A Complete Breed Guide for Maltese Dogs

Last Updated September 2023

This article is written by Pet Circle's veterinarian, Dr Carla Paszkowski, BVSc (Hons)

The tiny, sassy Maltese is known for keeping their puppy-like personality and looks throughout their life. With non-shedding fur and a teeny stature, the Maltese is a pamper-loving pooch and perfectly suited to living indoors alongside their humans. One of the oldest and most popular dog breeds worldwide, the Maltese's role has always been that of “companion": they are designed simply to love and be loved.


1. At a glance

2. History

3. Personality

4. Grooming Requirements

5. Best Toys for Maltese

6. Best food for Maltese

7. Health Concerns

Further reading

At a glance

Breed size: Place of origin: Intelligence
Toy Malta (possibly) Moderate
Breed group: Energy level: Weight range:
Lapdog Moderate 2-5kg
Life expectancy: Tendency to bark: Height range:
12-17 years High 18-25cm to shoulder
Drool factor: Ease of training: Coat length:
Low Easy Long (continuously grows, non-shedding)
Shedding factor: Overall grooming needs: Colours:
Zero High White


Image: Foxtone Maltese - Art depicting Maltese throughout the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries.

The Maltese is an ancient dog breed which has been around for thousands of years, but its true origins aren't totally clear. Many believe they were developed in Malta from spaniel-type dogs, however others believe they originated in Italy or even Asia. Dogs appearing to resemble Maltese have been observed in Egyptian artifacts, and ancient Greeks erected tombs in honour of them. They were even mentioned by Aristotle!

Wherever they came from originally, the Maltese was loved by European nobility throughout the middle ages and was believed to cure illness - gaining them the nickname 'The Comforter'. Maltese dogs were placed on the pillow of sick people to cure their ailments, and they were believed to draw fleas away from their humans. They were commonly gifted to noble ladies or traded as gifts. By the 15th century, the Maltese had become a solid favourite of French aristocrats, and during the reign of Henry VIII, the Maltese made its way to the British Isles. They were a favorite of Queen Elizabeth I, Mary Queen of Scots, and Queen Victoria.

The Maltese breed was nearly eliminated in the 17th and 18th centuries when breeders tragically attempted to decrease their size to that of a squirrel. After this near-catastrophic experiment, breeders resorted to mixing bloodlines with poodles, miniature spaniels, and East Asian miniature dogs in order to save the breed. This resulted in the Maltese breed becoming so varied that a few new breeds were created - is thought that Maltese are the direct ancestors of the Bichon Frise, Bolognese and Havanese breeds.

The breed as we know them today was developed in England. They are now one of the most popular toy breeds, and commonly mixed with other breeds to create 'designer' mixes such as the 'Moodle', the 'Maltalier', the 'Maltihuahua' and the 'Mih Tzu'.

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The Maltese is a fearless, cute, spunky little character who is absolutely bursting with peronsality. Centuries living alongside (or atop-the-lap-of-) humans means they have developed a miraculous ability to always get their way - even with people who are determined not to spoil them. Their ability to wrap every family member around their little paw is nothing short of astonishing. No matter how adamant your husband is that your Maltese will sleep on the floor 'like a dog' - rest assured that before long your Maltese WILL be sharing your bed every night. And miraculously, your husband will probably be the one tucking them under the covers.

While the Maltese is generally good to have as a family dog, due to their small size and fragile nature they are not suited to a house with young children. They usually get on well with other animals in the family including big dogs and cats, and can enjoy having a fellow furry friend if you aren't home a lot to keep them company. However, the Maltese may chase rodents or birds so may not be suitable if you are unable to safely contain small pets.

Because they are so people-oriented, the Maltese can be easily trained and responds well to positive reinforcement such as treats, praise, and play. They often form a close bond with one family member in particular - usually the person who spends the most time with them.

It's important to establish boundaries with your Maltese early on, or they will walk all over you! If your Maltese is showing signs of aggression or refuses to eat dry food, a firm and unyielding approach may be required. Remember that YOU are the boss - your Maltese should eat the food you decide, and behave in a way that suits your family.

Top toy recommendations for Maltese

Image by @willow_and_oakee

Playology Senior Dental Chew Ball

Perfect for Maltese due to their predisposition to develop dental disease, this chew toy is flavoured to encourage gnawing and grinding.

Yours Droolly Muff Pup

The perfect cuddle and play pal, this plush dog has squeakers in each paw plus the nose and belly to keep your Maltese entertained.

Chuckit Ultra Squeaker Ball

The small sized Chuckit Ultra Squeaker Ball is perfect for little Maltese mouths and features a super fun squeaker too.

Fuzzyard Oz the Emu

With attention grabbing squeakers and long flappy legs, Oz the Emu makes a fun play toy or cuddly sleep companion.

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Grooming for Maltese Dogs

Fur trimming: The Maltese has continuously growing fur, which needs to be trimmed every 6-8 weeks. Most Maltese owners prefer to pay a professional groomer for this, however if you are particularly confident you may wish to purchase a pair of clippers and learn how to groom your dog yourself.

Brushing: When your Maltese's fur is at its longest point, it will require daily brushing. It's best to keep a detangling brush and a slicker brush on hand. Deshedding brushes are not required for Malteses as they do not shed fur.

Eye cleaning: The Maltese is prone to tear stains due to poorly formed tear ducts and their white fur. Tear stains are not harmful, but they are cosmetically displeasing. While there are some oral supplements available to prevent tear staining, we do not recommend this as they can contain antibiotic compounds which may be harmful to your dog. Instead, we suggest keeping your dog's fur trimmed short under the eyes, and wiping daily with a tear stain remover liquid.

Nail trimming: like most breeds, the Maltese may require regular nail trims depending on how often you walk your dog. Due to the Maltese's personality, you may need to have this done at the groomer or vet clinic.

For more information, take a read through our guide to Grooming Your Dog.

The Best Grooming Products for Maltese Dogs

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Nutrition for Maltese Dogs

What should you feed a Maltese Dog?

The Maltese is best suited to a premium 'puppy', 'adult', or 'senior' pet food designed for 'small' or 'toy' breeds. Our top recommendation is Royal Canin Maltese, as this is designed specifically for the breed with a tailor-made kibble shape. Other great diets include Hills Science Diet Small Paws and Advance Small and Toy. Always be sure to seek a high quality diet, as this can help keep your Maltese's coat soft, healthy, and shiny. Many Maltese owners are advised to seek a dental care diet, due to the Maltese's predisposition to developing dental disease.

Top Recommended Food for Maltese Puppies

Advance Toy Breed Puppy

Specifically designed for teeny mouths, this Aussie-made dental care diet can help keep your Maltese's mouth free from tartar.

Royal Canin Mini Puppy Wet Dog Pouches

Perfect for puppies who need encouragement finishing their meal, this highly palatable wet food is balanced to support growth and comes in handy pouches.

Hills Science Diet Small Paws Puppy

With tiny kibble size specially designed for little mouths, Hills Small Paws has everything your little one needs to thrive.

Eukanuba Puppy Small Breed

A tasty, crunchy kibble which is easily digested and contains precisely balanced levels of protein, fat, carbohydrate, vitamins and minerals.

Top Recommended Food for Adult Maltese

Advance Triple Action Dental Care

Specifically designed for teeny mouths, this Aussie-made dental care diet can help keep your Maltese's mouth free from tartar.

Royal Canin Maltese

Specifically designed for the Maltese, this dry food helps reduce flatulence and stool odour and promotes healthy eyes and skin. It also has a special kibble shape for the Maltese mouth.

K9 Natural Beef Feast

Perfect for fussy Maltese who need some encouragement to finish their meal, K9 Natural canned food is made from natural ingredients and is highly palatable.

Ivory Coat Lamb and Sardine Stew

Excellet for Malteses with sensitive skin or ears, this delicious wet food contains nutritious fish high in Omega fatty acids

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Health concerns

Dental Disease is very common in Malteses, as they usually have a preference for palatable wet food and don't always chew their food well. For most Maltese dogs, a dental scale and polish is required at your vet each year, in addition to home care such as regular tooth brushing, dental chews, or a dental care food.

Patellar Luxation - The patella is the kneecap, and patellar luxation is where the patella dislocates out of place to one side, usually momentarily. This can be very uncomfortable, and the severity is assessed in stages based on degree of luxation and how easily the kneecap slips back into place. Advanced stage luxation often requires surgery.

Left-sided congestive heart failure (LS-CHF) and associated heart murmur - In Maltese dogs, heart murmurs are incredibly common and are usually due to a poorly formed valve in the heart, known as the mitral valve. The 'murmur' your vet hears on examination is literally a 'leaky valve' noise - due to this malformed mitral valve, blood in the left ventricle leaks back into the left atrium instead of getting pumped into the body's systemic circulation. In most Malteses, the murmur is usually low grade and may not progress to symptomatic heart disease. However, if severe, diminished cardiac function can occur and result in pressure overload to the left side of the heart. Fluid then leaks into the tissue of the lungs, causing a cough, difficulty breathing, and exercise intollerence.

Portosystemic Liver Shunt - This disorder occurs in susceptible puppies, when abnormal vessel configuration causes blood to bypass the liver. Puppies with a portosystemic shunt are usually small or 'runt-like' and often require surgery to redirect the vessels.

Collapsing trachea - In many small breeds including the Maltese, the cartilage of the trachea (the windpipe) is flimsy and can collapse, preventing the passage of air. The most common symptom is a dry, harsh cough that may sound like a "goose honk," and usually occurs when the dog pulls hard on their collar or during periods of overexcitement. The condition may require surgery if severe, but dogs can get by okay (particularly if they aren't overweight). If your dog suffers from a collapsing trachea, it's important to use a soft harness when walking rather than a collar - and never use a choker chain!

Best Harnesses for Maltese Dogs

White Dog Shaker Syndrome - this condition usually only affects white dogs, hence the name. Symptoms include whole body tremors, lack of coordination, and rapid eye movements. Episodes usually start when the dog is six months to three years old and is stressed or overly excited. Fortunately White Dog Shaker Syndrom is not painful and doesn't dictate the dog's personality. If you think your Maltese has White Dog Shaker Syndrome, talk to your vet.

Sensitivity to Cold Temperatures - Not technically a 'health concern', but worth being aware of is the Maltese's lack of tolerance to cold temperatures. Due to their thin, sparsely haired coat and shallow dermal layer, Malteses don't tolerate low temperatures well. Rug your Maltese up with a nice warm dog jumper when temperatures dip!

Best Jumpers for Maltese

Fuzzyard Shirts

In Australia, it's good to have a supply of T-shirts on hand in case of those mild 'semi cold' days.

Huskimo Knit Jumpers

Knit jumpers are a must for Malteses, as they are stretchy, comfortable, and suitable for sleeping.

Fuzzyard Pyjamas

Available in a range of patterns, these too-cute-for-words pyjamas are cuddly and cover the legs for extra warmth.

Waterproof Rain Jackets

Excellent for walks on a cold day, a waterproof jacket is a must for your Maltese's wardrobe.

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Further Reading

Want to know more? Check out some of our other articles:

Dental Care for Dogs
Complete Puppy Care Guide
How To Spot A Good Pet Food
What is the Best Dog Food for Skin Allergies?
Which Flea and Worming Product Does Your Dog Need?