Maltese (dog)

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The Maltese is a small dog breed, belonging to the Toy Group. The Maltese does not shed appreciably and is covered from head to foot with a mantle of what is typically a long and silky white coat. Maltese dogs have long been associated with the island of Malta; the breed type may have retained its distinct appearance for centuries.


Adult Maltese range from roughly 3 to 10 lb (1.4 to 4.5 kg), though breed standards, as a whole, call for weights between 4 and 8 lb (1.8 to 3.7 kg). There are variations depending on which standard is being used; many, like the American Kennel Club, call for a weight that is ideally between 4 and 6 lb (1.8 to 2.7 kg), and no more than 7 lb (3.2 kg).

The coat is typically long and silky and lacks an undercoat. The color is pure white and although cream or light lemon ears are permissible, they are not desirable. Some individuals may have curly coat, but this is outside the standard. This type of coat is often referred to as "couton", or "cotton", in French.

Characteristics include slightly rounded skulls, with a one (1) finger width dome and a black nose that is two (2) finger widths long. The body is compact with the length equaling the height. The drop ears with long hair and very dark eyes, surrounded by darker skin pigmentation that is called a "halo", gives Maltese their expressive look. Their noses can fade and become pink or light brown in color. This is often referred to as a "winter nose"[1] and many times will become black again with increased exposure to the sun. The winter nose may also appear in response to providing water in a plastic, rather than a ceramic or metal dish.


The Maltese can be a handful for owners unprepared to deal with their energy. Maltese are also notoriously difficult to housebreak and often need to be box or paper trained (via "Wee-Wee Pads"), rather than trained to "go out".

For all their diminutive size, Maltese also seem, for the most part, to be without fear. In fact, many Maltese seem relatively indifferent to creatures/objects larger than themselves, which makes them very easy to socialize with other dogs, and even cats. They are extremely lively and playful, and even as a Maltese ages, his/her energy level and playful demeanor remain fairly constant and does not diminish.

Although Maltese are very good with children, families with infants must consider the acquisition of a puppy carefully. Puppies tend to relate to human infants as if they are other puppies with whom to play and socialise with, which can include play fighting and biting. Once a Maltese is a bit older and more mature, it is fine around extremely small children and infants. Still, human children must be taught to distinguish between a living dog and a plush toy.

Maltese do not require much physical exercise, although they enjoy running and are more inclined to play games of chase, rather than play with toys. They can be very demanding and, true to their nature as "lap dogs", love to cuddle and often seek this sort of attention. The Maltese is very active in the house, and, preferring enclosed spaces, does very well with small yards. For this reason the breed also does well with apartments and townhouses, and is a prized pet of urban dwellers, especially as they are not yappy. They are incredibly friendly dogs to people they know. With strangers they will often make a high pitched bark, but will quiet down if the person means no harm.


Maltese have no undercoat, and have little shedding if their coats are properly and consistently attended to. Like their relatives Poodles and Bichon Frisé, they are considered to be largely hypoallergenic and many people who are allergic to dogs may not be allergic to the Maltese.

Regular grooming is required to prevent the coats of non-shedding dogs from matting. Many owners will keep their Maltese clipped in a "puppy cut," a 1 - 2" all over trim that makes the dog resemble a puppy. Some owners, especially those who show Maltese in the sport of conformational dog shows, prefer to wrap the long hair to keep it from matting and breaking off, and then to show the dog with the hair unwrapped combed out to its full length.

Dark staining in the hair around the eyes ("tear staining") can be a problem in this breed, and is mostly a function of how much the individual dog's eyes water and the size of the tear ducts. Tear stain can be readily removed if a fine-toothed metal comb, moistened with lukewarm water, is carefully drawn through the snout hair just below the eyes. This maintenance activity must be performed every two or three days, as a layer of sticky goo is quick to redevelop. If the face is kept dry and cleaned daily, the staining can be minimized. Many veterinarians recommend avoiding foods treated with food coloring and serving distilled water to reduce tear staining. In addition, feeding a Maltese a regular diet of fresh tomatoes can help in the reduction of tear stains.


Many toy breeds and small dogs are known to have high-pitched voices. While Maltese dogs are not given to excessive barking, they will sound the alarm at noises in the night. In fact, legend has it that the ancient Romans would use dogs similar to Maltese as alarm dogs, and raised them with Rottweilers, or a proto-Rottweiler breed. Intruders would first be confronted with the diminutive Maltese, only to be later confronted with their more formidable companions.


The most significant issue for Maltese is their dental health, as Maltese have notoriously bad teeth and it is not uncommon for animals to begin losing teeth at the age of 8 or 9.

There is also an inclination toward heart ailments, which usually surface around the 10th year. These might include a prolapse valve syndrome, or an enlarged ventricle. These condition can be life threatening, but are manageable through medication.

Other problems may be a luxating patella, or "trick knee", portosystemic liver shunt, and progressive retinal atrophy (PRA).

Maltese are also prone to sunburn along where their hair parts, and, in general, have rather delicate skin.

Some dogs of this kind get the chills very easily, and are prone to shaking or shivering for no apparent medical reason. Maltese are also often uncomfortable in hot, as well as damp, weather.

The average life span is 12-15 years, although Maltese can live to be 18 or older.


The Maltese has been known by a variety of names throughout the centuries. Originally called the "Melitaie Dog" he has also been known as "Ye Ancient Dogge of Malta", the "Roman Ladies' Dog," the "Comforter Dog," the "Spaniel Gentle," the "Bichon," the "Shock Dog," the "Maltese Lion Dog" and the "Maltese Terrier." Sometime within the past century, he has come to simply be known as the "Maltese."

Although today's purebred dog breeds are all modern creations, there are suggestions that the Maltese's lineage may go back over the centuries. Some have placed its origin at two or three thousand years ago [2]However, there are many small dog breeds with shared lineage, and small, skilky white dogs described by the ancients may have been the precursors of any or all of several breeds.

The Maltese is thought to have been descended from a Spitz type dog found among the Swiss Lake dwellers and bred down to obtain its small size. Although there is also some evidence that the breed originated in Asia and is related to the Tibetan Terrier, the exact origin is unknown [3]. Maltese are generally associated with the island of Malta in the Mediterranean Sea. The dogs probably made their way to Europe through the Middle East with the migration of nomadic tribes. Some writers believe these proto-Maltese were used for rodent control[4][5] before the cuteness factor gained paramount importance. The Isle of Malta (or Melitae as it was then known) was a geographic center of early trade, and explorers undoubtedly found ancestors of the tiny, white dogs left there as barter for necessities and supplies. The dogs were favored by the wealthy and royalty alike and were bred over time to specifically be a companion animal. Some royals that purportedly owned Maltese were Mary Queen of Scots, Queen Elizabeth I, Queen Victoria, Josephine Bonaparte and Marie Antoinette.

In fact, the Maltese were so favored by the Roman emperors, they choose to breed them to be pure white - something they considered a 'sacred color'. Before then, there were other light colors that Maltese come in - still seen again at the puppy stage, normally.


  1. Maltese Only FAQ
  2. Cutillo, Nicholas. 'The Complete Maltese'. Howell Book House, 1986. ISBN 0-87605-209-X
  3. Leitch, Virginia T., 1953; Carno, Dennis, 1970. The Maltese Dog - A History of the Breed, 2nd Ed.. International Institute of Veterinary Science