The Maltese Dog Breed: Everything You Need to Know

The Maltese is a playful, charming, and gentle companion-type dog with ancient heritage and a luxurious coat described as “show-stopping.”

In this article, we’ll explore everything you need to know about the cute Maltese, from its history and looks to its personality and health. 

A Brief History of the Maltese Dog Breed

The Maltese breed has a long and storied history that dates back several thousand years. While the exact origin of the breed is unknown, many historians believe that it was first developed on the island of Malta in the Mediterranean Sea.

Origins and Ancestry

The island of Malta lies in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, and in ancient times, it was a thriving seaport and a crossroad between cultures. The Phoenicians ruled the region and introduced a small white lapdog to the island. 

The lapdog was intriguing among seafarers, who quickly dispersed the dog around the world, and it became highly sought after, especially among noble ladies and royalty. The white lapdog was what we now know as the Maltese. 

The Maltese in Art and Literature

The Maltese breed has been depicted in art and literature for centuries. Even the famous Greek philosopher Aristotle wrote about a small white dog that he believed to be a Maltese.

The artist Caravaggio included a Maltese in his painting “The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist.” The Maltese is depicted in the lower-left corner of the painting, looking up at the scene with a curious expression on its face.

The Maltese as a Royal Companion

Queen Elizabeth I is said to have owned several Maltese dogs, as well as Marie Antoinette. In fact, when Marie Antoinette was captured during the French Revolution, she had her beloved Maltese with her and refused to be separated from him.

The Maltese also became popular in the United States in the early 1900s, and the American Kennel Club officially recognized the breed in 1888. Today, the Maltese is still a popular choice for a companion lapdog.

Physical Characteristics of the Maltese

The Maltese is a small breed with a long, flowing coat that is white or cream in color and is often parted down the middle. It is also known for its dark, expressive eyes and black nose and lips.

Size and Weight

The Maltese is one of the smallest dog breeds in the world. Breed members stand between 7 and 9 inches tall at the withers and weigh under 7 pounds. Males are typically slightly larger than females.  

Maltese dogs are perfect for apartment living and make excellent lapdogs. Due to their small size, they require minimal exercise and can be easily carried around, making them ideal travel companions.

Coat and Color

The Maltese’s coat is long, silky, and straight. The typical coat color is white, but some members of the breed can have white & lemon or white & tan coats with or without black points. 

The coat of the Maltese dog requires extensive grooming and trimming. However, the dog sheds minimally and is considered to be hypoallergenic, hence a great choice for allergic people. 

Distinctive Features

The Maltese has a rounded head, small ears that hang close to the head, and a unique, graceful gait. The dog’s small size and delicate features make it an attractive breed for those who are looking for a lapdog or companion.

Personality and Temperament

Maltese dogs are friendly and affectionate in nature, hence a perfect fit for households with children or other pets. They are playful and energetic, with a curious streak that often leads them to explore their surroundings.

General Disposition

The Maltese is a social dog that thrives on human interaction. It is happiest when it is around people and can become anxious or bored if left alone for long periods of time. 

Despite their small size, Maltese dogs are famous for their bravery. They are not afraid to stand up to larger dogs if they feel threatened and will protect their owners fiercely if they sense danger.

Intelligence and Trainability

Maltese dogs are intelligent and quick learners, making them easy to train. They respond well to positive reinforcement and love to please their owners. They are also good at adapting to different training methods, which makes them an excellent choice for first-time dog owners.

Living and Exercise Needs 

Due to their small size, Maltese dogs are also an excellent choice for apartment living. They do not require a lot of space to run around and can get their exercise by playing indoors or going for short walks outside. 

Socialization and Pet-Friendliness 

The Maltese is social and friendly towards other dogs, cats, and other small pets, making it a great choice for multi-pet households. However, it still needs early socialization to develop into a well-behaved adult dog. 

Health and Lifespan

The Maltese is a generally healthy and long-lived breed. However, like all dogs, it is prone to certain health issues that you should be aware of if you’re considering getting a Maltese as a pet.

Common Health Issues

Frequently diagnosed health problems in the Maltese dog include: 

  • Orthopedic Issues: Luxating patella and hip dysplasia are the most common orthopedic problems in the breed 
  • Tracheal Collapse: A condition in which the tracheal rings are too weak and cannot keep the dog’s trachea open 
  • Obesity: Breed members are prone to weight gain and obesity, which increases the risk of other health problems 
  • Liver Shunt: A developmental defect in the circulatory system that causes the “filthy” blood to bypass the dog’s liver 
  • Dental Disease: Like all small breeds, the dog is prone to plaque & tartar buildup, resulting in periodontal disease 

Preventative Care and Regular Checkups

To ensure your Maltese stays healthy and happy, it’s important to provide it with proper preventative care. This includes regular checkups with your veterinarian and staying up to date on vaccinations and parasite control. 

Life Expectancy

The average lifespan of a Maltese is between 12 and 15 years, although some members of the breed can live longer with proper care and attention. 


Overall, the Maltese is a friendly, playful, and intelligent dog. Whether you’re a first-time dog owner or an experienced pet parent, the Maltese is sure to bring joy to your life.

By understanding Maltese’s history, physical characteristics, personality traits, and health concerns, you can provide it with the care and attention it needs to thrive. 

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