Coton de Tulear: Dog Breed Profile

Characteristics, History, Care Tips, and Helpful Information for Pet Owners

A Coton de Tulear dog siting in an open field

Yann Guichaoua-Photos/Moment / Getty Images

Well-known for their soft, cotton-like coats (hence the name Coton, which is French for "cotton"), the Coton de Tulear is a small, but hardy dog. Because they were originally bred as companion dogs, Coton de Tulears form incredibly close bonds with their humans, and are friendly to kids and strangers, alike. What's more, they're pet-friendly, and would do well in a home with other pets.

Due to their laid back nature, lower exercise needs, and contentedness to snuggle on the couch with their humans, the Coton de Tulear would do well in a range of homes—from apartments and smaller houses, to large homes. If you're a first-time dog owner, however, it's important to note: Training a Coton de Tulear can be challenging. Cotons, like many small dogs, often have minds of their own—and may be stubborn at times.

Breed Overview

Group: Non-Sporting

Height: 10 to 11 inches (males) and 9 to 10 inches (females)

Weight: 9 to 15 pounds (males) and 8 to 13 pounds (females)

Coat: Dense and long

Coat Color: White

Life expectancy: 15 to 19 years

Characteristics of the Coton de Tulear 

Affection Level High
Friendliness High
Kid-Friendly High
Pet-Friendly High
Exercise Needs Moderate
Playfulness High
Energy Level Moderate
Trainability Moderate
Intelligence Moderate to High
Tendency to Bark Low
Amount of Shedding Low

History of the Coton de Tulear 

It's true that Coton is derived from the French word for "cotton," but the Coton de Tulear's name harkens to their origins, as well. Specifically, a sea port called Tulear at the tip of Madagascar.

Ancestors of the Coton de Tulear—which are also related to the Bichon Frise and Maltese—were often kept as companions to sailors during long journeys at sea. One ship with several companion dogs aboard sank, but many of the dogs were able to swim to shore. There, they bred with native dogs, and produced what's now known as the Coton de Tulear—although that wasn't the breed's original name.

For many years, the Merina people of Madagascar kept Coton de Tulears as companions—until France claimed rule over Madagascar during the 17th century. The French quickly adopted the mixed breed dogs as their own and went as far as ruling that no commoners could own them.

After Madagascar achieved independence during the 1900s, tourism increased significantly—and the number of Coton de Tulears taken from the country, or exported, skyrocketed. By 1992, the numbers of native Coton de Tulears had decreased so significantly, Madagascar began to limit the number of dogs that could be exported.

Although the first Coton de Tulear arrived in America in 1974, they were accepted by the American Kennel Club until 2014.

Coton de Tulear Care

Compared to other small breeds, the Coton de Tulear is a relatively low maintenance dog with lower exercise needs—but if you bring a Coton de Tulear home, expect to groom him or her several times per week.

Because the Coton de Tulear has very long, dense hair, her coat should be brushed three to four times per week with a pin brush, taking extra care around the ears, legs, and elbows, where their coats are more likely to mat or tangle. If your Coton de Tulear has very tough mats or tangles, try spritzing them with a conditioning spray and gently remove them with your fingers.

How often your Coton de Tulear needs a bath depends largely on his exposure to dirt and dust, and the frequency with which you groom him. In general, more brushing means fewer baths. If you do bathe your Coton de Tulear, be sure to pat him dry—don't rub—to prevent tangling his hair.

Like all breeds, it's important to practice good dental hygiene and brush your Coton de Tulear's teeth every few days—though daily brushing is ideal. Poor dental hygiene can lead to plaque buildup, as well as a whole host of dental diseases.

It's important to check your Coton de Tulear's ears often, and carefully remove any wax buildup or debris. If your dog's ears are very red, inflamed, or smell funny, make an appointment with your veterinarian ASAP. These may be signs of an ear infection, or another health problem.

Because Coton de Tulears were bred as companion dogs, they're not extremely high energy—and, accordingly, don't have high exercise needs. Most Cotons are content with several walks per day or a few minutes of playtime in the backyard. If you have a busy schedule or you're away from home often, however, the Coton may not be the right dog for you—they love their humans and don't do well when left alone.

Common Health Problems

The Coton de Tulear is a generally healthy dog. Like all breeds, they may be susceptible to certain health conditions. If you're concerned about your Coton's health, talk to your veterinarian about simple ways to improve her health and help her live a long, happy life.

Although rare, some health conditions that have been seen in Coton de Tulears include:

  • Luxating patellas: Otherwise known as knees that "slip" in and out of place. This condition can affect any smaller breed, so it's important to prevent your dog from jumping off high surfaces when they're young and their joints are still developing.
  • Hip dysplasia: Otherwise known as weakness in the hip joints. This condition is hereditary—and most breeds will not breed dogs with hip dysplasia—but it can be worsened by environmental factors. Be on the lookout for symptoms like weakness, discomfort, or lameness.

Ethical, reputable breeders take steps to ensure healthy litters—but that's not a guarantee against certain health conditions. It's important to know the signs and symptoms of conditions that may affect your dog, so you can take action should they arise.

Diet and Nutrition

Due to their smaller size and lower energy levels, Coton de Tulears should be fed approximately 3/4-cups of high quality, high protein dog food—divided into two equal meals—per day. The exact amount depends on your dog's age, activity levels, and sex. If you're unsure exactly how much to feed your Coton, talk to your veterinarian about a healthy diet for your dog.

Pros

  • Suitable for a range of home types, including apartments

  • Low energy levels and lower exercise needs

  • Extremely loving and loyal to her humans, and friendly to children, strangers, and other pets

Cons

  • Requires grooming several times per week

  • Can be difficult to train, and may require training from a professional dog trainer

  • Doesn't like to be left alone, and may experience separation anxiety

Where to Adopt or Buy a Coton de Tulear 

It may be difficult to find a Coton de Tulear in your local shelter, so look for specialized Coton rescues in your area. Your town's shelter may also be able to connect you with a Coton rescue.

If you're purchasing a dog from a breeder, be sure to do your research to ensure she's ethical, reputable, and produces healthy litters. When you meet the breeder, ask lots of questions and try to meet the litter's parents. Lookout for signs of backyard breeding, like unhealthy dogs, unsanitary conditions, or large quantities of dogs on the site.

More Dog Breeds and Further Research

The Coton de Tulear is a loving, loyal dog that is content to cuddle on the couch with her humans. Although the Coton has higher grooming needs, their laid back natures and low energy levels make them perfect for first-time dog owners and apartment dwellers.

If you have an extremely busy schedule or you're away from home, the Coton may not be the right dog for you. They're highly attached to their people, and cannot tolerate being left alone.

If you're interested in learning about dogs similar to the Coton de Tulear, check out: