These affectionate little dogs are always popular and are an excellent choice if you live in an apartment. The Maltese requires only moderate exercise though he does need daily grooming if you keep his coat long. They shed very little and are considered to be a good choice for people with allergies to dogs.
Maltese Dog Breed Information
AKC Breed Group
White, White & Lemon, White & Tan
In This Article...
Introduction to the Maltese
The gentle, playful Maltese is one of the most beautiful companion dogs. The little dog has been a beloved pet for at over 2000 years and was described in ancient times by the Greeks and Romans.
He has been associated with the island of Malta in the Mediterranean, though the breed originated elsewhere.
They are good with children but not recommended for families with small kids because of the dog’s tiny size. The Maltese is usually a better choice for a family with older children so the dog isn’t accidentally injured by rough play.
History of the Maltese
The Maltese is another member of the bichon family of dogs which includes the Bichon Frise, the Havanese, the Coton de Tulear, the Bolognese, and other small, companion dogs with dark eyes and a tail that usually curls over the back. The breeds in this family are typically non-shedding.
The Maltese is an ancient breed. The origin of the breed is unknown, though there is speculation that it is descended from spitz-type dogs or dogs from Tibet in Asia. At some point dogs that were recognizable as Maltese were in the Mediterranean, though how they developed or how long they had been there is not known.
Archaeologists have found images of the dogs on Greek pottery dating to at least 500 BC. There are also references to the Maltese dogs in Greek and Roman literature from this era. Aristotle and various other ancient writers also describe the dogs and speculate about their origins. The Maltese was well-known at this time and favored by nobles and others.
There is debate among ancient writers over whether the dogs actually came from Malta or the island of Melita or Meleda in the Adriatic. This debate continued into the Renaissance. There has never been a resolution to the debate but the breed’s name refers to the island of Malta.
The Maltese was likely imported into Britain during the reign of Henry VIII. The breed is mentioned by Dr. John Caius in his book Of English Dogges in 1576, written during the reign of Elizabeth I.
“There is among us another kind of high bred dog…That kind is very small indeed, and chiefly sought after for the pleasure and amusement of women. The smaller the kind, the more pleasing it is, so that they carry them in their bosoms, in their beds, and in their arms while in their carriages.”
In the 17th and 18th centuries breeders bred Maltese to be smaller and the breed nearly died out. It was then crossbred with Poodles and small Spaniels, resulting in different versions of the breed, including colored Maltese. Today the Maltese must be pure white and the breed standard is basically the same in all countries. The breed was recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1888.
Maltese Health-Related Issues
The Maltese is considered to be a healthy breed with an average lifespan of 12 to 15 years – longer than many breeds. They can have some health issues but most of them are not life-threatening. Issues that can occur in the breed include juvenile hypoglycemia (low blood sugar in puppies), Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), Microvascular Dysplasia (MVD), dental problems, tear staining, and luxating patellas.
Juvenile hypoglycemia is not uncommon in Toy breed puppies. Very young Toy breed puppies are not always able to regulate the blood sugar levels in their bodies. That’s why breeders usually advise people to feed these puppies 3-4 small meals per day so they can have a steady supply of energy.
You may also need to add a few small snacks between meals in some cases. If you have a very young puppy who appears to be having a problem with blood sugar, you can give him a few drops of Karo syrup or a little Nutrical (a paste that you can obtain from a pet store or from your vet). The energy in these products should help stabilize your puppy until you can get him to eat something.
Your Maltese puppy should outgrow this problem by the time he is a few months old. Not all Toy puppies have problems with juvenile hypoglycemia but it is something that you should be alert about.
Some Maltese can have problems with Inflammatory Bowel Disease. Symptoms include diarrhea and vomitting, which are common symptoms with many gastrointestinal disorders. Inflammatory Bowel Disease (or IBD) usually has mucus or blood in the bowel movements as well.
Dogs may also lose weight, have a fever, and show other symptoms sporadically. If you notice your Maltese exhibiting some of these symptoms you should have him checked by a veterinarian. This condition can be controlled by diet and help from your vet.
A liver problem called microvascular dysplasia is somewhat common in the Maltese. Most dogs don’t show any symptoms and live long lives without ever needing treatment. If your dog does show symptoms they are similar to the symptoms of liver shunt – vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, weight loss. This condition can usually be managed with a low protein diet and prescriptions from your veterinarian.
As with many small dogs, the Maltese can also experience problems with luxating patellas. This is similar to a slipped kneecap in a human. Cases can vary in severity. Some dogs may have an occasional problem while others can have a problem that gets progressively worse.
If your dog has a chronic problem his leg could become arthritic and he might need surgery. This condition is very treatable and dogs are usually running around, back to normal just a few weeks after surgery.
The Maltese can have problems with tear stains under their eyes. With their white fur, the stains can show prominently. The tear stains can indicate that the dog has a slight infection that changes the pH in the tears. You can talk to your veterinarian about using an oral antibiotic to get rid of the infection and stop the staining.
Maltese tend to have problems with their teeth, as do many Toy breeds. Be sure to brush your Maltese’s teeth daily. Have your vet check your Maltese’s teeth during check-ups.
You can find more information about Maltese health matters on the breed club’s web site.
The American Maltese Association recommends that breeders have the following health tests done for their dogs if they are considering breeding them:
- Congenital Cardiac Database – OFA Evaluation – minimum age 1 year
- Patellar Luxation – OFA evaluation – minimum age 1 year
If you are considering getting a Maltese puppy or dog, you should talk to the breeder about these tests and other health issues in the breed. Ask about health guarantees. Breeders cannot guarantee that dogs will never have a health problem. No one can do that. But they should have reasonable guarantees that explain the obligations of both the breeder and the buyer.
The Maltese has been a lap dog for more than 2000 years and they excel at being a companion dog. The Maltese is lively and charming. They are gentle and playful and they love to be around people. They tend to be active inside the house but they only need moderate exercise outside. They enjoy taking walks with people and playing outside in a small yard but they are not outdoor dogs.
The Maltese makes an excellent dog for an apartment or a small home. They are good with older children and with seniors. They are not usually recommended for homes with very small children because they are very small dogs and they can be injured or even killed by rough play.
If a toddler falls on a Maltese (weighing less than 10 pounds), it could kill the dog. At the same time, owners report that some Maltese can be snappish with small children who bug them. So, it’s best to avoid putting Maltese together with very small children.
We recommend that you socialize your Maltese from the time you get him, whether he is a puppy, young dog, or older dog. Take him places or enroll him in a puppy preschool or puppy kindergarten. You can find information for these classes at your local kennel club or pet store. This will allow your dog to interact with other dogs and people of various ages. This is a good way to build confidence and encourage good manners.
Some Maltese can reportedly develop separation anxiety if they are left alone. Socialization and attending puppy preschool/puppy kindergarten classes can help prevent this problem. Obedience classes and other dog activities can also help with this problem. Dogs that have an active life are more confident and are less likely to feel abandoned when you have to leave them alone at home sometimes.
The Maltese does bark at times so they are not as quiet as some dogs. In Australia and South Korea, this breed is frequently dumped in shelters, with barking being cited as the reason in Australia.
The Maltese generally weighs about 7 pounds. The breed stands between 8 and 10 inches tall at the shoulders. They really are very small dogs though you may not realize it when the dog is covered in a beautiful coat of long, white hair.
The breed’s coat is long, white, and silky. The coat is a single layer without an undercoat and they do not shed. It takes considerable care and attention to keep the coat long and flowing, with daily brushing and regular bathing and conditioning.
Many pet owners prefer to keep the coat in a pet clip or “puppy cut.” In this style the coat is cut in a short clip which is the same length all over. It is cute and easy to care for. Professional pet groomers can cut your Maltese’s coat this way and keep it trimmed about every 6-8 weeks.
Most owners use a bow or barrette in the Maltese’s “top knot” – the long hair on top of the head. This keeps the hair out of the dog’s eyes – and it looks adorable. Or, you can ask the pet groomer to trim this hair to keep it out of your dog’s eyes. You can find literally hundreds of colored and patterned bows and hair accessories for Toy dogs online.
While daily brushing is recommended for your Maltese, you can usually bathe a pet Maltese about once every 2-3 weeks and keep him looking nice. This can vary, more or less often, depending on whether he stays clean or not.
Since the Maltese doesn’t shed, the breed is considered to be a good choice for people who have allergies to dogs. If you are interested in getting a Maltese because you have allergies, it’s important to meet the individual dog. You can be more or less allergic to one dog than another.
Because tear staining on the face can be a problem, it’s important to check your Maltese’s face at least once per day to make sure it is clean. Clean your dog’s ears weekly and trim his nails (or ask your pet groomer to trim them). And brush your Maltese’s teeth often. This is a breed that is particularly prone to problems with their teeth.
Maltese Fun Facts
- The Maltese has had numerous famous owners such as Elizabeth Taylor and Marilyn Monroe.
- In Elizabethan times it was commonly believed that the Maltese could cure illness and relieve pain. All you had to do was put them under the covers of the bed next to the person who felt bad and the dogs were supposed to make them feel better. (Maybe snuggling with a little dog worked?)
- There is no such thing as a “teacup” Maltese. Adult Maltese can weigh as little as 4 pounds but they are normal for the breed.
Common Maltese Mixes
Here are some of the Maltese mixes we found online:
- Boston Malterrier
- Crested Malt
- Daisy Dog
- Highland Maltie
- Queen Marie Antoinette Spaniel
- Silky Cocker
What is a Maltese’s Life Expectancy?
According to a 2004 breed health study conducted by the Kennel Club in the UK, the median age at death for the Maltese was 12 years and 3 months. The oldest Maltese death reported in the study was 19 years and 2 months. The most common causes of death were cancer (19 percent), old age (19 percent), and cardiac (16.7 percent). In the U.S. the Maltese is commonly reported to live an average of 12 to 15 years.
Is the Maltese easy to train?
The Maltese is considered reasonably easy to train. They like to do things with their owners but they can be a little saucy. According to Dr. Stanley Coren’s book, The Intelligence of Dogs, the Maltese ranked 59th in terms of intelligence. Tests were based on obedience indicators. However, not all dogs are inclined to obey commands. This does not necessarily make them less intelligent. It can mean they are more independent. The Maltese is considered to be very emotionally intelligent and sensitive to people. All of which means that the breed can be easy to train if you are closely connected to your dog and know how to appeal to him.
Do Maltese shed a lot of hair?
No. The Maltese sheds little or no hair. They are considered one of the best breeds for people who are allergic to dogs.
If you are interested in getting a Maltese because you have an allergy to dogs, please make sure to meet the individual dog that you are considering. You may be able to tolerate one dog more than another.
Do Maltese make good apartment pets?
Yes. The Maltese can make a very good pet for someone who lives in an apartment. They are small and they enjoy being indoors. They have modest exercise needs. They enjoy taking walks with their owner or a little time spent playing outside, but they do not require a lot of exercise. They love to be with their people indoors. They can be barkers but they are not as bad as some breeds.
Are Maltese good with Children?
The Maltese is good with older children who play gently. They are not recommended for families with toddlers or small children. This is a very small breed and they can be seriously injured or killed if a small child falls on them or plays with them too roughly. Some Maltese can also snap at small children who irritate them. But the breed is great with older kids who will treat them kindly.
It’s always important to teach all children how to play gently with a dog so they don’t pull on tails and ears or do things to provoke a dog into biting. Thousands of children are bitten by dogs every year and most of those cases could be prevented with a little education. Take normal precautions.
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