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Facts About Maltese Dogs

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white Maltese dog laying on a tan couch with a yellow leash

Maltese dogs have the look of an aristocrat and were favored by royalty over the years. But they’re also typically playful, energetic, and loving dogs who adore the attention of their dog parents.

Maltese Dog Facts

There are lots of fun facts about the history and attributes of this small yet stately-looking breed:

  • It’s thought that the Maltese dog breed originated in Malta, a small island nation south of Sicily, Italy. It’s also where they get their name.
  • Malta was known for its luxury and sophistication, so this origin story really fits this breed.
  • Maltese dogs have been highly valued throughout time. In fact, it’s said that one Maltese dog was sold for the equivalent of $2,000 in the 1500s.
  • This breed was loved by royalty, including Mary Queen of Scots and Queen Elizabeth I. They both had Maltese dogs at their palaces.
  • They are considered to be hypoallergenic, like Poodles and Bichon Frise, so they make great dogs for people with allergies.
  • Maltese dogs are infamous for being picky eaters. Maybe this goes back to their silver spoon heritage.
  • They have a cute black button nose that can turn pink if the dog doesn’t get enough sun. The noses of female Maltese dogs can also turn pink when they are in heat.
  • They make wonderful therapy dogs for many reasons, including their small size and loving personalities.

These dogs are real people pleasers—it’s hard not to scoop them up in your arms and cover them with loving kisses.

Maltese dog sitting on a brown rug

Physical Traits

Maltese dogs only grow to around 7-12 inches in height and weigh about 4-8 pounds. They are the perfect size for snuggling on your lap. They are probably best known for their long and silky white coat that hangs down to the ground. They initially came in colors other than white but were purposely bred to be only this color.

They do not have an undercoat and shed very little. However, their coat needs regular brushing to keep it from getting matted. Their long hair can be tied in a topknot to keep it out of their eyes or trimmed short in what’s called a “puppy cut.” This cut makes them look like an adorable baby furball at any age.

Maltese dogs also have cute floppy ears, a compact body with sloping shoulders, and a tufted tail that curls over their back. They are nicely proportioned with a slightly rounded head, a black nose, and brown eyes.

Personality

A dog’s personality is based largely on their environment and experiences with the world, but this breed is known to have many wonderful character traits. They are typically gentle, loving, obedient, affectionate, intelligent, and trusting. They are also fun, lively, and very playful even as they age.

They adore humans and like to be very close to them—either right underfoot, cozy in your arms, or cuddling in your lap. Because they like attention and closeness so much, they can be prone to separation anxiety. You can help avoid separation anxiety by crate training your Maltese dog. This gives your little friend a safe and cozy place to rest when you have to leave them home alone.

The Maltese dog temperament typically makes them great family dogs, and they are good with older children but can be snappish with younger children. You can help prevent this behavior by socializing your Maltese dog early and giving them lots of exposure to small kids.

Since they are such people pleasers, they can be trained fairly well and pick up new tricks easily. However, you may need a little extra time and patience to housetrain them. They are also known to be picky eaters, and may require more than a simple can of dog food. In addition, they are very alert and tend to react to unfamiliar noises or people with a flurry of barking.

Maltese dog resting on a cement patio

Care

As with any dog, you should check their eyes and ears regularly for abnormalities, trim their nails when they get too long, and take them to the veterinarian for annual checkups, which can be covered by an ASPCA Pet Health Insurance plan. You’ll also need to take a bit of extra care with grooming, dental care, exercise, and nutrition.

Grooming

While Maltese dogs don’t shed much, they need regular brushing to keep their coats from getting matted. They also need to be groomed every few months and get an occasional bath—maybe once every two to three weeks unless they get into something particularly messy.

This breed is prone to tear staining where the area around the eyes turns dark. It’s important to clean the hair around their eyes every day to help avoid this discoloration. You can use a soft washcloth or cotton ball to get the job done. Maltese dogs also tend to have a lot of hair in their ears, which needs to be trimmed by a groomer.

Dental Care

Maltese dogs are prone to dental issues, so regular tooth brushing is especially important. In addition, they should have their teeth examined and cleaned professionally by your veterinarian at least once a year. You can offer them safe chew toys to help promote healthy teeth and gums. Chew toys have the added benefit of keeping your dog from chewing on things they shouldn’t, like the couch cushions or your favorite shoes.

Exercise

Since they are small dogs, they have lower activity needs than larger breeds. They typically do fine with about 20 to 30 minutes of exercise a day. You can take them out for a walk, play an energetic game of fetch, or encourage them to run around the house if it’s too cold to go outside.

Nutrition

It can be easy to overfeed a small dog, so be sure to measure food portions at mealtimes. You don’t want your dog putting on too much weight since obesity can cause all sorts of health issues, from diabetes to joint problems. Maltese dogs can be picky eaters, so you may need to try out a few brands of dog food before you find one they won’t turn their nose up at.

Maltese dogs, like all dogs, love treats. It’s OK to offer them a few treats now and then, but don’t go overboard. They can be high in unhealthy fats and sugars and shouldn’t make up more than 10% of your dog’s daily caloric intake. In addition, you can supplement their diets with dog-safe food, such as bits of skinless cooked chicken, steamed vegetables, or apples cut up into bite-sized pieces.

It’s also important to know what not to feed your Maltese dog, such as onions, garlic, Macadamia nuts, and raisins. Check out this list of 16 Things NOT to Feed Your Dog.

long-haired Maltese dog resting on a brown blanket

Common Health Issues

The expected Maltese dog lifespan is 12 to 14 years old. Although these dogs are generally healthy, they are still prone to certain health issues, including:

  • Reverse Sneezing
    A reverse sneeze sounds like a snort or honk, and can happen when a Maltese dog is over stimulated or first waking up. Allergies can also cause it. It's not dangerous and usually stops quickly, but it can be upsetting for the dog. A warm, loving cuddle can help relax your pup after a reverse sneezing episode.
  • Collapsed Trachea
    This disorder is much more problematic than a reverse sneeze and requires medical intervention. A persistent dry and harsh-sounding cough is the most common symptom of a collapsed trachea.
  • White Dog Shaker Syndrome
    This condition can cause shaking, tremors, and loss of coordination when a dog is overexcited. The name comes from the fact that it most often affects white-colored dogs. Although it can be disconcerting for the dog parent, it’s not painful for the pooch.
  • Luxating Patella
    Like Chihuahuas and other small breeds, Maltese dogs can have an issue called luxating patella. This is where the bones that make up the knee are not properly formed, allowing the kneecap to slip out of place easily. It often slides right back into place; however, severe cases can require surgical intervention.
  • Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA)
    This is an inherited degenerative eye condition, which can lead to blindness.

According to our claims data,** the top conditions that Maltese parents submit claims for through their pet insurance plan include:

  • Allergies* with an average cost of $191.64
  • Ear infections with an average cost of $163.05
  • Gastrointestinal issues with an average cost of $456.15
  • Irritated skin with an average cost of $156.78
  • Elevated liver enzymes with an average cost of $287.86

In addition to these health issues, Maltese dogs are known to be jumpers, especially when they’re excited, so be sure to keep a gentle but firm grip on them while holding them in your arms. Fragile items, such as picture frames and vases, should be moved out of the way, so they are not broken and stepped on by an excited, jumping dog.

**Internal Claims Data, 2015-20
An ASPCA Pet Health Insurance plan can help you with eligible costs for covered conditions like surgery expenses for accidents and help provide peace of mind that your pet can receive the care they need. Check out our online resources to learn more about your insurance options and get a free quote today. The information presented in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute or substitute for the advice of your veterinarian.

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