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The Maltese: Your Ultimate Guide To The Ultimate Companion Dog

Photo of Tamsin De La Harpe

Written by Tamsin De La Harpe

The Maltese

Known for their expressive eyes and beautiful, silky white coat, Maltese dogs have a way of stealing hearts at first glance. These dogs are not only a joy to behold but also make loving, affectionate companions that fit perfectly into various lifestyles, whether you live in a bustling city apartment or a quiet suburban home.

For those of you looking to find a Maltese puppy for sale, we’ll discuss how to find a responsible breeder and what to expect when you bring your new puppy home. And this isn’t just any dog breed guide as we’ve drawn together the best information from Cambridge University studies on the origins of this ancient lapdog and the American Maltese Association for the best information to help you to decide if this is the right dog for you.

Contents show

Maltese Key Points

  1. Maltese dogs are known for their long, silky white coat that requires regular brushing.
  2. Despite their small size, Maltese dogs are intelligent and can be trained for agility or tricks.
  3. These charming companions are adaptable and can thrive in various living situations.
  4. Maltese dogs have a gentle temperament, making them great for families with children.
  5. Originally bred as lap dogs, Maltese still crave attention and love to cuddle with their owners.

The Maltese Profile: Physical and Personality Traits

Long white haired show dog Maltese with bow showing physical traits of the breed

Standing at about 7 to 9 inches (approximately 18 to 23 centimeters) at the withers and typically weighing between 4 and 7 pounds (about 1.8 to 3.2 kilograms), the Maltese is the perfect size for a lap dog, yet sturdy enough for an active family lifestyle.

However, the teacup Maltese is considerably smaller and much more fragile. These dogs are more prone to health issues and are better off without small children or bigger dogs. Teacups are also more controversial, so if you’re looking for a Malti, make sure to look for an ethical breeder who breeds for health or adopt from a rescue.

According to the AKC Breed Standard, the ideal Maltese is well-proportioned with a fine bone structure. The breed’s expressive, large, dark eyes and long, flowing white coat contribute to its distinctive, alert expression that is known to melt hearts.

Coat and Colors

Maltese dogs boast a silky, single-layer coat that lies flat on their body. They require regular grooming to maintain their beautiful appearance and prevent mats. The breed standard recognizes only pure white, although slight lemon markings are allowed.

Temperament

Maltese dogs are exceptionally sensitive and emotionally attuned to their owners. While some Maltese can be a bit more fearless and prone to barking, the majority are known for their sweet and gentle nature. These dogs do not thrive in stressful environments and are best suited for quiet homes where their playful side can flourish.

Maltese dogs tend to form strong bonds with one or two owners, making them ideal lapdogs. They excel in environments where someone is home most of the time to provide them with love and affection. This breed is particularly well-suited for empty nesters, retirees, or adults who work from home, as their need for companionship and attention is high.

In quieter homes, Maltese dogs’ affectionate and playful personalities shine. They are incredibly in tune with their owners’ emotions, offering comfort and companionship. Their gentle disposition makes them excellent companions, providing warmth and loyalty to those who cherish their presence.

Where Does the Maltese Come From? History and Origins

The Maltese dog, historically known as the “Melitaean” dog, has its origins deeply rooted in ancient history. Aristotle compared it to a marten, highlighting its small size and delicate features. These dogs were popular in the Greek-speaking world and often kept as lap dogs by both men and women. They were renowned for their long, silky hair, bushy tails, and sharp noses, akin to the Spitz or Pomeranian breeds.

Greek literature frequently mentions these dogs, reflecting their widespread appeal. They were often seen in artistic representations, such as on vases, gravestones, and coins, indicating their cultural significance. Notable historical figures, including Aesop and Athenaeus, wrote about them, further cementing their status.

The name “Melitaean” is believed to derive from the island of Melite, with historical sources differing on whether this refers to the Adriatic island of Mljet or the island of Malta. While some evidence supports Mljet, the prevailing view, supported by geographers like Strabo and the tradition held by the islanders, points to Malta. This island’s strategic location on Mediterranean trade routes likely contributed to the dog’s spread across the ancient world.

Ultimately, the strong cultural and historical connections, along with traditional accounts, support the belief that the Maltese dog originated from Malta.

Is a Maltese Right for Me? Pros and Cons

Young owner on hike with Maltese dog; what are the pros and cons of having a Maltese

If you’re wondering if the Maltese is a good pet, the answer is yes. However, every breed has it’s pros and cons and it’s vital to take a good look at these to establish if this is a breed that is right for your home and lifestyle. 

ProsCons
Allergy-FriendlyHigh Grooming Needs
Maltese dogs have hair instead of fur, which can be less irritating to allergy sufferers. While no dog is completely hypoallergenic, the Maltese is a better option for those with mild allergies.Their long, silky coats require regular brushing and occasional professional grooming to prevent mats and maintain their appearance. Clipping them in puppy cuts can make management easier.
Affectionate and CompanionableProne to Dental Issues
These dogs form strong bonds with their families, making them excellent lapdogs and companions who thrive on human interaction.Maltese dogs are prone to dental problems, including retained puppy teeth and periodontal disease, requiring vigilant dental care.
Adaptable to Various Living SituationsSensitive to Stressful Environments
Due to their small size and adaptable nature, Maltese dogs adjust well to different living environments, including apartments and houses with yards.Maltese dogs do not do well in stressful environments and are best suited for quiet homes.
Intelligent and Eager to LearnCan Suffer from Separation Anxiety
Known for their intelligence, Maltese dogs excel in obedience training and agility sports. Their eagerness to please makes them quick learners.Due to their strong attachment to their owners, Maltese dogs can develop separation anxiety if left alone for extended periods.
Minimal SheddingBarking Tendency
Maltese dogs shed minimally, which can be an advantage for those who prefer a cleaner home environment.Maltese dogs are alert and can be prone to excessive barking, especially if not properly trained or socialized.
Good for Novice Dog OwnersFragility Due to Small Size
Their friendly and forgiving nature makes Maltese dogs a good choice for first-time dog owners.Due to their small size, Maltese dogs can be easily injured, so they require careful handling, especially around young children.
Long LifespanHigh Maintenance for Ears and Eyes
With proper care, Maltese dogs can live between 12 to 15 years, providing many years of companionship.Their long ears and expressive eyes require regular cleaning to prevent infections and tear staining.
Playful and EnergeticPotential for Timidness and Fearfulness
Maltese dogs are lively and enjoy interactive play, making them a fun and entertaining addition to the household.Without proper socialization, Maltese dogs can become timid or fearful of new experiences and environments.

Maltese Health and Longevity

Healthy white Maltese dog running on the grass; what are Maltese health issues

For an in-depth look into the health predispositions of Maltese dogs, refer to Dr. Alex Gough’s book, Breed Predispositions to Disease in Dogs and Cats. This section summarizes some common health issues and their implications for Maltese dogs.

Typical Lifespan

Maltese dogs typically live between 12 to 15 years. With proper care, some may even surpass this range. They are generally healthy, but like all breeds, they are prone to certain genetic and health conditions.

Let’s look at common health issues in the breed:

Cardiovascular Conditions

Mitral Valve Disease

Maltese dogs are at an increased risk for this condition, especially as they age. It involves the degeneration of the mitral valve in the heart, leading to heart failure if untreated.

Patent Ductus Arteriosus (PDA)

Maltese dogs have a higher prevalence of PDA, a congenital heart defect. It’s more common in females and can lead to heart failure if not corrected surgically.

Ventricular Septal Defect (VSD)

This congenital defect, which involves a hole in the heart’s septum, is relatively rare but more common in Maltese compared to other breeds. Symptoms often appear in puppies.

Drug Reactions

Vaccine-Associated Adverse Effect

Maltese dogs have a higher rate of adverse reactions to vaccines. The risk tends to decrease with increasing body weight.

Endocrine Conditions

Hypothyroidism (Lymphocytic Thyroiditis)

Maltese dogs are more likely to develop hypothyroidism, often identified by the presence of thyroid hormone autoantibodies. It is more prevalent in females and typically diagnosed in dogs aged 2-4 years.

Gastrointestinal Conditions

Antral Pyloric Hypertrophy (Pyloric Stenosis)

This condition, causing obstruction at the stomach’s exit, is more common in older Maltese dogs, particularly males.

Atresia Ani

A congenital condition where the anus is absent or blocked, more common in Maltese puppies. Symptoms are evident at weaning.

Congenital Portosystemic Shunt

A significant health issue where the liver’s blood vessels are abnormal, seen often in young Maltese dogs under one year. It usually requires surgical intervention.

Haemorrhagic Gastroenteritis

Maltese dogs are predisposed to this condition, characterized by sudden onset of vomiting and bloody diarrhea, with higher incidence during winter.

Haematological/Immunological Conditions

Haemophilia B

A severe bleeding disorder due to factor IX deficiency, inherited in an X-linked recessive manner.

Immune-Mediated Haemolytic Anaemia (IMHA)

Maltese dogs have an increased risk for IMHA, where the immune system destroys red blood cells, typically diagnosed around six years of age.

Musculoskeletal Conditions

Patellar Luxation

This common issue involves the dislocation of the kneecap, more frequently observed in Maltese dogs compared to mixed breeds. It usually requires surgical correction.

Neoplastic Conditions

Mammary Neoplasia

Maltese dogs are more susceptible to mammary tumors, especially in areas with higher breed prevalence.

Testicular Neoplasia

Associated with undescended testicles (cryptorchidism), Maltese dogs are at increased risk for this condition.

Neurological Conditions

Granulomatous Meningoencephalitis

An inflammatory disease of the central nervous system, more common in younger Maltese dogs.

Hydrocephalus

A Congenital condition causing fluid accumulation in the brain, seen in young puppies.

Necrotizing Meningoencephalitis

A severe, often fatal inflammatory brain disease with identified genetic risk loci in Maltese dogs.

Shaker Dog Disease

A rare condition in Maltese dogs, presenting with tremors typically before the age of two.

Eye Conditions

Cataracts

Maltese dogs have a higher prevalence of primary cataracts compared to mixed breeds, leading to potential vision loss.

Renal and Urinary Conditions

Urolithiasis (Calcium Oxalate Stones)

Maltese dogs are prone to developing these urinary stones, requiring dietary management and sometimes surgical intervention.

Reproductive Conditions

Cryptorchidism

This condition, where one or both testicles fail to descend, is common in Maltese dogs and increases the risk of testicular cancer.

Dystocia

Maltese bitches have a higher incidence of difficult labor, necessitating veterinary intervention during birth.

Best Dog Foods for the Maltese

Dog owner giving Maltese dog peanut butter; what are the best foods for Maltese dogs

Having the best diet for your Maltese is vital for their health. Let’s take a look at some of the best food options for this delicate little dog.

For Puppies

  1. Royal Canin Small Puppy Dry Dog Food

Designed to meet the nutritional needs of small breed puppies up to 10 months old, supporting their growth with appropriate levels of protein and fat. The kibble size is tailored for their smaller jaws.

  1. Hill’s Science Diet Puppy Small Paws Chicken Meal & Barley Recipe

Made with high-quality ingredients and balanced nutrition to support the development of Maltese puppies. It includes DHA from fish oil for brain and eye development.

For Adults

  1. Wellness CORE Small Breed Grain-Free Turkey & Chicken Recipe

High in protein and grain-free, this formula supports lean body mass and muscle tone. It also contains probiotics and fiber for digestive health.

  1. Blue Buffalo Life Protection Formula Small Breed Adult Chicken & Brown Rice Recipe

Made with real meat, whole grains, and garden veggies and fruit, this formula provides high-quality protein and complex carbohydrates to meet the energy needs of active Maltese dogs.

For Seniors

  1. Blue Buffalo Life Protection Formula Small Breed Senior Chicken & Brown Rice Recipe

Specially formulated for older dogs, offering a careful balance of proteins and carbohydrates to help maintain muscle mass and manage weight. It includes glucosamine and chondroitin for joint health.

  1. Orijen Senior Dog Food

High-protein, low-carbohydrate formula excellent for seniors needing stringent weight control. It includes glucosamine and chondroitin to support joint health.

For Sensitive Skin

  1. Hill’s Science Diet Adult Sensitive Stomach & Skin Small & Mini Breed

This food offers a balanced diet that’s gentle on the stomach and supports skin health. It includes high-quality ingredients ensuring optimal nutrient absorption.

  1. Purina Pro Plan Focus Sensitive Skin & Stomach Small Breed Formula

With salmon as the first ingredient, this formula is rich in omega fatty acids for skin health and contains prebiotic fiber for digestive health.

For Allergies

  1. Natural Balance L.I.D. Limited Ingredient Diets Small Breed Bites Sweet Potato & Fish Formula

This limited ingredient diet is designed to minimize food sensitivities and contains a single animal protein source, making it ideal for Maltese dogs with allergies.

  1. Blue Buffalo Basics Limited Ingredient Diet Small Breed Turkey & Potato Recipe

Formulated with a limited number of carefully selected ingredients to minimize food sensitivities while maximizing nutritional value.

For Heart Issues

  1. Hill’s Prescription Diet h/d Heart Care Chicken Flavor Dry Dog Food

Specifically formulated to support heart health with controlled levels of sodium, increased levels of taurine, L-carnitine, and antioxidants.

  1. Royal Canin Veterinary Diet Canine Cardiac Dry

Designed to support heart health in dogs, this formula includes nutrients like EPA, DHA, taurine, and L-carnitine, with controlled sodium levels.

When selecting food for your Maltese dog, consider their specific health needs, life stage, and any advice from your veterinarian. Always ensure that any diet change is gradual to avoid digestive upset.

Routine Care and Management

Grooming a Maltese dog

Proper daily care is essential to maintaining the health and happiness of a Maltese. Their unique physical characteristics, including their beautiful but maintenance-intensive coat, require consistent attention.

Coat Care

Maltese dogs have a long, silky coat that requires regular grooming to prevent matting and to keep it looking its best.

Daily brushing is recommended to remove tangles and prevent mats, particularly in the feathering on their ears, chest, legs, and tail.

Bathe your Maltese about once a month or as needed. Use a gentle dog shampoo to protect their skin and enhance the natural sheen of their coat.

Trim the hair around their paws and anal area to maintain hygiene and prevent debris from clinging. Maltese dogs do not require extensive trimming, but keeping these areas neat can prevent health issues.

Dental Care

Regular dental care is crucial to prevent gum disease and maintain overall health.

Brush your Maltese’s teeth several times a week with a toothpaste formulated for dogs. Daily brushing is ideal.

Ear and Eye Care

Maltese dogs are prone to ear and eye issues, so regular checks are important.

Check their ears weekly for signs of infection or irritation. Clean them using a vet-recommended ear cleaner. The long ears of Maltese dogs can trap moisture and debris, leading to infections if not cleaned regularly.

Wipe around your Maltese’s eyes daily with a soft, damp cloth to remove any discharge and prevent tear staining.

Nail Clipping

Regularly clip your Maltese’s nails to prevent discomfort while walking. If you can hear the nails clicking on the floor, they’re too long.

Exercise Needs

Maltese dogs have moderate energy levels and do not require extensive exercise, but regular activity is important to keep them healthy and prevent obesity, which can exacerbate health issues.

  • Aim for at least one or two walks per day. These don’t need to be overly long or strenuous — about 10 to 20 minutes each should suffice.
  • Engage in play sessions that stimulate both their mind and body. Maltese dogs enjoy fetching games and gentle tug-of-war. Ensure playtime is supervised, especially outdoors, to avoid overexertion.
  • Use puzzle toys and training games to keep their minds active. Maltese dogs are intelligent dogs and appreciate challenges that keep them mentally engaged.

Combining these grooming and exercise routines will help ensure that your Maltese remains a healthy, happy, and integral part of your family for many years to come. Always tailor the intensity and duration of exercise to your dog’s age, health status, and energy level, and consult your vet if you have any concerns about their health or care regimen.

Maltese Training and Behavior

cute Maltese dog with pink ribbon

Training a Maltese effectively takes a gentle hand and an understanding of their specific behavioral tendencies. While Maltese dogs are highly intelligent, their high energy levels and sensitivity can make training both rewarding and challenging.

Training Techniques

Maltese dogs respond exceptionally well to positive reinforcement. Due to their desire to please and sensitive nature, harsh corrections should be avoided. Use treats, praise, and petting to reward good behavior, which will encourage them to repeat those actions.

Like any dog, Maltese dogs benefit from consistent commands and routines. Regular short training sessions will help them learn and retain new behaviors and commands.

Managing Behavioral Issues

Maltese dogs often form strong bonds with their owners, making them prone to separation anxiety. To manage this:

  • Gradually acclimate them to being alone by starting with short periods of separation and slowly increasing the duration.
  • Create a safe, comforting space for them when you’re not home, such as a crate with familiar blankets and toys.
  • Consider leaving a piece of clothing that smells like you with your dog when you leave the house.

Timidness and Fear

Some Maltese dogs may show fear or timidness, particularly as puppies.

  • Socialize them early by exposing them to a variety of people, sounds, and experiences in a controlled, positive manner.
  • Encourage and reward bravery with treats and affection.
  • Avoid forcing them into situations where they feel overwhelmed, as this can exacerbate fearful behaviors.

Maltese Purchasing and Adoption

cute Maltese puppy for sale

Bringing a Maltese into your home is a significant decision. Whether you decide to buy from a breeder or adopt from a rescue, it’s crucial to go through reputable channels to ensure the health and well-being of your future pet.

Finding Reputable Breeders

When looking to purchase a Maltese puppy, selecting a reputable breeder is paramount. A responsible breeder will prioritize the health and temperament of their puppies and will be transparent about their breeding practices.

  • Breeders should conduct comprehensive health screenings on all breeding stock to check for common genetic conditions in Maltese dogs, such as luxating patella and dental issues.

Adoption and Rescue Options

Adopting a Maltese can be a rewarding way to give a dog a second chance at a loving home. Here are some reputable Maltese rescue organizations where you can find Maltese dogs looking for new homes:

These organizations often have dogs from various backgrounds, including those who have been surrendered by owners unable to care for them or rescued from less ideal situations.

Cost Overview

The cost of a Maltese can vary widely depending on whether you choose to adopt or buy from a breeder. Purchasing a Maltese from a reputable breeder might cost anywhere from $1,000 to over $2,500, whereas adoption fees generally range from $150 to $600.

Initial costs also include expenditures for vaccinations, initial veterinary visits, spaying or neutering, and necessary supplies like a bed, crate, and grooming tools.

Conclusion

If you’re looking for a devoted and cuddly companion with a glamorous coat, a Maltese dog might just be your perfect fit. Just be prepared to shower them with love and keep that luxurious fur tangle-free.

Meet Your Experts

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Tamsin De La Harpe

Author

Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.

Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.