Draped in long, silky white hair that would make nearly anyone jealous (Dumbledore included, and he’s got the lushest locks of them all), the Maltese is a gentle, affectionate breed that makes the perfect companion for those looking for a petite pet.
They may be small in stature—they do fall under the “toy” category and can technically be carried in a handbag, after all—but their fearless personalities are anything but. With a lively, loving demeanour and an energetic, playful side, there are endless reasons the Maltese is one of the most beloved dogs of all time.
The Maltese breed hails from Malta and has been around since ancient times dating back as far as 500 BC. In fact, Aristotle was the first to reference the dog, calling the Maltese the “Canis Melitaeus.”
The Maltese has picked up a number of nicknames along the way, including the “Roman Ladies’ Dog,” the “Maltese Lion Dog,” and “Cokie,” which originated on the East Coast in the 1960s.
The first things people notice about the Maltese are their pocket-perfect size and silky, white coat. While one might assume that a dog with such long hair would shed, in fact, the opposite is true: The Maltese doesn’t have an undercoat and doesn’t shed, making it the ideal choice for pet parents who are allergic to dog hair or simply people who’d rather not deal with lint rolling their clothes—or furniture!—every five minutes. (Can’t win ’em all, folks.)
While the Maltese can certainly grow their hair to be insanely long, most owners opt for what’s called the “puppy cut,” which is a cropped, fluffy cut that’s much easier to maintain.
The Maltese’s furry little face is defined by a black button nose, big brown eyes, floppy ears, and dark skin around the eyes, which are referred to as a “halo.” If your furry friend stays indoors during the winter and doesn’t get a lot of sunlight, his nose might fade to a flesh-colored pink or light brown, then darken back to black during the sunny months.
If your dog is getting a lot of sunlight, be warned: If they have long, parted hair, their scalp can get sunburned just like a human, so practice sun safety!
One of the reasons the Maltese is so loved (besides their incredible personalities, of course) is their teacup-esque stature.
Averaging just 3kg (7lbs) and standing shorter than one foot, the Maltese is the perfect lap dog and is easily transported (a definite bonus for those of you with take-your-dog-to-work privileges).
Maltese in Art
Because Maltese were favoured by royalty and society ladies, the dog has been a regular feature in many portraits over the centuries (that’s right, centuries).
According to Foxstone Maltese, the Maltese have shown up in art since 600 B.C. in ancient Egypt. They’ve also popped up in Greek ceramic art.
In more recent times, you can see paintings with Maltese by Johann Wegener, Giovanni Boldini, an Italian painter, and Francisco Goya.
Breed Health and Wellness
Maltese dogs are mostly healthy. Like any breed, you must be very vigilant about dental health with Maltese or you may need to get surgery for them later. Brush their teeth often.
The UK Kennel Club recommends having them tested for two major hereditary issues: patellar luxation (that’s a medically fancy way of saying, the kneecaps go out of whack) and a cardiac exam to rule out Congenital Heart Base (Patent Ductus Arteriosus).
Another issue that’s less common but that you should be on notice for is liver shunt—a condition that causes the blood to bypass the liver—which means the toxins are not cleaned and can poison the dog. (Look for problems after eating as it can cause seizures, excessive sleeping, blindness and more). This should be screened out by good breeders, but can be treated by vets. The test for it is called a bile acid test.
Other rare problems that some Maltese develop: encephalitis, collapsing trachea (use a harness instead of a collar), and something called White Dog Shaker Syndrome. Originally only white-haired dogs exhibited the tremors of this syndrome, but now other dogs have shown signs of it as well. You can prevent it from even happening; Maltese breeders shouldn’t allow first-degree relatives to breed.
This seems like a lot, but generally Maltese are healthy.
The biggest threat to your tiny pup isn’t hereditary health issues. As Your Pure Bred Puppy, puts it: “The leading health issue in toy dogs is INJURY. You must keep Maltese under constant surveillance and lead/arm control. Too much can happen to these small creatures in the blink of an eye.”
In true fearless fashion, Maltese don’t think twice about befriending anyone and are quick to make new pals.
Because of their positive, people-oriented nature, Maltese are eager to please and responds well to training through reinforcements such as treats or a good ol’ pat.
Like any dog, training and socialising Maltese from an early age will help them grow into sweet, curious, and playful furry friends. And they will win over the hardest of hearts—it seems like all they ever want to do is love on people.
Who’s the Best Human for Maltese?
Their history as dogs of royalty gives Maltese a reputation as dogs for fancy ladies, but in truth, the Maltese is for many different types of people and lifestyles. They’re playful and puppy-like but because they’re so tiny, they don’t need as much outside and exercise time, as say, an Australian Cattle Dog.
With that in mind, city and flat dwellers would do well with a Maltese. Young or old, the Maltese would make for a loyal, personable, and loving companion. Because of their playful, but not hyperactive temperament, they’re suitable for elderly pet owners. And if you like to have a constant companion, a Maltese is so tiny, it can literally go everywhere with you.
Families with kids would be fine with a Maltese, just make sure small children are mindful of how gentle you need to be with the tiny pet.