The Maltese is alert and energetic, but also gentle and affectionate. They are small companion dogs who love to be around people, are eager to please and are charming and irresistible. They do have a stubborn streak and can become overly protective if they are pampered too much, but with consistent and positive training and socialization they should become well rounded and good mannered.
Male adults reach a height of 8-10 inches, and females a height of 8-9 inches. They weigh between 6.5 and 9 pounds at maturity.
It is thought that the Phoenicians brought the Maltese to Malta, where it became a favourite little lapdog. It achieved fame in the days of the large Roman Empire, when it was called a ‘Roman Ladies’ Dog’ and many ladies of Rome would carry one around with them everywhere. Chinese breeders kept the breed alive after the decline of the Roman Empire, and refined it by crossing it with their toy breeds.
In the 17th and 18th century the breed almost became extinct due to breeders trying to get it down to the size of a squirrel. However it was then mixed with spaniels, poodles and other miniature dogs in order to save it.
Maltese dogs are affectionate and gentle – making them great companion dogs. Yet they are also lively, playful and bold. Their courage and intelligence makes them good watchdogs, but that same confident streak can also lead to stubbornness and willfulness in some of them.
The long untrimmed coat of a Maltese stretches all the way down to the ground, and is white and silky. They have round eyes and a round black nose, although their nose can become lighter in color if they are exposed to less sun than usual. Many owners give their Maltese a ‘puppy cut’, where their entire body coat is trimmed to less than an inch long.
This breed may not tolerate cold weather very well, as they get chills easily – especially if it is damp. Extreme heat is also not good for them. They can do well in an apartment, but should not be left outside because they are by nature companion dogs. They may develop separation anxiety if left alone for too long, and do best in a family where there is either a stay at home parent or a senior who is at home most of the time. They are also sensitive, so they need positive encouragement rather than harsh correction.
Maltese are good with children, and are playful and affectionate with them. However if they have been pampered too much they may bark or even bite when they feel there is a threat to the relationship they have with their family. Because of their size, they are usually not recommended for families with small children as they can be easily injured. They tend to be reserved with strangers, but quickly catch on and are friendly once they get to know people.
These dogs do need quite regular grooming – with a bath every few weeks, or even every week, depending on how dirty they get. If you keep their hair long, you will need to brush them daily to prevent mats and tangles. The good news is that they shed very little, so if you don’t like dog hair on your furniture then a Maltese might be a good choice for you. If you find any mats in their hair, make sure you get them out before bathing, or the mats will become worse.
Their face will need wiping regularly with a soft cloth, as they are prone to getting tear stains. Their ears need regular cleaning, and they also grow a lot of hair in their ears which will need plucking. Teeth should be brushed weekly, and nails trimmed monthly unless they wear them down naturally.
The Maltese are eager to please and intelligent, so they can be trained to do a variety of things including obedience and agility competitions. However, they can have an independent and stubborn streak, so it’s important to be firm and consistent in their training. They like rewards and treats though, and if you change things up and don’t make the training too repetitive they should do well. House training can be a challenge, as with many other toy breeds, so you may want to crate them for the first 6 to 8 months. Alternatively you could ask your breeder to house train them before they come home.
They can become protective and bite or bark if they feel there is a threat. This can also happen if they are pampered too much so that they think they’re in charge.
Playful and energetic, Maltese dogs like to romp around, but can get most of their exercise in the house. A daily walk or play in their yard is good as well, but not necessary if they’re playing a lot inside. They do like to run around, so letting them off a leash in a secure park will be enjoyable for them and help to get rid of some of their energy.
Make sure you feed your Maltese high quality dog food with real meat, vegetables, and whole grains. Keep fresh water available at all times, and empty and refill the dish daily.
A reputable breeder should not let you take your puppy home till it is 12 weeks old, according to the American Maltese Association Code of Ethics. There are many reasons for this, but one of them is that the mother doesn’t usually wean them till 8 weeks of age, and they can easily get hypoglycaemia from not eating enough at this point. When you bring them home at 12 weeks old they can be fed twice a day, although some people recommend letting them feed freely to avoid the risk of hypoglycaemia.
Hypoglycemia can happen if they are fed early in the morning, and then expend too much energy before you feed them at night. If they seem like they are getting dizzy or disoriented, dab a small amount of honey or corn syrup into their mouth, and then call the vet to let them know what’s going on. Hypoglycemia can be very dangerous so it’s important to act quickly. You should switch over gradually to a new food if you’re going to feed your Maltese a different type from the diet the breeder gave them.
Table scraps should not be fed to a Maltese because they have sensitive stomachs, and they also shouldn’t be given cooked bones because they can splinter. Also watch out for the foods that are poisonous to all dogs, such as chocolate, onions, raisins and macadamia nuts. Because Maltese are so small, even a tiny amount can be very toxic to their system. If you suspect a food allergy then a plain and bland diet like chicken breast and rice can be fed to them for a few weeks before gradually reintroducing other ingredients.
Recommended daily feeding amount: ¼ to ½ cup of high quality dry food a day, divided into two meals.
The amount a Maltese eats will depend on his age, how much exercise he gets, his size, and metabolism. You can tell if he’s overweight by putting your hands on his ribs – you should be able to feel them.
Common Health Concerns
Maltese are generally healthy, with a long lifespan. However there is a congenital heart defect called Patent Ductus Arteriosis (PDA) which they are prone to, and also a condition which affects white dogs called ‘White Dog Shaker Syndrome’. This can result in them having tremors all over their body, although it isn’t painful. Hypoglyemia is also common when their blood sugar runs low, so watch out for symptoms such as weakness and confusion and be prepared to dab some honey or corn syrup in their mouth if it happens.
This breed may also suffer from a collapsed trachea, which happens when the windpipe collapses. The most common symptom of this is a harsh cough. Patellar Luxation can also be a concern, when the kneecap slides in and out of joint and can cause pain and lameness. Eye conditions can affect Maltese – including Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA) which causes blindness, and Entropion, where the eyelid rolls inwards.
Maltese are often purchased without any clear understanding of what goes into owning one. There are many Maltese in need of adoption and or fostering. There are a number of rescues that we have not listed. If you don’t see a rescue listed for your area, contact the national breed club or a local breed club and they can point you toward a Maltese rescue.