Complete Guide To The Maltese: Health, Grooming, Feeding and More

As white and gentle as falling snow, Maltese are more than lap warmers. They’re hardy, affectionate companions with a competitive spirit and a can-do attitude.

I’ve seen a lot of Maltese during my 20+ years as a veterinarian. They’ve been consistently popular and I’m happy for that because I really like them. They’re some of the most versatile dogs out there, suitable for anyone from an energetic single to a retired older couple at home.

How Big Do Maltese Get?

HeightWeight
Male7″-9″ at the shoulderUnder 7 lbs
Female7″-9″ at the shoulderUnder 7 lbs

Maltese Puppy

What Do Maltese Look Like?

Dainty, they’re covered from head to toe in long, silky white hair. Tan or lemon highlights on their drop ears are permissible but not desirable for breeding or show.

Maltese carry their long, fan-like tails over their backs — lines are clean and well-balanced. Their medium-length muzzle is tipped with a black button nose, offsetting dark, pleading eyes. Tiny but not frail, they have an alert, confident bearing.

Pure white hair is the Maltese’s trademark — untrimmed, they’re unmistakable. Dogs with short cuts may resemble the Toy Poodle or Bichon Frise.

What Is The Personality Of A Maltese?

Small, Maltese are ideal for apartment living and make good companions for seniors. Spunky, they make fine pets for children and enjoy play dates with other dogs — with supervision, they can keep up with breeds ten times their size.

Maltese are playful barkers but can learn to use their indoor voices with early training. Devoted, they’ll alert you of danger but they’re not good guard dogs. They would open the door for strangers if they could — anything to make a new friend.

How Much Grooming Does A Maltese Need?

Unlike the Shih Tzu, the Maltese has a single coat — just one layer of long, luxurious hair, not fur, that feels like your own. If you want a dog but are typically allergic or don’t want hair in the house, the Maltese is an excellent choice.

Low shedders, they’re not completely hypoallergenic. No dog is. But they produce far less dander — the hair, oils and skin cells responsible for allergy symptoms. You’re not off the hook, however, with grooming. It takes commitment to maintain their magnificent manes. But it’s a straightforward process — daily care with a bubble-tipped pin brush is the key.

Alternatively, coats can be clipped to low-maintenance lengths. Teddy bear cuts are popular. Or you can choose from a wide range of short, medium and long styles that fit your dog’s personality and lifestyle. Bathing requirements depend on cut and exercise habits, but with a white coat, a good general rule is monthly. Baby bathtubs are convenient, hygienic and comfortable for small dogs.

Use only gentle, pH-balanced shampoos and apply a light conditioner to discourage tangles. Whitening formulas are popular, but avoid those with bleach — they’re harsh and drying. While they’re in the tub, don’t forget to clean their ears and trim their nails.

How Much Exercise Does A Maltese Need?

Maltese are highly diverse. Energetic, they excel at canine sports — many are agility champions — but they’re equally happy with once-a-day walks or a romp in the park. Adaptable, they’re a good fit for adventurers to homebodies.

Make sure when you do take your Maltese outside for a walk to use a harness and not a collar. It’s safer for the dog and provides more control for the owner.

Many of the Maltese in my practice are actually avid ball-chasers. Just make sure you select a ball that will fit into the mouth of a Maltese.

Please Use A Seatbelt Or Carrier With A Maltese In Your Car

What Kind Of Dog Food Is Best For Maltese?

Most small kibble dry dog foods will be suitable for a Maltese. These little dogs have a pretty small mouth so large kibble will be a lot more difficult to chew.

Grain-free diets are a myth. Please do not feed your dog a grain-free diet unless there are specific food allergies that would benefit from a grain-free diet. Always consult your veterinarian before you decide to make any major diet changes.

Some good brands that I recommend include:

I usually tend to go with the bigger dog food companies because of the amount of time and money they have to research and test their products. They also have a stronger history of safe foods (very rarely will they have recalls) over the newer, more boutique-style dog foods.

It is important always to give your dog high-quality dog food. Monitor the number of treats and “people food” you give your dog to keep him healthy and fit. Keeping your dog at a healthy weight is the best and easiest way to extend the life of your Maltese. 

How Long Do Maltese Live?

12-15 years according to information from the AKC

What Health Problems Do Maltese Have?

Maltese, being little dogs, suffer from the same issues that many other small dogs do. The most common ones that I see in my practice include:

  • Dental Disease
  • Luxating Patella
  • Elbow Dysplasia
  • Obesity

Try not to let your little Maltese fly off the bed or couch on a regular basis. They’re small but they are still capable of developing neck and back pain issues due to chronic abuse of these areas from jumping off of tall objects.

Where Can I Learn More About Maltese?

American Maltese Association (national breed club)

AKC Breed Page

Where Can I Find A Maltese?

Breeder List From The American Maltese Association

AKC Puppy Marketplace

Interesting Facts About the Maltese

Maltese have a long, illustrious history. Here’s what you need to know about this ancient, noble breed.

They’re As Old as the Pyramids

The Maltese is one of the world’s oldest-known breeds. Identified in art from 2500 B.C., they rubbed shoulders with ancient figures from Cleopatra to Aristotle. Legend has it St. Paul healed the father of Malta’s governor and was given a Maltese as a thank-you for his efforts.

• They’re Equally Aristocratic

Charming, Maltese were a hit among royalty. Elizabeth I, Mary Queen of Scots and Josephine Bonaparte pampered their Maltese pups, feeding them from gold dishes.

Centuries later, they’re still favorites among modern nobility. Halle Berry, Elizabeth Taylor and Anna Nicole Smith were big fans. Jinxie, belonging to Eva Longoria, followed her down the aisle at her wedding.

• And Rich

When real estate maven, Leona Helmsley, died in 2007, she left $12 million to her Maltese in her will. Famous for uttering, “Only the little people pay taxes,” the government trimmed the inheritance to a mere two million, enough to live it up until she passed away in 2011.

• They’re More Than Maltese

The island of Malta was a center of ancient commerce. Featured in the art and poetry of numerous cultures, Maltese were companions to many peoples, including the Phoenicians, Greeks, Arabs, Romans — and Chinese.

Credited with saving them from destruction during the Dark Ages, canine researchers suspect Chinese breeders selectively paired Maltese with similar Asian breeds, such as the Pekingese, contributing to the refined dog we know today.

• White Dogs Can Jump

Maltese rarely break high-jump records because they start so low to the ground, but proportionally, they can leap tall buildings in a single bound. Keep the treats behind locked doors!

• They’re Sacred, Too

The Maltese’s all-white color was considered a gift from the gods by ancient peoples. So sacred were they, that the Greeks and Egyptians built them tombs as elaborate as their own. Despite influence from multi-colored Chinese breeds, selective breeding has retained its snow-white color.

They’re Ideal Therapy Dogs

Therapy dogs warm the hearts of the suffering. Petting them reduces stress among hospital patients, nursing home residents and victims of crime or natural disasters. Since Maltese are small and outgoing, they can cuddle up to their charges in ways bigger dogs can’t.

The AKC doesn’t train therapy dogs, but they take an active role in promoting their value and accomplishments. One hard-working example, Riley, has participated in 400-plus sessions, consoling victims of child abuse at Emerald Coast Children’s Advocacy Center in Florida since 2009.

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