, the singer Barbara Streisand’s former Coton de Tulear
  • Laila, the actress Debra Messing’s Coton de Tulear
  • Tulea, Jane Fonda’s Coton de Tulear
  • Figaro, the actress Catherine Zeta-Jones’ Coton de Tulear


There are few known crossbreeds of the Coton de Tulear, however, the Havaton is one cute example, which is a cross between a Coton de Tulear and a Havanese. There is also the lesser known Tibecot, which is a cross between the Coton de Tulear and the Tibetan Terrier.

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