Maltese dog
John Walton
Written by John Walton

Maltese is considered as one of the oldest dog breeds in Europe. It has been one of the most sought toy dog breeds around the world, thanks to its warm personality and an irresistible cuteness, with its distinct pure white coat and black button nose. It is believed that this breed originated in Malta.

Breed Characteristics

Health and GroomingHighest
All Around FriendlinessHigh
Exercise NeedsBelow Average

Dog Breed Group:Toy
Height: 8 to 10 inches at the shoulder (Male) / 8 to 9 inches at the shoulder (Female)
Weight:3 to 8 pounds (Male) / 2 to 7 pounds (Female)
Life Span:12 to 16 Years

The Maltese was bred from larger dogs that were originally used for hunting, until the breeders managed to achieve the ideal toy dog size. There are a lot of names for the Maltese, such as Maltese Lion Dog, Roman Ladies’ Dog, Ancient Dog of Malta, and finally it was formalized in the early 1900s to be called simply as a Maltese.

The Maltese is considered as one of the richest dog breeds in the world, primarily because their owners fall in love with their appearance and demeanor. The most prominent Maltese in the wealth category is a Maltese named Trouble, the Maltese owned by the late billionaire Leona Helmsley inherited a whopping $12,000,000.00 until it died at the age of twelve in 2011.

Now what makes a Maltese such an attractive pooch that keeps on capturing hearts for centuries?

Main Highlights
  • Maltese came from larger dog breeds that were purposely bred for game and as a working dog. Due to the selective breeding process, breeders achieved its ideal cutesy size after several generations.
  • Currently, it is one of the most popular breeds in the United States.
  • In general, Maltese only come in one coat color, which is pure white. However, there are colored varieties only obtainable from select kennels in Southern France.
  • The key characteristics of this breed are gentle and playful.
  • Maltese is considered as the preferred dog breed of the European high society.
  • Maltese is considered as one of the perfect companion dogs for owners that are not very active. They are very playful, but do not need too much exercise.
  • Maltese do not shed, making it one of the most preferred toy dogs for pet parents with allergies.
  • They have long, silky coat and lacks an undercoat.
  • Maltese are quite easy to train as a toy dog, but you have to start early.
  • With an average life span of twelve to sixteen years, the Maltese is one of the toy dogs that have a bit shorter life expectancy compared to other toy dogs that ace the life expectancy charts. However, reports of Maltese that reach over seventeen years is not very rare as long as they are taken care of very well and was able to live a life without health complications.
Breed History

This breed’s history started in as early as 370 B.C. when the Romans bred only white-coated Maltese — white was a sacred color to the Romans. During the 1700s to 1800s, the breeders tried to improve the breed by making it smaller — it was stated by Linnaeus that the Maltese reached the size of an adult squirrel.

Over the years, the Maltese almost disappeared due to several breeding incompatibilities, but managed to recover and maintained a particular breed standard. The American Kennel Club recognized the breed in 1888, and the latest followed breed standard was established in 1964.


Male Maltese are slightly bigger and heavier than its female counterparts are. The male stands eight to ten inches tall at the shoulder, while the female stands eight to nine inches at the shoulder. Males weigh from three to eight pounds, and the females weigh two to seven pounds. Maltese follows just one breed standard and size.

Personality and Character

Affectionate is one of the most prominent features of this dog breed. It does not require too much space and exercise, and thrives well in apartment or condominium living. They are very adaptable, and can catch up with semi-active to active pet parents. However, bear in mind that even if the Maltese can be very active dogs, their small size will need more than ten steps for every step you take. A Maltese is a very smart dog, but some pet parents tend to underestimate this characteristic and end up over pampering their fur babies. Over pampering often leads to overdependence, which may lead to depression or lack of appetite when a Maltese is left alone for a very long time. This can be avoided by allowing the Maltese to move around independently from time to time. Pet parents must refrain from overindulging their Maltese.

The Maltese has a brittle body, and is not recommended for families with younger children. While they have a very low tendency to snap or bite, the brittle frame is very susceptible to injuries especially when the younger family member drops the dog and hits the ground.

Health and Potential Problems

The Maltese is a relatively hardy little dog, but like any other breeds, they are still prone to several health issues that can be acquired through lifestyle and other predisposing factors. Here are some of the most common health issues that pet parents should be aware when taking care of a Maltese.

  • Luxating Patella — For new pet parents, the condition sounds very serious, but it can be managed properly as soon as it is detected at an early stage. Luxating patella involves dislocation of the kneecap from its original position. It can lead to painful ranges of motion that can affect the dog’s quality of life. Luxating patella can be addressed by combination treatment of medication and surgery.
  • Bladder Stones — Bladder stones are more common in smaller breeds then in bigger ones. Hydration is very important for the Maltese because stasis of urine can promote stone formation, and symptoms include increased urinary frequency, blood-tinged urine, general depression, and even appetite loss. If any of these symptoms are present, it is best to have a consult with your veterinarian.
  • Dental Caries — Maltese is a breed that loses its teeth relatively earlier than many other smaller breeds. It is very important to keep the teeth and gums clean to keep them healthy and minimize the accumulation of microorganisms that accelerate tooth decay and even oral infection.
  • Bad Breath — This is another health concern that usually affects Maltese that have teeth and gum problems. However, it can also be a sign of digestive and renal concerns. Your veterinarian will determine the main cause of the bad breath, and will prescribe oral medications that will help alleviate the smell. Furthermore, other more comprehensive tests may be done if it is coming somewhere that is not around the oral cavity.
  • Eye and Ear Problems — Maltese being a light-colored dog allows easy observation if there is a developing eye or ear infection. Signs of infected eyes and ears include a brownish to dark brown discharge that emits a foul smell. These discharges are often accompanied by sores that are painful and aggravate the sick Maltese. The prevention of eye and ear problems is relatively easy, as it only involves frequent but not too frequent eye and ear cleaning. If the infection is already present, the veterinarian will prescribe eye and ear drops to help soothe the pain and accelerate the healing process.
  • Seed Problems — Due Maltese are low to the ground and possess long ears and flowing coat, these fur babies pick up seeds and grains and often penetrate their skin. The seeds cause irritation and can agitate the Maltese. Seeds that are hooked deeper into the skin causes pain, itching, and even form fluid and pus accumulation. These foreign bodies can also lodge into the nostrils and trigger allergies. It is very important for the Maltese to be examined every time it goes outside to play. Brushing can remove superficial seeds, and parting of the coat can reveal hooked seeds. As a pet parent, any signs of unusual agitation and distress must be investigated as soon as possible.
Care Features

One of the care requirements of a Maltese is the maintenance of its coat. Its hair coat needs daily brushing, especially if you want to maintain a long and flowing coat. Due to its pure white coat, frequent cleaning of the eye area should be done to avoid accumulation of unsightly tear stains, which can turn the white coat around the face into brown or brown-black. Lack of cleaning can also harbor microorganisms that can lead to infection. As a rule of thumb, brushing should be done daily and bathing should be done weekly.

Feeding Schedule

For Maltese Puppies — Maltese puppies and young dogs should be fed at the minimum frequency of three times daily. Because they are in the growing stage, they require considerably more nutrients and sustained nutrition compared to adult Maltese. Puppies that are fed only once or twice a day are prone to develop hypoglycemia or low glucose levels.

For Adult Maltese — In general, there are three primary factors to consider when planning a feeding schedule. These are the eating habits, age of the Maltese, and activity level. These factors are very important because a definite assessment from these factors can help you prepare a good feeding schedule and measurement. If the general outlook of the dog’s lifestyle is not very active, the calorie requirement is considerably lower. It is important to monitor the caloric intake of an adult Maltese to avoid obesity that often leads to health problems that are more serious. The Maltese is a generally healthy breed, but it should receive a balanced diet to inhibit health problems caused by overfeeding and lack of activity.

Coat, Color and Grooming

Maltese come in two coat types, the common long and straight hair, and the rare curly hair. The globally accepted coat color is pure white, although some other colors can be found in select breeders in Southern France. Shedding is minimal to none, but frequent combing and brushing is important especially if you want to maintain long and show-quality coat. In general, Maltese have moderate to high grooming requirements depending on the clip style you want to maintain. It is recommended for these dogs to have thorough bath once. The eyes and ears should also be cleaned regularly. Careful attention is needed on the eyes to inhibit the accumulation of dried tears that often leave stains that not only looks unsightly; it can also become a breeding ground for infection. Another special grooming consideration for Maltese is oral hygiene, because they are more prone to develop dental disease than other dog breeds. Regular brushing and oral cleaning is essential for this fur baby.

Children And Other Pets Compatibility

Maltese is a very hardy breed. However, it is more compatible to families with older children. Homes with younger children are not quite suitable with the Maltese because this dog breed is a bit frail compared to other toy dog breeds. Maltese are relatively easy to housebreak, and can become too friendly, so do not expect this little bundle of joy to do some indoor guard dog stints. It is generally compatible with other dog breeds but observe safety precaution if you own dog breeds that are naturally more aggressive. The usual home setting for a Maltese is solitary, and it loves to be around people, especially with its pet parent. This is one of the primary reasons why it can become over dependent. The Maltese is one of the breeds that are prone to separation anxiety when left alone or without their owners for a very long time.

Most dog experts rave about the Maltese because it lives to the expectations of what a dog should be – a faithful companion, a warm demeanor, and a cute little package. Who would have thought that you could find all of these characteristics in a single dog breed? The Maltese can live long and healthy years to keep you happy for a very long time.

About the author
John Walton
John Walton

John Walton lives in Somerville, MA, with his two dogs, two sons, and very understanding mate. He is a Certified Pet Dog Trainer, a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, a mentor trainer for the Animal Behavior College, an AKC Certified CGC Evaluator, and the Training Director for the New England Dog Training Club.