All about the Maltese: Why are they the best dogs?

Last Updated on April 23, 2023

Simply called Maltese, the Bichon Maltiase or Maltese Terrier is an unbelievably cute toy dog that’s famous for its show-stopping, glamorous white coat.

This purebred has been sitting on the lap of luxury and is worshipped since the Bible was at work, but looks can be deceiving, given this canine’s energy level, playfulness, and care requirements.

Maltese dogs at dog conformation show
Image source

Are you ready to own a Maltese? Keep scrolling to find out.

Where did the Maltese originate?

Unearthed in the Fayum in Egypt was a fine model of the Maltese, which seems Egyptians honored this breed for a long time. But actually, this fido originated from Italy’s island of Malta, just south of Sicily.

Back then, they were called the Ye Ancient Dogge of Malta.

The island was a gateway and clearinghouse for seafaring empire-builders and precious commodities. It is believed that the Maltese dogs were brought by the rulers of the Mediterranean — the Phoenicians.

Between the 4th and 5th century BC, the Greeks adored the breed for their geometric beauty that they were depicted on Golden Age ceramics and referred to as “The Melitae Dog.”

Even Aristotle thought they are perfectly proportioned!

Maltese dog stands on a red velvet background

The Roman Empire’s aristocrats even furthered the Maltese’s role as a fashion statement and status symbol.

A Roman matron is considered fully dressed only if this pooch is peeking out of her bosom or sleeve, then they’ll be called “Roman Ladies Dog.” 

Emperor Claudius also fell in love with this doggo that it became persistent and a symbol of loyalty in fables, poems, and myths.

One legend involves Saint Paul. When he miraculously healed Publius, the island’s Roman governor, he was presented with one of his Maltese dogs.

There was one particular Maltese that Publius was very fond of — Issa. This connection with his favorite pup was made famous and celebrated in some of Marcus Valerius Martialis’ epigrams.

Fun fact: It is thought that Maltese dogs are gifted with curing diseases that they were placed on the pillow of someone ill. This is why they are also known as “The Comforter.”

When Rome fell, Chinese breeders saved the breed from going extinct during Europe’s Dark ages. It is said that the Maltese were crossed with their native toy breeds and exported back to Europe a more refined breed.

Malteses came back to royalty’s arms when they were owned by Queen Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots.

When they finally came to the US, they were a part of Westminster Kennel Club’s first dog show in New York in 1877. This pooch was presented as the Maltese Lion Dog.

Today, the Maltese dog breed is a favorite among celebrities like Eva Longoria, Heather Locklear, and Halle Berry.

Though there were sayings that the Maltese have Poodle, spaniel, and spitz blood (probably why some call them Gentle Spaniel), what we’re sure of is that this breed is part of the Barbichon family.

They’re also considered purebred dogs by the American Kennel Club (AKC) and is registered under their Toy Group.

United Kennel Club (UKC) recognizes this fido under their Companion Dog Group, but other organizations recognize the breed, as well. Those include:

  • American Canine Registry (ACR)
  • American Canine Association, Inc. (ACA)
  • Dog Registry of America (DRA)
  • National Kennel Club (NKC)
  • Continental Kennel Club (CKC)
  • North American Purebred Registry, Inc. (NAPR)
  • American Pet Registry, Inc. (APRI)

Outside the USA, there’s the Canadian Kennel Club (CKC), the Australian National Kennel Club (ANKC), the Fédération Cynologique Internationale (FCI), the New Zealand Kennel Club (NZKC), and the Kennel Club of Great Britain (KCGB).

What does a Maltese dog look like?

Maltese dog in a winter outdoor

Beneath that long, silky, single-layer white coat is a compact, square body giving the Maltese an effortless gait. They’re basically a picture of balance and free-flowing elegance.

They have an irresistible face that will melt just about any icy mood away.

They have a slightly rounded skull where their furry pendant ears drop close to the head. And you won’t be able to look away from those big, dark eyes that can either be black or brown and cute gumdrop nose.

Maltese dogs may have short legs, but they give that floating look whenever they’re trotting gracefully. You’ll see it down to the movement of their tail.

Although they’re mostly seen with white hair, it can sometimes give the appearance of ivory when they have white and lemon or white and tan fur.

For Maltese show dogs, mostly they have long hair hanging on each side of their body with a center part line. It’s about 8 ½ inches (22cm) in length, and it should be straight, not kinky, curly, or wavy.

It’s NOT common for Maltese puppies to change color when transitioning from puppyhood to adulthood. Spots or shadings of lemon and tan may increase while growing up, but nothing too drastic or far from white.

They can have pigmented skin, though. It’s where different areas of their skin that was previously tan or lemon are turning black, whether in large patches or as little freckles.

It can happen at any age, but generally, paw parents of this breed notice it when their Maltese pets are around 1 to 2 years old.

While we’re talking about colors, if you notice your Maltese’s black nose is turning pink, we wouldn’t say it’s natural.

Female Malteses in heat get pink noses, while some aren’t getting enough sunshine, or it’s because of the type of feeding bowl they use.

If you try to make changes and it’s still pink, schedule your canine friend for a check-up.

Height & weight: How big do Maltese dogs get?

This diminutive pup only weighs under 7 pounds (3 kg)! If you want your Maltese to join conformation events, 4 to 6 pounds (2 to 2.7 kg) is preferred, based on its AKC breed standard.

They stand around 7 to 9 inches (18 to 23 cm) tall, but some can reach a height of 12 inches (30.5 cm) at the shoulder.

A Maltese puppy will reach these full-grown size measurements between 12 and 15 months of age.

And because of their small size, the Maltese is an excellent apartment dog. In fact, they’re suitable for all types of houses, whether it’s a condo or a house with a yard.

Do you want a smaller version? You can get a Teacup Maltese that has a height of 4 to 6 inches (10 to 15 cm) and a weight of 3 to 5 pounds (1 to 2 kg) only!

Watch this video compilation of Maltese dogs and puppies. We’re sure that you won’t stop saying aww, just like us!

Temperament: Are Maltese good family dogs?

We can get from their history that Maltese dogs are people-oriented canines.

Though they make excellent companions, we recommend this as a pet for families with quiet, older children or a home with adults only.

Not only are they fragile and can easily be mishandled by youngsters, but they can also be intolerant of little kids. They’ll bark and get snappish, especially if overly pampered by their humans.

That doesn’t mean that the Maltese dog breed is aggressive or dangerous. They’re just fearless, alert, and adaptable pets that make great watchdogs. They’re hardy in a charming toy-dog way.

And though they have a gentle side and they’ll greet everyone as a friend, some Malteses can be reserved with strangers.

When it comes to other dogs and pets like cats, this fido can get along with them, given that she’s socialized and trained early.

We want to emphasize that toy dog breeds like the Maltese are prone to having Small Dog Syndrome or Napoleon Complex.

Being unaware that they’re tiny, partnered with having a bold and feisty personality, makes them feel like they can take on larger canines ten times their size.

So whenever you’re out for a stroll, be cautious and protect your furry little pup from herself and bigger doggos.

Maltese dog with a red ribbon hair tie

Do Maltese dogs bark a lot?

They’re bred to be companion dogs, which means they are used to having a lot of attention. If they get bored or they’re suffering from separation anxiety, then they’ll get yappy.

Next to that is the development of destructive behaviors like chewing, so avoid leaving your fur baby for a long time.

Other than that, they bark when challenging another dog or they’re reacting to an unfamiliar noise.

If your Maltese is crying or whimpering, don’t ignore it because they won’t be doing it for no reason. It’s a way for them to communicate that they’re not feeling well or that there’s something wrong with them.

If you can’t figure it out, stay calm, and don’t get annoyed because it’s probably time to visit the vet.

Any other quirk can be dealt with training, and luckily, Maltese dogs are intelligent and obedient, so they’ll learn quickly.

Be careful, though. That cute face and sweet eyes may lure you into spoiling your fur baby. Just fight it and be firm, or you’ll have a willful and stubborn housemate.

It’s a good thing that they respond well to reward-based training, so get yourself ready with some tasty treats for her.

Taking care of your Maltese

Dressed Maltese dog carried by the owner
Source: @xanti_maltese / IG

If you want a dog that’s worshipped for years and adored by royalty, then you have to treat her like one. That means you have to be up for a high maintenance pet.

Maltese are house dogs that don’t do well with extreme weather and temperatures, so you have to pamper her physically.

If it’s snowing or raining outside, you can try what other paw parents do with their snow-white pooch — paper train!

You should know that they’re also prone to chills, especially if they’re damp or even if it’s just their paws and hair tips that are wet.

If you have a long-haired Maltese, you see that part on her back where the skin is exposed? She can get sunburn there, so don’t let her out if it’s too hot. If needed, then use a dog-specific sunscreen.

Exercise needs of your Maltese

Jumping Maltese dog in an agility competition

You would not believe the energy level of this dog! Despite their size, the Maltese are highly active and are game little athletes. This playfulness often remains into old age. Their wild side just loves to play and run.

They’ll generally do fine with 20 to 30 minutes of exercise daily, and they’re already pretty active indoors. Still, there are other ways to keep your Maltese in good shape.

There’s the typical daily walk or stroll through the neighborhood, there’s the dog park, and for sprightly, vigorous breeds, any canine sport would be an excellent activity for them.

If you enjoy competitions, have your Maltese join obedience, rally, agility, and tracking trials.

If you have a puppy that is less than eight months old, let her play at her own pace in the backyard for now. Let her bones develop and mature so that you can avoid serious health problems from developing.

Grooming: Do Maltese dogs shed?

Little Maltese puppy with blue bow tie
Source: @adorkableyeti / IG

Just like Bichon Frises and Poodles, Maltese dogs are considered hypoallergenic.

Since they don’t have an undercoat, there’s little to no shedding, making them an excellent choice for people with allergies.

The downside is that they can easily become dirty, and their white coat tends to mat.

Gentle daily brushing and combing are required to keep mats and tangles at bay. This also applies for Malteses sporting a short trim or a puppy cut.

If your pup’s white hair is matting, work through it with your fingers after applying a conditioning spray or detangler spray onto her coat. Then, use the comb to loosen individual fur and brush.

NEVER try to pull tangles out at once and make sure they’re removed before you wash her or they’ll get tighter. You can also try a de-matting comb.

Speaking of baths, Regular washing and coat conditioning are needed once every two to three weeks to keep that glorious white coat looking at its best. Some paw parents dry shampoo their Maltese weekly, too.

The Maltese is unlike other dog breeds in terms of overall grooming, too.

They have fast-growing nails that have to be trimmed once or twice a month if she doesn’t wear them down naturally.

Ears should also be checked weekly, not only to check for debris or wax buildup but also to remove excess hair. That requires plucking. 

This video will show basic grooming for a male Maltese and how to pluck the hair out of their ears:

Another coat-related grooming routine you have to take care of is tear-staining. It’s very common and visible in little dogs with long, white hair on their face.

You can expect tear stains from your lap dog starting at the age of four to five months, which is the same age they’re getting their adult teeth.

To minimize the tear- and face-stains:

  1. Clean her eyes daily with a soft washcloth or cotton balls dampened with warm water. Do the same with her beard after eating.
  2. Teach your Maltese to drink purified water from a bottle because those with high mineral content can cause staining.
  3. Avoid feeding your dog with plastic bowls. Opt for glass, ceramic, or stainless steel, then wash it between feedings.

If none of these steps clear up facial stains, consult a trusted vet because it can be due to allergies, clogged tear ducts, or other health conditions.

Maltese parents also tie their fur baby’s hair into a topknot to keep it away from their eyes. It’s best to use a coated band to put her head fur up so that it wouldn’t do damage.

You can even keep the rest of their hair short to make grooming easier. A Maltese can get their first haircut as early as six months old.

After this, they may need trims every few weeks. You can do this at home or have a professional groomer do it.

There are plenty of dog products that you can purchase, like tear stain removers, but be careful when using them or trying any home remedies.

You might be causing more discomfort and permanent damage to your pet rather than solving a simple issue.

While we’re on the topic of grooming, you should know that Maltese dogs are prone to dental diseases as they age. You can brush their teeth two to three times a week, but daily brushing is ideal.

It will prevent gum problems and bad breath. Your pup’s teeth should also be examined and cleaned professionally annually. Other than that, chew toys and treats can help promote healthy gums and teeth.

Feeding your Maltese

Maltese puppy staring at the food

One of the things Maltese owners would appreciate about this breed is that they don’t require a lot of food. ¼ to ½ cup of high-quality dry dog food is enough for each day.

Divide your pup’s meals into two because small dogs are prone to gaining too much weight and can suffer from obesity.

How much you feed your pooch should be based on her weight, age, activity level, and health. Treats should also be limited because they can be high in sugar and unhealthy fats.

The tricky part here is that this furball is a picky eater. You can experiment with different kibbles to find out what your dog likes before purchasing a whole bag.

Malteses also have sensitive stomachs, so this is something to consider when choosing a diet for her.

Try supplementing her meals with healthy dog-safe food such as bite-size apples, steamed vegetables, and cooked chicken meat.

Also read: Best Dog Food for Maltese

What health problems do Malteses have?

Maltese dog wearing cone collar

Believe it or not, small breeds can face more health issues than larger breeds.

And though the Maltese can have an average lifespan of 12 to 15 years, it’s best to watch out for the common health conditions they’re prone to.

There’s patellar luxation or luxating patella, where the kneecap slips out of place. If it doesn’t fix itself where it slides back, surgery will be the next course of action.

Glaucoma, entropion, and Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA) are just some of the eye problems this breed may have.

Heart anomalies like Patent Ductus Arteriosus (PDA) and congenital liver issues include portacaval shunt, portosystemic liver shunt, and Microvascular Dysplasia (MVD) are some of the major health concerns that add to the list.

Some of them die of heart failure.

And have you heard about White Dog Shaker Syndrome? As the name implies, it mostly affects white-colored breeds and causes loss of coordination and shaking tremors when they get overly excited.

Then there’s hydrocephalus, hypothyroidism, distichiasis, and deafness.

For minor health problems, Malteses can suffer from a collapsed trachea, reverse sneezing, and skin issues.

We’re not saying your Maltese fur baby will get all these illnesses during her lifetime, but it’s best to be aware of them.

If all goes well, you’ll be happy to know that there are Malteses that have enjoyed a life expectancy of 20 years!

That’s why we can’t emphasize more the importance of getting a Maltese puppy from a reputable breeder whose breeding stock has undergone these health tests:

  • Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) tests, including Patella Evaluation, hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, hypothyroidism, and Von Willebrand’s disease.
  • Cardiac exam to check for the congenital heart disease patent ductus arteriosus (PDA)
  • Bile Acid Test to rule of liver issues
  • Genetic Testing
  • Dental examination
  • Auburn University’s test for thrombopathia
  • Eye evaluation from Canine Eye Registry Foundation (CERF)

AKC has an official breed club health statement that you can read for more info.

Maltese puppies: How much does a full-blooded Maltese cost?

Young Maltese walking outside

It’s no wonder that Maltese dogs have been highly valued for centuries. During the 1500s, a Maltese puppy was sold for $2,000, which was very expensive then.

Today, a Maltese can have a litter of 4 to 5 pups, but you can get one within a price range of $600 to $4,000.

But Maltese puppies who come from champion lines can reach $10,000!

Other than the initial cost, you’ll also need to budget around $1500 a year for pet care, food, medical expenses, and grooming.

If you feel that money isn’t an issue as long as you get a Maltese of your own, we found some Maltese puppies available online.

How do I find an excellent Maltese breeder?

We’re getting really excited thinking which Maltese puppy you’ll choose, but let’s take a deep breath and clear our heads before making a decision.

You have to do your research to ensure that you’re buying a pup from a responsible breeder. Then, there should be an interaction between you and the seller, so all questions and concerns are covered.

You should also request to visit the kennel or the pup, so you can see where it was born if it’s well taken care of, and what its parents and littermates are like in terms of appearance and temperament.

This is an excellent opportunity to get an idea of what she’ll be like growing up.

If all documents, certificates, and health guarantees are in place, then that’s it! Ready to browse the Maltese puppies for sale within the United States?

The best place to start is with the American Maltese Association because they have a breeder directory.

Your next bet will be the AKC Marketplace.

Here are some more Maltese breeders to check out:

  • Diamond Stars Maltese (NY)
  • Princess Puppies (Los Angeles)

Maltese dogs for adoption

Even though this breed is popular, some adult Malteses end up in shelters or rescues for different reasons.

Before making a deal with a breeder, you may want to take a look at these Maltese rescue organizations and see if one of them is right for you. They cater to Maltese mixes, too.

  • Maltese Rescue (California)
  • Southern Comfort Maltese Rescue (Tennessee)

Curious about Maltese mixes?

Speaking of Maltese crossbreeds, they’re as adorable as the purebred. You’re bound to find these dogs irresistible!

Maltipoo (Maltese & Poodle mix)

Malshi (Maltese & Shih Tzu mix)

Morkie (Maltese & Yorkie mix)

Malchi (Maltese & Chihuahua mix)

Maltipom (Maltese & Pomeranian mix)

Who should get a Maltese?

Maltese dog portrait
Source: @doggiedaycaremiami / IG

The Maltese breed is a gentle yet brave toy dog with high trainability, making it an excellent companion, apartment pet, and therapy dog.

Novice owners can help them become experienced dog lovers, thanks to their size.

Grooming their coat is time-consuming, so if you’re looking for a low-maintenance pooch, the Maltese isn’t for you. But if you want a bundle of love that will remain playful throughout their lives, get yourself a Maltese. 

Do you have any experience with the Maltese? Comment and share your thoughts with us. 

Further reading: Similar breeds to the Maltese


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