Maltese Breed Guide: History, Characteristics & Care Tips

by Lila Batiari, DVM
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Maltese Breed Guide
Is Maltese the right choice for you and your family? Learn more about this breed, including physical traits, temperament, trainability, and more.

If you are looking for a dog with charm, elegance, and a big personality, the Maltese might be the perfect choice for you. With their luxurious silky locks and gentle nature, these toy breed dogs love to be with their owners. However, the Maltese are more than just good-looking companions; they can also be very efficient as therapy dogs and competitors in various dog sports.

Want to learn more about Maltese dogs? Read on for details about the breed history, appearance, activity level, and everything else you need to know to become a great pet parent.

Table of Contents

Pro Tip: All purebred dogs are prone to genetic health problems, but pet insurance can help protect you from unexpected veterinary costs related to the treatment and management of any covered condition that may arise.

Maltese breed history

The Maltese is an ancient breed originating from the island of Malta in the Mediterranean Sea. The breed’s history can be traced back at least two thousand years. Maltese dogs can be found on ancient Greek pottery and were even mentioned by the philosopher Aristotle.

In the 15th century, the breed became very popular among the French aristocracy. A century later, the Maltese found their spot as the favorite pet of the British royal ladies, including Queen Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots.

The Maltese were almost extinct during the 17th and 18th centuries when some breeders attempted to reduce the breed’s size even further.

The breed arrived in the US in the late 1800s and was recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC) in 1888. The popularity of Maltese dogs exploded in the 1950s and today, they are ranked 38th on AKC’s list of most popular breeds.

happy maltese dog on bed

Maltese characteristics

Physical appearance

The average weight of a Maltese is between 3-10 pounds, with little difference between genders. Their height can reach between 7-10 inches tall at the shoulder. The breed’s length often equals its height, making the body well-proportioned and compact.

The Maltese have small, floppy ears, a black-button nose, dark eyes, and a tufted tail curved over the back.

The most distinctive feature of these cute little dogs is the silky white coat. The hair can grow to cover the dog’s short limbs, giving the appearance that it is floating along the floor. The Maltese don’t have an undercoat, so they don’t shed much. Their fur is hypoallergenic, which makes them a great choice for people suffering from allergies. Maltese dogs come in three different fur color combinations:

  • White
  • White and tan
  • White and lemon

Some members of the breed can also have black point markings. The Maltese are also known for the ring of darker pigmentation, called a “halo”, which surrounds the eyes and gives them their signature expressive look.

Temperament and personality

The Maltese temperament is affectionate and gentle. According to the American Temperament Test Society (ATTS), 82.4% of the Maltese dogs tested passed the Temperament Test.

These friendly dogs are very intelligent, social, and trusting. They are often friendly with other dogs and pets, which makes the breed a great choice for families with multiple pets. Although small, the Maltese are very curious, energetic, and playful, and they generally enjoy learning tricks.

Maltese dogs thrive on human interaction. Lack of attention from the owners can make them feel anxious or lonely. The members of this breed love to be held and cuddled, which makes them excellent therapy dogs. They’re also loyal, alert, and quite fearless (despite their petite build), making them good watchdogs.

maltese sitting on girl's lap

Average lifespan

The average life expectancy for a Maltese is 13.5 years, with the typical lifespan ranging from 12 to 15 years old. Although this is the average life expectancy, it’s not unheard of for a Maltese to reach 16 or even 17 years old. Females usually live about a year longer than males.

Considering the fact that the average canine lives approximately 12 years, the Maltese breed has a good life span in comparison to many other breeds.

With the right amount of care, your Maltese can live longer than the average lifespan.

Maltese care tips

Training and exercise

Maltese are very intelligent and typically learn tricks easily. However, their intelligence also makes them skilled at finding ways to manipulate their owners into giving them what they want. That’s why consistency is very important with their training. They can also be somewhat stubborn, but they generally respond well to positive training. These cute little dogs are athletic and quite talented, which makes them great at dog sports like agility and obedience.

Even though the Maltese are very energetic, they only need occasional exercise. Daily walks or some playtime in the backyard (or even indoors) should be enough to keep them happy and in good shape.

white maltese fed treat

Diet and nutrition

Maltese dogs should eat a total of 1/4 to 1/2 cup of dry dog food distributed into two meals per day. Although this might seem like a very small amount, these little dogs don’t need a large caloric intake.

Some members of the breed have sensitive digestive systems and can be picky eaters. Avoid giving them human food and table scraps in order to avoid weight gain. Be sure to provide enough fresh, clean water for your Maltese.

If you have any questions about the type and amount of food, the feeding schedule, or you notice weight gain, be sure to contact your vet.

Grooming

The long, white coat of the Maltese requires brushing and combing on a daily basis, along with regular baths and conditioning, to prevent tangling and matting. Not only does proper grooming keep their coat soft and looking good, but it also helps prevent secondary health issues that can arise if matted hair leads to skin irritation.

Maltese nails grow fast and require regular trimming. Pet owners should check their dog’s ears every week and remove any wax, debris, or excess hair. The hair around the eyes should be cleaned every day to prevent tear stains.

As they grow older, the members of this breed become prone to dental disease, so their teeth should be brushed frequently.

maltese grooming

Living with a Maltese

Maltese are suitable indoor dogs that can thrive even in smaller spaces and apartments, although they can be somewhat difficult to housebreak.

Maltese are generally patient and friendly with children, but they can be snappy with raucous kids. This breed might also not be the best choice for families with small kids. Since Maltese dogs are tiny, kids might handle them roughly and potentially injure them. For this reason, it’s best to explain that Maltese aren’t as sturdy as larger dogs, and never leave Maltese dogs and children unsupervised.

Common Maltese health problems

Some canine health issues are more prevalent in certain breeds than in others. Maltese dogs are generally quite healthy, but they are prone to several hereditary conditions, including:

  • Orthopedic issues like patellar luxation (a weakened kneecap that slips out of place) or Legge-Calve-Perthes Disease (LCPD) which affects the hips of Maltese puppies.
  • White dog shaker syndrome, which is common in all small white breeds. It manifests as generalized body and head tremors and is believed to be autoimmune.
  • Patent Ductus Arteriosus (PDA) is one of the most common congenital heart diseases in dogs. It occurs when a blood vessel near the heart doesn’t completely close after birth and can result in heart failure.
  • Portosystemic shunt, also known as a liver shunt, is a blood vessel anomaly that prevents the liver from clearing the blood of toxins. Symptoms can include poor growth, seizures, and head pressing.
  • Ear infections. Like other breeds with hanging triangle-shaped ears, Maltese are prone to ear infections in dogs due to a lack of air circulation and more hair present in the ear canal.
  • Dental issues. Talk to your veterinarian about how to care for your pet’s teeth with regular dental cleaning for dogs.

Keeping up with routine checkups and care can help prevent some of these health conditions.

Pro Tip: To ensure your dog gets the care they need, consider investing in Maltese pet insurance. Use Pawlicy Advisor to analyze personalized insurance quotes from leading providers and better understand how coverage pricing relates to the breed-specific risks.

woman holding cute maltese

Adopting or buying a Maltese dog

If you’re looking to welcome a Maltese puppy into your family, you can start your search by checking the American Maltese Association, American Maltese Rescue Organization, and Northcentral Maltese Rescue.

Consider also looking into similar breeds, such as Havanese, Bichon Frise, Bolognese, and Lhasa Apso.


Key Takeaways

  • Maltese are loving and friendly dogs who want nothing more than to snuggle up in their owner’s lap. They get along with other dogs and pets but are quite fragile and can be easily hurt by kids or bigger pets.
  • The members of this breed are known for their luxurious white coat which is hypoallergenic. But while Maltese dogs are a great choice for people with allergies, they also require daily brushing and combing, as well as regular baths and nail trimming.
  • These cute little dogs are quite energetic but don’t need too much exercise. If you take your Maltese on a short walk once a day and spend some time bonding, they will be perfectly happy.
  • Just like other breeds, the Maltese are prone to certain health conditions, such as luxating patella, white dog shaker syndrome, portosystemic shunt, etc.

Veterinarian Lila Batiari

About the author

Lila Batiari, DVM

Small Animal Relief Veterinarian -

Lila Batiari, DVM is a relief veterinarian located in San Diego, California. She has a special interest in nutrition, pain management, and surgery! Dr. Batiari enjoys working with Pawlicy Advisor to help others avoid everyday situations that some of her clientele experience. She realizes that expensive vet bills for treatment costs could be much easier for patients with pet insurance.

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