Breed Profile: Maltese

These dogs are an ancient breed known for being affectionate and playful. They are active indoors and make great family pets.

breed-profile-maltese
The Maltese breed is more than 2,800 years old. By: Rachel Kramer

Breed

Maltese

Group

Toy

Physical Description

The Maltese is a small, ancient breed of dog from Malta, a place where it also obtained its name. These small, fearless dogs were favorites of aristocrats for more than 28 centuries. They are slightly longer than they are tall and have low-set ears, large, round black eyes and a black nose.

The silky single coat is white or light ivory; tan or lemon coloring may be present on the ears. Average height is between 8 and 10 inches, and their weight varies from 4 to 7 pounds.

The average life expectancy of a Maltese is around 15 years, although some of the dogs have been known to live closer to 20 years.

Origin

This breed is known as the ancient dog of Malta. Artifacts featuring the breed are found throughout the past 2,800 years. Poems, paintings, sculptures and tombs of the toy breed were created to honor the dogs by the royals who owned them. Ceramic pieces depicting the dogs were found that dated back to the fifth century. Women reportedly kept them in the sleeves of their clothing and slept with them by their feet at night for warmth.

The Maltese made an appearance at the first Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in 1877 in the United States. The American Kennel Club added the breed in 1888. The original Maltese dogs were the same size as those we see today.

Purpose

Maltese dogs are companion pets and may also participate in conformation. When you’re looking for a Maltese for conformation, choose an older puppy since it is difficult to determine if a very young puppy will be “show quality.”

If you are simply looking for a Maltese as a pet, this will not be a factor. There are usually more males than females in Maltese litters, but neutered males do not normally mark territory and are reportedly as affectionate as their female siblings.

Temperament

This toy breed is affectionate, playful, lively, alert and fearless at times. The dogs are intelligent and can learn many tricks. They can be difficult to housebreak and may suffer from separation anxiety, guarding and excessive barking if spoiled. They are fine with other dogs and pets.

Exercise Needs

The Maltese is active indoors but enjoys the outdoors. A small yard to a dog park would be appreciated for daily outings. They do well in apartments with daily walks and play.

The breed has been known to remain active and playful well into their later years. Maltese dogs love children, but many times children do not understand how easy it is to hurt such a small dog. If you are considering adding a Maltese to your family and have children, be sure to talk to the kids about safety for the dog, responsibilities and how to avoid irritating the dog unnecessarily, such as pulling the tail or ears.

To get an idea of how playful and active indoors Maltese dogs can be, check out this video of Deedee the Yorkshire Terrier and Dexter the Maltese playing. Although with all their whappy paws attacks, they might as well be cats or Boxers!

Grooming Requirements

This toy breed is usually seen with long hair and an iconic ponytail on top of its head. Others choose to have the puppy groomed for a puppy cut, a shorter cut that is easier to maintain.

You should be brushing your Maltese daily, especially if the dog has a long coat. Dogs with longer hair should be checked after being outside for debris or mats. Brush the hair while blow-drying because air drying does not produce the best results.

The eyes must be cleaned regularly to prevent staining from discharge. The facial area should also be cleaned after eating to prevent stains from food. The dog can be bathed regularly but must be completely dry and warm afterward to prevent getting chills. The ears should be cleaned often and the hair inside the ears gently removed.

The nails should be trimmed as needed. The teeth need to be brushed regularly, if not daily, because this breed is prone to dental problems. This breed sheds little and is a good choice for allergy sufferers.

Common Health Problems

The Maltese has several common health problems which may or may not be encountered throughout its life. These include:

  • Sunburn due to hair parting
  • Skin issues
  • Eye problems
  • Respiratory complications (reverse sneezing and collapsed trachea)
  • Slipped stifle (luxated patella, i.e., dislocated kneecap)
  • Digestive issues which may affect eating
  • Sensitive to temperature extremes
  • Dental problems
  • Granulomatous meningoencephalomyelitis (central nervous system disease, unknown if hereditary at this time)
  • Juvenile hypoglycemia
  • Liver disorders (PSVA and MVD)
  • Heart murmurs or genetic defects
  • Hip problems(LCPD)
  • Tear staining

Tear staining is more common in puppies during their teething period. Keep the eye area as clean as possible. If you notice excessive tearing or staining, it is best to have the dog examined by your veterinarian.

Toy dogs are known to have dental problems, and the Maltese is no exception. There can be a problem with duplicate or retained baby teeth or teeth growing in crooked, and some of these may need to be removed by your vet. Gum and periodontal disease is also common, so your grooming routine should always include teeth brushing and annual vet visits.

Is the Maltese the Right Dog for You?

If you like small dogs, a Maltese is definitely a dog breed to consider. They are wonderful with families, other pets and remain playful and active most of their lives, which may be as long as 20 years. They are intelligent and can learn tricks, but they may be difficult to housebreak. This breed is great for allergy sufferers; despite their long hair, they do not shed much.

Grooming is certainly a consideration. Daily brushing, ear hair trimming and dental brushing is necessary for their health. They are active indoors, so they do well in apartments with daily walks. There are several health issues that affect the breed, but there is no guarantee every Maltese will suffer from them.

If the recommendations for this breed are duties that you can fulfill, the Maltese might be a great choice for your next dog.

Adopt, Don’t Shop

Maltese dogs can be found in shelters and rescues, so consider searching for an adoptable dog first. If you do choose to seek out a breeder, beware of signs that might indicate the breeder is operating a puppy mill. If you are unsure if your breeder is reputable, read our list of red flags and this article from a reputable breeder.

Additional Resources

Kristine Lacoste

View posts by Kristine Lacoste
Kristine Lacoste, editor in chief of Petful, is an author, poet and pet lover from Louisiana. She is the author of an award-nominated book, One Unforgettable Journey, and was host of a weekly pet news segment on the National K-9 Academy Radio Show. She was the New Orleans coordinator for Dogs on Deployment, a nonprofit that helps military members and their pets, for 3 years. She is also employed as chief operating officer for a large mental health practice in Louisiana. Kristine has a bachelor’s degree in psychology, a bachelor’s degree in English and a Master of Business Administration degree.

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