The breed dedicated to the little island south of Italy is adored as a pampered pet across the world, and stakes its claim to the 37th most popular American Kennel Club breed. For thousands of years, people have doted over the tiny Maltese, including the Greeks of the 4th and 5th centuries B.C. Today, as in the past, the Maltese continues to have a reputation as a fashionable, genteel dog. Loyal and loving, the Maltese has embraced its role as a ‘purse dog’ and has been the dog of choice for many stars such as Marilyn Monroe, Barbra Streisand, and Tony Bennett.
A true toy breed, the Maltese stands just 7-9 inches tall and weighs a fragile 4 to 7 pounds. The Maltese has an unmistakable single coat which is long, silky, and generally all white. The Maltese’s head is slightly round and a pair of drop ears are set low; both the head and ears have long hair. While most Maltese dogs are white, non-standard colors include white and lemon, and white and tan. Black points may also be present on the Maltese, though this is the only marking, and an AKC standard one.
Despite its tiny frame, the Maltese is compact and proportional, with sprung ribs and some depth in the chest. The tail of the Maltese features long, flowing hair, much like it has on the rest of its body. The nose and foot pads of the Maltese are black, and the eyes of the Maltese are also dark—usually black or a very dark brown.
The Maltese is an intelligent little dog that has a life expectancy of 12 to 15 years. Having lived alongside humans for several millennia, the Maltese has adapted quite well to its luxurious lifestyle as a lapdog. The Maltese is a loving family pet and prefers to pass its time in the company of its family. While the Maltese is quite affectionate and social, adults should always supervise children in the presence of a Maltese, since this toy breed is very small and gentle, and can easily be hurt by a child’s horseplay.
Small as they are, Maltese are quite dependable as watchdogs. Highly alert and not shy about barking, the Maltese can be somewhat territorial and will likely sound the alarm when any visitors arrive. A generally happy-go-lucky dog, the Maltese is friendly with just about anyone. These dogs get along well not only with their owners but with practically any stranger willing to spoil them. For this reason, the Maltese is often used as a therapy dog, where it thrives in its work. Similarly, the Maltese is quite comfortable around dogs and cats.
The Maltese loves to accompany its owner all over town and is a great travel partner. A Maltese left alone for too long can suffer from severe separation anxiety. Fortunately, these little dogs are easily transported and highly adaptable, and will settle into most places quite nicely if there are people around.
Caring for a Maltese
The Maltese is a fantastic best friend and can provide loving companionship and entertainment for just about anyone. Since these dogs have so much love and affection to give, it’s important to make sure they are well taken care of in return.
The Maltese’s small stomach can prove difficult to please, so it’s important to make sure that a nutritious food for small dogs is provided. Bones, big pieces of food, and table scraps containing foods like chocolate, macadamia nuts, grapes, and onions should be avoided. Many Maltese owners prefer to offer their dogs home cooked meals or a high quality wet dog food instead of dry kibble. As with many other breeds, care should be taken to prevent the Maltese from weight gain and obesity, as it can lead to a variety of dangerous health issues and place undue stress on the Maltese’s small bones.
The Maltese needs regular exercise but isn’t particularly demanding when it comes to letting out some of its energy. These adaptable little dogs will be content to play indoors or out, and with a couple of brief walks every day. Surprisingly, the tiny Maltese is actually quite impressive when it comes to canine sports, and this breed is always up for a challenge. Whether it’s with puzzle toys for dogs, interactive dog toys, a couple of laps around the backyard, or a stroll around the neighborhood, the Maltese will love to enjoy some good old-fashioned play, particularly when its owner joins in the fun.
Training a Maltese can be frustrating at times due to the breed’s intelligence, but the Maltese is generally very eager to work with its owner in a mutually beneficial agreement. For this reason, it’s important to train the Maltese using a consistent approach that involves encouragement and reward. The Maltese is more than capable of absorbing all sorts of information, and has proven its mastery of all sorts of skills and tracks. If trained properly, the Maltese should have no issue with basic and advanced commands, and can make quite the show dog, not to mention a talented athlete.
A long lifespan is a wonderful thing, but that doesn’t mean the Maltese is devoid of all health risks. Since the Maltese is known to have shown some cases of genetic disorders, a dog DNA test is a helpful tool for owners, and can aid in the early detection and treatment of some inherited conditions.
A fairly common condition among many other small dog breeds, the Maltese can be prone to luxating patella, a painful dislocation of the knee cap that can often render dogs unable to walk properly. Some congenital liver problems may also be seen in the Maltese, including liver shunt, a defect that disturbs the connection between the liver’s portal vein and another vein, and microvascular dysplasia (MVD), a condition in which the liver atrophies as a result of missing or underdeveloped blood vessels.
Owners should take care to provide some basic care and grooming for the Maltese, which includes the occasional haircut and regular brushings with a soft dog brush, as well as keeping its nails trimmed using nail clippers for dogs, giving the Maltese a flea treatment for dogs, and regularly brushing its teeth with an all-natural toothpaste for dogs.