Maltese dogs are small, long haired members of the Toy group of dogs. They’re well known for their silky white coats.
They are popular, cheerful, and friendly family pets, who are very sweet-natured and loving.
If you are thinking of bringing a Maltese puppy into your home, then this article will help you to get to know this glamorous breed.
You’ll find all the information you need on Maltese temperament, characteristics, behavior, training, health, and much more.
What’s In This Guide
- Maltese At A Glance
- In-depth Breed Review
- Maltese Training And Care
- Pros And Cons Of Getting A Maltese
Our readers’ most popular and frequently asked questions about the Maltese.
- Are Maltese good family dogs?
- Where can I find a Maltese puppy?
- What health problems do Maltese have?
Breed At A Glance
- Popularity: 37th out of 193 breeds, according to the AKC
- Purpose: Companion
- Weight: Under 7 pounds
- Temperament: Playful, gentle, friendly
Maltese Breed Review: Contents
- History and original purpose of the Maltese
- Fun facts about the Maltese
- Maltese appearance
- Maltese temperament
- Training and exercising your Maltese
- Maltese health and care
- Do Maltese make good family pets?
- Rescuing a Maltese
- Finding a Maltese puppy
- Raising a Maltese puppy
- Popular Maltese breed mixes
- Maltese products and accessories
History And Original Purpose Of The Maltese
This is an ancient breed whose history is thought to go back thousands of years. They have always been primarily bred as lap dogs and companions, rather than as working dogs. The Maltese temperament still reflects this role today.
White Maltese type dogs have appeared in paintings as far back at the 17th century, shown relaxing on cushions or gathered with other breeds around bowls or beds.
The Maltese are named after the country of Malta. However, various theories suggest that they were originally produced in Italy or even Egypt, where they are believed to be depicted as far back as 600 BC.
Despite their long history, the first Maltese dogs were not imported to the UK or US until the late 1800s. Records of Maltese dog stud books date from the 1850s in the UK, and show records of Maltese from the early 1860s.
They first arrived in the US in the 1870s. The American Kennel Club recognized them in the late 1880s.
Fun Facts About The Maltese
Maltese are popular with all sorts of people, so it isn’t surprising that many celebrities have been Maltese parents.
One of the most notable was Leona Helmsley, the hotel heiress. She left her white Maltese, Trouble, an inheritance of twelve million dollars.
Although the inheritance was eventually cut down to two million, the benefit bought a lot of kibble! Trouble was kept in the lap of luxury, with the best food, travel by limo and private plane, and security guards.
Maltese are a very distinctive looking breed of dog, with a gorgeous coat of fur. They have a round skull with a healthy length of broad muzzle and black nose, with well-proportioned bodies and heads for their size. Shortened legs contribute to their overall small stature.
The Maltese’s long coat means that he is not a prolific shedder. Do Maltese shed at all? Yes, they do, but although they will drop hairs from time to time, this won’t be anything like on the scale of some other breeds.
All purebred Maltese puppies and dogs are white. Although there have been colored varieties in their history, the breed standard now states that they should be a “smart white-coated dog.” Lemon yellow markings are allowed in pedigree Maltese, but only in very small areas.
You may, however, find that as they age their coat discolors in places where staining occurs on the fur around their faces.
You can reduce this by wiping their mouths and regular bathing, but are unlikely to be able to avoid it completely. Tear staining can also occur under the eyes, and their faces should be wiped to reduce this too.
If you see Maltese puppies of different colors advertised, such as black Maltese, then they will in all likelihood be crossbred. They won’t be able to be registered, shown, or produce pedigree offspring.
Maltese Size Range And Teacup Maltese
This is a very small breed of dog. In adulthood these dogs will only weigh between four to seven pounds, and will grow up to ten inches in height at most.
To find an estimate of your Maltese puppy’s growth, take a look at this puppy growth chart:
Please note, there is no official separate breed called a “teacup Maltese.” You will, however, see them advertised from time to time. This is simply an advertising choice made by the breeder, rather than a recognized type of dog.
Be aware that these slightly smaller than average Maltese puppies will be more likely to suffer from health problems associated with their size, and are best avoided.
They may also be the result of crossbreeding.
Maltese puppies and dogs tend to be bold, confident and social. They have been bred for generations to be very friendly, and to love human companionship.
As lap dogs you will find that they are happy to spend hours curled up with you on the sofa in the evenings. But they will also be very keen to play during the day. Maltese are energetic little dogs, who love to play and get stuck in with their family’s activities.
Maltese temperament makes them great therapy dogs, as they are happy to be fussed and petted by anyone and everyone. The down side of this is that they are prone to separation anxiety, as they simply love to be around people.
Maltese dogs love the sound of their own voices. They are keen barkers, and excellent watchdogs. If you want a breed who is likely to let you know every time someone approaches the front door, a Maltese is unlikely to let you down.
However, if you live in a very built up area or are quite noise averse, a Maltese might not be ideal for you.
With proper training from the time your puppy gets home, you can reduce the tendency to bark somewhat, but you may have difficulty completely stopping a Maltese dog from yapping from time to time.
Training And Exercising Your Maltese
Maltese are strong willed little dogs. Due to their bold and confident natures, they are not suited to traditional punishment based training methods. They do, however, respond excellently to modern reward based methods.
Positive reinforcement training should be started from the first week your puppy arrives home.
Maltese are intelligent, capable of activities such as agility and even tracking. They can also make fabulous performers. You can teach this lively little dog lots of tricks to show off to your friends.
Although this breed is naturally well tempered, socialization is still important. This enables your dog to grow up to be confident in a variety of situations and with a range of people.
Although they are lapdogs by breeding, Maltese puppies and adults still require regular exercise to stay fit, healthy and happy. Even if your dog seems very laid back at home, don’t think that this is a sign of a lack of need for some time running around.
A backyard is recommended for ease of potty training your puppy, but is not essential in terms of exercise if you are committed to taking him for walks throughout the day. (You may also be interested in crate training.)
Maltese Health And Care
As a closed-register pedigree dog breed, the Maltese is prone to some inherited health problems. It also is at risk of suffering from some health problems relating to their very small stature.
Although the breed does have a fairly long list of potential health problems, if you buy your puppy from a good breeder you can drastically reduce the chances of them suffering from many of them.
They also have a lot of the qualities of some other more popular dog breeds, such as the Pug, without the crippling structural health problems that are bred into those breeds.
Maltese dogs may also suffer from some diseases common to all closed-register pedigree dog breeds. These include Progressive Retinal Atrophy and some eye problems such as glaucoma and cataracts.
Your puppy’s breeder should be able to show you a clear DNA test result for PRA, as well as a veterinary eye test completed less than a year ago.
Let’s take a look at some other potential health issues for the Maltese.
It is not uncommon for heart murmurs to be picked up at first vet checks when Maltese puppies are young. Most will grow out of this, but heart murmurs in older dogs can be more of a cause for concern.
There are a variety of possible reasons for heart murmurs, and grades of strength of murmur.
You can reduce the chances of your dog suffering by making sure that their parents have had recent health checks.
Patent Ductus Arterioles (PDA)
PDA is a congenital heart problem that occurs when puppies are born.
It can lead to congestive heart failure in severe cases.
Due to their small skull size, Maltese dogs can suffer from dental overcrowding. This can be assisted by regular veterinary check-ups and teeth cleaning.
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In cases of severe overcrowding resulting in gum disease, your vet may decide to remove some teeth to improve your dog’s health.
Asking your potential puppy’s breeder about their line’s history of dental issues will help you to assess whether your puppy is at greater than average risk.
Try to find a breeder who deliberately breeds for good dental health.
Some small dog breeds like Maltese can suffer from tracheal collapse.
This is where the windpipe becomes unsupported and restricts the dog’s breathing.
Luxating patellas are a problem in many pedigree dog breeds, especially smaller breeds.
This condition occurs when the knee joint is malformed, causing the dog’s kneecap to dislocate.
Shaker Dog Syndrome
Maltese have been known to suffer from a condition known as Shaker Dog Syndrome or White Shaker Dog Syndrome.
This is a condition that causes a characteristic shuddering of the dog, with shaking or shivering movements. It is also known as idiopathic cerebellitis, which refers to the part of the brain, the cerebellum, becoming inflamed.
White dogs are more prone to this disorder, which can be severe enough to require them to spend some time in a veterinary hospital. Symptoms can be treated, but may recur throughout the dog’s lifetime.
Maltese can also be prone to a few different gastrointestinal disorders:
- Glycogen Storage Disease (GSD)
- Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)
- Portosystemic Vascular Disease
- Microvascular Dysplasia (MVD)
Ask your breeder whether there is any history of bowel problems in their dog’s lines. If there is, then this litter is best avoided, and your puppy search should be continued elsewhere.
Being careful with your dog’s feeding routine and keeping quantities small but regular will help to promote good digestion.
Deafness has been linked to the gene for white coat color, and these dogs have a higher than average chance of deafness as a result.
Your puppy should have been vet checked before he comes home. Therefore, you should know whether they have hearing problems before you decide whether to choose them as your new companion.
Grooming And Expected Lifespan
The coat on your puppy will get very long as he matures. Choose between clipping at frequent intervals or intensive daily grooming.
The fur on your puppy’s head and ears will grow so long that it will fall into his eyes. You will need to clip or tie up this hair so that he can see. Left to its own devices, the fur on a Maltese will become matted, uncomfortable or restrict their movement, and vision.
These charming little dogs require a real dedication to grooming, or regular visits to the dog groomer for a close cropped cut.
Accustom your puppy to being groomed from the first day he is home with you. You will need a good grooming kit to manage your grooming sessions:
- A pin brush
- A stainless steel comb
- Dog safe de-tangling spray
- Dog shampoo and conditioner
Make sure to be very gentle, and make each grooming session a rewarding experience giving him treats and praise along the way. Keep sessions short to prevent him becoming bored or irritated with your attentions.
Maltese lifespan based upon a survey of pedigree dogs is shown as being on average around 12 years. The oldest dogs included in the study did make it to a ripe old age of 19.
You can expect your puppy to live around 12 years, if you go to the right breeder and keep them at a low healthy weight throughout their life.
Do Maltese Make Good Family Pets?
These dogs can be great for a family, and they’re well suited to small homes or apartments.
They are also incredibly friendly, loving little dogs, who will delight the whole family with lively games.
Puppies are very small and very fragile. Although as a breed they are known for being good-tempered, the risk with mixing a Maltese puppy and young kids is one of damage to the dog.
Toddlers and small children must not be left to interact with a Maltese unsupervised. A moment of accidental roughness can have terrible consequences for these delicate little dogs.
If you have small children and are thinking of bringing a Maltese puppy into your home, then give this decision very careful consideration.
The right environment for a Maltese will be one with adults or older, sensible children and where someone is normally home for much of the day.
Rescuing A Maltese
Maltese are popular little dogs, but sometimes circumstances mean that they end up in shelters or rescue operations. Often, this happens to grown or older dogs.
Rescuing a dog in need of a good home has some powerful effects.
Not only is it just a good feeling to help out a sweet dog in need, shelters are often far more affordable than breeders. On top of this, your dog will likely already have some training. And some of the initial expenses for a puppy, such as shots, should have been taken care of.
For more information on rescuing Maltese dog breeds, take a look at our lists of rescue operations.
Finding A Maltese Puppy
When you visit a litter of Maltese puppies they should all look bright eyed and be lively. They should be clambering over each other to greet their visitors. Their mother should confidently approach you with a wagging tail and happy expression.
The breeder should be happy to offer you the opportunity to meet the stud dog if he is housed elsewhere. But this is not essential in order to assess their temperament as Maltese tend to be such friendly dogs.
The breeder should also welcome any questions that you have regarding health and temperament. They should show a keen interest in finding out all about you, your family and your situation at home.
A good breeder is invested in the puppies they produce, and wants assurances that they are being matched to the right people. Watch for these signs in order to know whether you are visiting a reputable breeder, or a disreputable one. Avoid puppy mills and pet stores at all costs!
Maltese prices vary dramatically depending upon where you live. Puppies bred to show will come with a higher price tag, as will puppies whose parents have been through all the appropriate health tests.
In the US you can expect to spend from $600 to $2,000 for a puppy. In the UK Maltese puppy price will range hugely, from £500 to £2,000. Most puppies from health tested will be over £1,000.
For more help with your puppy search, check out our article here. Of course, you could look into a mixed breed dog, as well. Maltese mixes are increasing in popularity.
Raising A Maltese Puppy
If you buy a Maltese puppy, you must be prepared to commit to managing their coat for the duration of their lifetime, among other things!
Caring for a vulnerable Maltese puppy is a big responsibility. There are some great guides to help you with all aspects of puppy care and training. You’ll find them listed on our Maltese puppy page.
Popular Maltese Breed Mixes
Designer dogs are all the rage these days, and Maltese puppies are no exception. Mixed Maltese dog breeds tend to make for truly adorable dogs, often with the same friendly attitude of their Maltese parent.
Keep in mind, however, that mixes can take more after one parent than the other. The end result can be somewhat unpredictable.
Here are some of the most popular Maltese dog breeds mixes you can currently find.
Comparing The Maltese With Other Breeds
As you might have guessed from the section on popular Maltese mixes, the Maltese compares well with many other types of dog!
Pros And Cons Of Getting A Maltese
- Requires extensive grooming
- Some potential inheritable health problems
- Fragile and must be handled carefully
- Prone to separation anxiety
- Very friendly, energetic dog
- Does well with families
- Can live in small spaces such as apartments
- Doesn’t shed much
- A great lapdog
Maltese Products And Accessories
Maltese Breed Rescues
Do you know of any rescue organizations featuring Maltese or Maltese mixes? Let us know about them in the comments!
References And Resources
- Gough A, Thomas A, O’Neill D. 2018 Breed Predispositions to Disease In Dogs and Cats. Wiley Blackwell
- O’Neill et al. 2013. Longevity and Mortality of Dogs Owned In England. The Veterinary Journal
- Schalamon et al. 2006. Analysis of Dog Bites In Children Who Are Younger Than 17 Years. Pediatrics
- Duffy D et al. Breed differences in canine aggression. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 2008
- Strain G. Deafness prevalence and pigmentation and gender associations in dog breeds at risk. The Veterinary Journal 2004
- Packer et al. 2015. Impact of Facial Conformation On Canine Health. PlosOne
- Adams VJ, et al. 2010. Results of a Survey of UK Purebred Dogs. Journal of Small Animal Practice.
- Zeveloff, J. 2011 The Dog That Inherited Millions From Leona Helmsley. Business Insider
This article has been extensively revised and updated for 2019.