ith their flowing, floor-length coats and petite frames, the Maltese looks like the perfect lap dog—and they are! But they’re also hardy, playful pups who make up for their small size with big, outgoing personalities.
Here’s everything you need to know about this adorable, adaptable breed.
Unsurprisingly, this little dog is part of the toy group, with the ideal Maltese weight set between just four and six pounds.
- Breed Group: Toy
- Height: 7-9 inches
- Weight: Under 7 pounds, with 4-6 pounds being ideal, per the American Kennel Club (AKC)
- Life Span: 12-15 years
- Coat: Long and flowing
- Color: All white is the standard color, although the AKC accepts lemon (a light beige color) and tan on the ears
Maltese Breed History
The Maltese dog breed dates back almost 3,000 years to the island of Malta in the Mediterranean, and the little dog was the favorite of the ancient Greeks and Romans. Bred as companion pets to wealthy aristocrats, Roman noblewomen were so taken by these pups that they carried them around in the sleeves of their robes.
Centuries later, they became popular among American families, too, and a staple at dog shows starting back from the first Westminster show in 1877 where they were known as Maltese Lion Dogs. Today, the Maltese ranks number 37 in the AKC’s list of most popular breeds, and thus, Maltese dog prices can reach up to $3,500 for a pedigreed pup.
Of course, you don’t have to go through a Maltese breeder to become a pet parent to one of these precious pups—although you can find some through the AKC. You can also find adoptable Maltese dogs through the American Maltese Association Rescue.
In the market for a teacup Maltese? Just know that the AKC standards say that a four to six pound Maltese is ideal—and anyone breeding a dog that’s tinier than that is not breeding for quality or health. So, do yourself a favor and just get a regular Maltese—which is already a pint-sized pup when you think about it!
What Does a Maltese Look Like?
Despite their tiny size (they only stand between seven and nine inches tall), the Maltese is an eye-catching pup.
Maltese dogs have single coats (so no undercoat) made up of long, silky, flat white hair. Adult dogs have floor-length coats that cover their paws and entire bodies. Maltese puppies, though, look a little like stuffed animals—you can see their ears, bodies and paws because their coats haven’t obscured these features yet. Show dogs always have their full-length coats, but if you’re not showing your Maltese, you can give them a puppy cut (or get your groomer to), since it’s easier to keep the shorter fur from getting matted.
Maltese colors aren’t wide-ranging. These dogs are usually all white, though some have light beige (known as lemon) or tan on their ears. They have black noses and dark eyes with black rims. When they have their full coat, their ears droop alongside the face, with lots of fringe and hair. Their tails are like plumes and curve over their backs.
Maltese Dog Temperament
The Maltese dog temperament is typical of a dog bred to be a companion. They are loving and outgoing when properly bred and socialized. And as companion dogs, Maltese pups enjoy spending lots of time in the laps of the people they love.
If you decide to purchase a Maltese puppy, be sure to choose a responsible breeder who invests in early puppy education to increase your odds of getting a Maltese with a great temperament. These smart dogs are active and bold enough to take a stand and bark at anything they perceive as a threat—and poorly socialized Maltese can bark too much.
Keeping Maltese Dogs Healthy: 3 Issues to Watch Out For
The Maltese life span is typically between 12 and 15 years, and, in addition to keeping up with regular vet well visits, a healthy diet and exercise, pet parents should be on the lookout for conditions that occur at a higher than average rate in this breed to keep their dog happy and healthy. Maltese health problems to be aware of include the following:
Periodontal disease—an infection in the gums—is quite common in Maltese dogs, especially as they age. Routine dental cleanings performed by a veterinarian and home dental care, including daily tooth brushing, are very important to prevent oral pain, tooth loss and infections that can spread to other parts of the body. The Virbac C.E.T. Oral Hygiene Dog Kit contains an appropriate toothbrush and toothpaste for Maltese.
Patellar luxation (a kneecap that slips out of its normal groove) occurs with some frequency in Maltese. Dogs with mild patellar luxation may just hold up the affected leg for a stride or two, but severe cases require surgery to allow the dog to walk without pain. The American Maltese Association requires that Maltese dogs used for breeding undergo a screening for patellar luxation through the Orthopedic Foundation of America (OFA).
Patent ductus arteriosus (PDA) is a congenital condition that can lead to congestive heart failure and abnormal heart rhythms. As is the case with luxating patellas, the American Maltese Association also requires that dogs undergo OFA screening for PDA.
Heart murmurs, often caused by degenerative mitral valve disease, are common as Maltese get older and, in some cases, lead to congestive heart failure.
Of course, this is not a complete list of health problems your dog may experience. For example, granulomatous meningoencephalitis (GME) and necrotizing meningoencephalitis (NME)—inflammatory diseases affecting the brain—and microvascular dysplasia (a liver condition) are fairly common in the breed. If you’re considering adding a Maltese to your family, be sure you choose a reputable breeder who runs all required tests, provides health guarantees and makes breeding decisions based on the welfare of their dogs. Or, if you choose to adopt, be sure to get as much medical history on the dog as the rescue organization is able to provide.
Caring for Your Maltese Dog
Like all dogs, the Maltese requires routine care, but special attention needs to be paid to a few of their distinctive characteristics.
The beautiful, flowing coat you see in photos and at dog shows requires a lot of time and effort to care for. Although Maltese dog shedding is not a big concern, you’ll need to comb their coat daily if you opt to keep it long. Alternatively, if you go with a shorter style for your Maltese, you can comb or brush your dog a few times a week. Look to tools like the Resco Wrap Comb for Dogs, Cats & Small Pets or JW Pet Gripsoft Small Pin Brush.
Tear stains are especially visible on light-colored dogs, like Maltese, and develop when a normal pigment in tears, called porphyrin, is exposed to air. There is no single best tear stain remover for Maltese, but products that don’t contain antibiotics, like Angels' Eyes Gentle Tear Stain Wipes for Dogs, work well and safely for many dogs. Whitening shampoos, like Petpost Whitening Dog Shampoo, will also help them look their best. Learn more about removing unsightly tear stains here.
Maltese dogs generally do well on high-quality, life stage appropriate dog foods. However, picking the best dog food for your Maltese is an individual decision best made in consultation with your dog’s veterinarian.
Up until they are 10-12 months of age, Maltese puppies should eat foods specifically designed to meet the extra needs of growth like Hill's Science Diet Puppy Small Paws Chicken Meal, Barley & Brown Rice Dry Dog Food or Wellness Small Breed Complete Health Puppy Turkey, Oatmeal & Salmon Meal Recipe Dry Dog Food.
Once they are over 10-12 months old, they can be switched to an adult formulation like Eukanuba Small Bites Adult Chicken Formula Dry Dog Food. A breed specific dog food, Royal Canin Maltese Adult Dry Dog Food, also is available for dogs over 10 months of age.
The amount of food that a Maltese should eat is determined by their caloric needs, which a veterinarian can help you establish based on your pet’s age, size, activity level and other factors. Then, you’ll need to feed an appropriate amount of your food of choice to meet those caloric needs, being sure to factor in treats. Because they are so tiny, many people find it challenging to avoid overfeeding their Maltese, although it’s necessary to keep them at a healthy weight.
While healthy Maltese have lots of energy, their small size means that providing them with ample exercise is relatively easy. Going for a leash walk at least once a day is ideal, but time spent playing in the house or backyard also will meet most of their exercise needs.
Training Your Maltese
Maltese dogs are smart and excel at learning new things. You can use positive reinforcement to teach them basic obedience, to do tricks and even compete in obedience and agility. Start training as soon as your dog joins the family and socialize them, as well. Resist the urge to keep your Maltese in your purse, and instead let them explore the world on their own four paws at least part of the time (as soon as they’re properly vaccinated, that is)! Get more pro tips for socializing your puppy here.
The one sticking point for some Maltese is potty training. They are so small that they simply can’t hold it for as long as larger dogs. To help your Maltese learn faster, set up a frequent schedule of outings. This will ensure your Maltese gets a chance to potty in the right place many times each day. It’s also helpful to use potty pads; sometimes Maltese simply are unable to hold it between walks, unless you work from home and can take them out regularly. Having an “indoor bathroom” can be the difference between potty training success and failure.
Because they’re so smart and friendly, Maltese dogs are easy to train and easygoing companions. Despite their tiny size, these tough toy dogs are naturals at dog sports like agility, which is a great way to bond with your pet. And after they’ve had their fun, they’re ready to snuggle up beside you. What better way is there to end the day?
Linda Rodgers and Irith Bloom, CPDT-KSA, CDBC contributed to this report.