Maltese Breed Highlights

Small white Maltese dog running in green grass

  • Maltese are the oldest toy dog breed, with artwork depicting these small white dogs as far back as 500 B.C. They were even referenced by Aristotle.

  • These companion dogs were beloved by ancient Romans and earned the nickname “Roman Ladies’ Dog” as they were always seen in the sleeves of aristocrats.

  • A Maltese named Trouble was one of the richest dogs in the world. She inherited $12 million when her owner Leona Helmsley passed away. A judge later reduced the inheritance to just $2 million. Trouble lived in luxury until her death in 2011.

  • Lucky Diamond, a Maltese, holds the Guinness World Record for being the animal with the most photographs with celebrities. Due to Lucky’s separation anxiety, her owner took her along to lunches and meetings where she met stars like Betty White, Bill Clinton, and Snoop Dog.

  • In the United States, Maltese were often referred to as ‘Cokie’ starting in the 1960s, although no one quite knows how they earned this nickname.

Unique Physical Features

Maltese illustration - physical 

Long, silky white coat

Unique Personality

Maltese illustration - personality

The Maltese seems to understand its place in history as an ancient symbol of luxury and its role as a comforting lapdog. With an exuberant and loving personality, Maltese have a bit of “diva” in them and can train their humans quite well — something made easier by their big dark eyes and black button nose. Who can resist spoiling these adorable dogs? While pampered, they’re still spunky and love to be active and engaged with their families. They love to strut their stuff when they’re out on the town. They’re also not afraid to make their opinions known and make wonderful alert dogs.

Preferred Lifestyle

Energy Level

dog energy level - medium (mall walker)

With Kids

Icon - outline of a little boy and girl

It can be challenging this breed to live with children due to their small size.

With Other Pets

Icon - cat and dog outline

Maltese do well with other animals. Just be sure to socialize them as puppies, as their small size can make them a bit over-reactive.

Environment

Icon - outline of a house

Their tiny size and simple exercise needs make them a great choice for apartment living but they’re adaptable to a variety of lifestyles.

Average Lifespan
(Range)

12 to 15 years

Average Size
(Range)

Toy size:

  • 4 - 8 pounds
  • 7 - 12 inches tall

VETERINARIAN TIP

Vet Tip: A few extra kibbles, treats, or shared “people food” can quickly add up to obesity-inducing calories, which causes discomfort, health issues, and a shorter life expectancy. Avoid overfeeding a Maltese to help them live a long and happy life!

Breed Group

Toy

Similar Breeds

History of the Maltese

Small white Maltese dog with pink bow and tongue sticking out

The Maltese breed is an ancient one, believed to have been around for more than 2,000 years. The island of Malta, off the coast of Italy, was an important seaport for every Mediterranean empire and surrounding civilizations. From Malta, this small dog breed became a favorite lapdog and companion to the aristocrats and wealthy merchants. We’re talking mentions by Aristotle, Greek tombs erected for the dogs, and depictions in Egyptian and Roman art. While useful rodent catchers, they were also often seen in the sleeves and laps of wealthy Roman matrons, leading to the nickname “Roman Ladies’ Dog”. The Romans further refined the breed, choosing puppies with the whitest coats to continue the line, as they saw white as the color of divinity.

Changes Over Time

When the Roman Empire fell, the breed was kept around by Asian fanciers that crossbred the small white dog with their own lap dog breeds. This resulted in a smaller version of the Maltese that made its way back into Europe during the 18th century. Loved by many, this tiny companion dog was crossed with a variety of other popular breeds such as the Poodle and small spaniels. As many as 9 different types of Maltese were around at the end of the 1700s. Creating a set breed standard proved difficult until the early 1900s. Maltese with two-colored coats or solid non-white coats were allowed to be shown in England until 1913, and in Australia until 1950.

U.S. History of the Maltese Over Time

The Maltese breed made its way to the United States in the 1800s and was at the first Westminster dog show in 1877, shown as the Maltese Lion Dog, a nod to the Asian influence in the breed’s development. In 1888 the Maltese was officially recognized by the American Kennel Club and has been a constant figure in the most popular breed lists since.

Maltese Behavior and Training

The Maltese was bred as a companion dog to warm the laps of its owner, but still have enough energy to walk around town and keep up with family activities. It’s also believed the breed was used to help control rodents and other pests, which explains their love of chasing toys (or squirrels … or birds).

Plays Well with Others?

  • While the Maltese is a sociable breed, they need proper proactive exposure to new sights, sounds, people, dogs, and other animals as a young puppy to prevent any future fear. They don’t seem to realize how small they are, so if they are unsure or frightened, they will often bark and act like they can take on the threat. By having lots of positive exposure as a puppy, they’ll learn that new people, places, and other animals aren’t anything to be worried about.

TRAINER TIP

Pair meeting new people or animals with high-value training treats or a favorite toy, and keep introductions short and sweet, so it doesn’t get overwhelming.

  • Due to their small size, care must be taken to ensure their safety around children. They will do well with children if they are socialized from puppyhood, and the children are respectful in their handling of the dog. Young children and dogs should always be supervised, and it’s helpful for a dog to have their own “safe space” where they can go when they need some quiet time.

  • A Maltese can do well with other animals when properly introduced and socialized from a young age. Since they don’t understand how small they really are, it’s important to supervise any play with other dogs to make sure they don’t inadvertently get hurt or overreact if they get overwhelmed.

TRAINER TIP

Helping Maltese feel comfortable around bigger dogs is especially important. Their outsized “tough-dog” personality can make them an easy target for larger dogs if they try to start something out of fear reactivity.

Graphic - bouncing red ball image

Exercise Requirements

For their small size, Maltese seem to have boundless energy. Fortunately, that same small size makes it easy to give them the exercise they need with simple walks. Most Maltese prefer indoor play to being outside, so playing with their people is often enough to satisfy their exercise needs and build the human-canine bond.

Their petite size means they shouldn’t be jumping from heights such as furniture or out of the car, as it’s easy for them to injure themselves. Maltese can even be seriously injured in jumps or a fall from their owner’s arms. They’ll appreciate easier access to their favorite couch nesting spots with a ramp or dog stairs, and should be lifted in and out of cars and on and off furniture.

Mental Enrichment Needs

Maltese love to be entertained, and providing mental enrichment and brain games will prevent unwanted behaviors. Keep their brain sharp by teaching new tricks, attending obedience classes, joining a dog sport, and providing dog puzzles and interactive toys. Change out the toys and puzzles periodically to keep them on their toes and provide variety for these intelligent dogs.

Common Behavioral Issues

Maltese are known to be on the yappier side — they can bark a lot! This makes them great alert dogs for hearing-impaired owners. To avoid potential problems, they simply need to be taught what to do instead of barking (being quiet, or a nice sit-stay) when someone, for example, comes to the door. Their sharp intellect makes this type of training fairly easy. Though some owners don’t initially see the need for training a small dog, all dogs benefit from training programs and practices to help build good habits and establish bonds with their humans. Positive reinforcement training is crucial for a well-adjusted and happy Maltese!

TRAINER TIP

Inappropriate and aggressive behaviors such as nipping, biting, or resource guarding by Maltese are often seen as “cute” because they don’t cause serious injury the way a larger dog would. However, a dog displaying aggressive behaviors is usually doing so out of fear or insecurity. For the overall well-being of a Maltese (and everyone’s safety!), it's important that they aren’t forced to display these behaviors in an effort to be “cute” or “go viral” on social media. Responsible Maltese owners will help their dogs feel safe and teach them appropriate behaviors, using proper management and positive reinforcement methods.

Fun Activities the Maltese Enjoys

Maltese illustration - puppy 

Maltese excel in a variety of size-appropriate activities and sports:

  • Small Dog Agility

  • Trick Training

  • Canine Freestyle

  • Rally Obedience

  • Conformation

Maltese Coat Type

Maltese coats are white, luxurious, and silky smooth. Because there’s no undercoat, they have minimal shedding. If allowed to grow to the floor, as seen in show dogs, it falls straight and is beautiful to watch when they run. In some cases, they might have some wave or curl, or slight shading of lemon or tan on the ears.

Shedding Level

dog shedding level - 1 of 5 piles of fur

1 out of 5 piles of fur

Grooming Requirements

  • Daily Maintenance
  • Professional Grooming Required

If a Maltese coat is allowed to grow long, it requires thorough daily combing to prevent matting and tangles. Many Maltese owners opt to have their dog groomed in the popular “puppy cut” (a short length all over the body). Professional grooming should be done every 4 to 6 weeks, depending on the owner’s preference for coat length. By introducing your Maltese puppy to positive grooming experiences early, you can help make lifelong grooming easy and stress-free.

The breed is also prone to brown discoloration of tear staining that’s easily visible on their bright white face. Tear staining happens when there is either an overproduction of tears from the eyes and/or a problem with the drainage of tears from the eyes. Both of these problems can be caused by a variety of underlying conditions, like allergies or abnormal hairs around the eyes. The chronic wetness from the tears on the skin below the eyes creates the perfect environment for bacteria and/or yeast to overgrow and establish an infection, which further contributes to the brown discoloration of “tear staining.”

Best Brush for a Maltese: Pin comb, Slicker brush

Famous Owners of the Maltese

  • Tony Bennett (Singer)

  • Jennie Garth (Actress)

  • Eva Longoria (Actress/Producer)

  • Halle Berry (Actress)

  • Liberace (Musician)

  • Anna Nicole Smith (Model)

  • Elizabeth Taylor (Actress)

  • Jennie Garth (Actress)

  • Kristin Chenoweth (Actress)

  • Marilyn Monroe (Actress)

Famous Maltese

Trouble was one of the richest dogs ever. His owner, Leona Helmsley left him a $12 million dollar trust fund.

Non-Endorsement Statement: The social media posts displayed here do not imply any endorsement of these people or products, nor does it imply they endorse Trupanion or our product.

Common Health Conditions for the Maltese Breed

Use the chart of Trupanion claims data below to find out what health conditions happen most frequently for the Maltese breed. Every Maltese is unique, but understanding what health conditions are likelier to occur can help you be a more prepared pet owner.

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Here's what our
dog-loving members say about Trupanion

Trupanion member Kelly

Kelly

Groton, CT

Condition: Sarcoma

The Trupanion policy paid: $18,522.39

"My golden Kelly was young when I found a softball-sized lump on Kelly’s left hind leg. Four weeks straight of radiation, six rounds of chemo and checkups every three months, including x-rays and full blood panel were needed. Because of Trupanion, I didn’t have to address the biggest deciding factor that most people face—can I afford this? I can honestly say Kelly is alive today because of the financial support Trupanion provided."

- Lori

Trupanion member Axl

Axl

Ontario, Canada

Condition: Pneumonia, Hip Dysplasia, Lameness

The Trupanion policy paid: $2,084.01

"At two, our German shepherd Axl was diagnosed with pneumonia. Trupanion took care of all our financial concerns. At four, his hip issues led to pain medications, rehabilitation and rest, which all resulted in improved pain-free movement. I’m so grateful that we chose a plan that not only covers the cost of his treatment but also any physical therapy or rehabilitation he may need."

- Nanette K.

Trupanion member Bella

Bella

Ellijay, GA

Condition: Cushing’s disease, tumor, cruciate rupture

The Trupanion policy paid: $15,283.83

"Bella was treated for Cushing’s disease and a pituitary tumor with radiation therapy. Had we not had insurance for her, the decision for her medical care would have been more difficult, as each treatment was expensive. However, because we have Trupanion, these decisions were easier. Rather, we could focus our attention on her treatment and recovery instead of the financial impact these procedures would have on our family."

- Jason P.

Here's what our dog-loving members say about Trupanion

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