All About Maltese

Medically Reviewed by Amy Flowers, DVM on April 21, 2022
7 min read

Maltese are delightful companion pets in the toy group. They were bred thousands of years ago to be beautiful and beloved companions. 

These dogs are friendly and adaptable, and they can also be very eye-catching. If you’re looking for the perfect lapdog, this might be the breed for you. 

Body size. The Maltese size is petite. Males and females are equally small. 

Their average height is from seven to nine inches tall. Their average weight is less than seven pounds. Be sure to talk to your veterinarian if you think that your pet is overweight.

Their small size means that this breed is easy to transport. You can bring them with you pretty much everywhere dogs are allowed. Additionally, they don’t need much living space, so they’re a great breed for small apartments.   

Body shape. Maltese have compact bodies that appear almost square from the side, since their height is almost equal to their length. They’re supported on delicate legs that end in tiny, rounded paws. 

Maltese traits include well-proportioned heads with small ears set low on their heads. Their muzzles are shorter than their skulls and taper to a fine point. 

Their tails are heavily plumed and arc up to rest on their backs. 

Lifespan. The Maltese life expectancy is far longer than a decade. The average lifespan for the breed is 12 to 15 years, so make sure that you’re prepared for a long life with your pet — especially if you bring home a puppy. 

Coat. The Maltese's long coat is the most visually striking feature of the breed. Unlike many breeds, Maltese only have a single coat. They’re missing the short undercoat that’s responsible for most of the shedding in dogs.  

When not cut short, their coat should lay in a long, straight cascade that almost touches the ground. This coat also grows long on the surface of their heads, so you may want to tie it in a topknot to help them see. 

The texture of their coat is incredibly silky.

Maltese coats come in one of three recognized colors. They’re either:  

  • All white
  • White and tan
  • White and lemon 

Eyes. Their eyes are round and set close together on their face — making a nice triangle with their small dot of a nose. They’re always a deep, dark color and are rimmed with dark skin to match. 

Personality. The Maltese personality is charming and playful, but they can be stubborn and willful too.  

The American Kennel Club rates them a five out of five for affectionate behavior. 

These dogs become very attached to their families and are happiest when spending time with you as you go about your day. Don’t leave them alone for too long, or they could develop  separation anxiety

They have very trusting and gentle dispositions. As long as you’re kind to them, they’re happy to be your loyal companion. 

Grooming. Maltese enjoy being primped and pampered. They require a lot more grooming than other dog breeds. Luckily, their elegant looks are a fantastic reward for your effort. When properly groomed, their long, lush coats are capable of catching every eye on the block. 

You’ll need to run both a brush and comb through their coat on a daily basis to remove any tangles or mats. Skipping even a day can lead to difficult knots. They also need frequent baths with safe conditioners to keep them looking their best.   

Some owners choose to keep them clipped short — with a one- to two-inch trim all over their bodies. Others prefer to let the coat grow long and silky. The shorter hairstyle will require much less grooming than the long one. In some cases, it’s best to have a professional groomer maintain your desired cut. 

You should also trim your dog's nails frequently and brush their teeth on a daily basis. The Maltese are prone to dental infections, so it’s best to have their teeth professionally cleaned every so often as well. 

Feeding. Make sure that your dog has clean water available at all times. 

Feed your dog according to their age and size. Most high-quality dog foods are good enough for the Maltese. Find a brand that your dog likes or make your own food at home.

Make sure to consult your veterinarian about your dog’s nutritional requirements, and keep in mind which human foods are safe for your dog to eat before giving them any table scraps. 

Exercise and Mental Stimulation. Maltese are packed with energy, but they don’t need extensive amounts of exercise to stay healthy.

Let them run in a fenced-in yard or play games with them indoors to give them both mental and physical stimulation. Just walking around with you as you go about your day is more than enough activity for these small pets. 

They can handle short walks too, but make sure to never over-stress your pet. Pay attention to signs of exhaustion — like heavy panting.  

Veterinary visits, medications, and immunizations. Talk to your veterinarian for a complete list and timing schedule for all of the vaccinations that your dog needs. In general, all dogs should get a core set. This includes vaccinations for:

These vaccinations can begin as early as six weeks of age. There are also other, non-core vaccinations — which may be relevant in some regions more than others — that you should discuss with your veterinarian. 

Dosages for flea and tick medications are based on your dog's weight. Oral and skin-based applications are available from your veterinarian or other distributors. Use these products as needed. 

Preventative heartworm medication is also recommended year-round across the U.S.

The Maltese are usually a very healthy dog breed, but there are some conditions that you should watch out for. 

Some Maltese health issues include: 

  • Patellar luxation. This is a condition that’s common in dogs and similar to a trick knee in humans. Your veterinarian can test the stability of your dog’s joints to see if they have this condition. 
  • Heart anomalies. One potential anomaly is patent ductus arteriosus (PDA). A heart exam can be used to test for this condition. 
  • Congenital liver problemsCommon examples include microvascular dysplasia (MVD) and a liver shunt. A liver shunt is a condition where your dog’s blood essentially bypasses the liver, and it doesn’t have a chance to filter out waste. MVD, on the other hand, impairs the liver's function at a cellular level. 

One thing to keep in mind before bringing a Maltese home is that they can be snippy with small children. The AKC rates them a three out of five with small kids. 

These tiny dogs can get overwhelmed by the energy and enthusiasm of small children. Therefore, it's a good idea — for both your dog and the kids’ safety — to keep them apart, at least until the kids can tell the difference between a toy-sized dog and an actual toy.

Maltese can also have problems getting along with other dogs. This will depend, though, on how well they were socialized when they were young. 

Although the breed is moderately eager-to-please, some people find it hard to housetrain them. In general, the younger they are when they begin training and socializing, the more obedient they’ll be. 

Their small size also makes them more fragile than larger dogs. Make sure you have a good idea of where your dog is at all times and take extra care to keep them safe from choking hazards. 

Maltese are likely to do something called reverse sneezing. This can be heard when your dog starts to make snorting and gagging sounds. They might even sound like they’re choking. This can be caused by allergies and play. Other times, it’s just something they do when they wake up. 

Reverse sneezing can sound alarming, but don’t worry. It isn’t life-threatening. Your dog should quickly recover and resume their normal activities. 

On the plus side, Maltese almost never shed or drool. They’re commonly considered a hypoallergenic breed — meaning that people with dog allergies are less likely to be allergic to the Maltese. 

No one knows the exact origins of the Maltese, but the breed is, at minimum, a few thousand years old. They’re most likely named after the island of Malta in the Mediterranean sea. 

Malta has served as an active trading hub since at least 3,500 B.C. The Phoenicians may have brought the dogs there when they invaded — before the rise of ancient Greece. Regardless of how it got there, the breed was well-established by the time the Greeks took control of the area. 

Representations of the Maltese are also found throughout Roman myths, poetry, and art. Aristotle even commented on the breed. He thought they were perfectly proportioned animals. 

Maltese were the beloved pets of noblewomen during the Roman empire. The dogs are often seen lounging in their arms — or resting in the sleeves of their dresses — in artistic pieces from the era. 

When Rome fell, Chinese breeders kept the Maltese alive throughout the Middle Ages. They further refined the dogs into the standard that we know and love today by crossing them with their own toy breeds. 

Eventually, the dogs made their way back out into the wider world. In 1877, they were exhibited as the Maltese lion dog at New York City’s first Westminster dog show.  

Today, they’re a favorite within the toy group and found in homes around the world.