Malteses – Choosing a Maltese

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The Maltese dog breed has a long and distinguished history. As the most dramatic member of the toy breed group, the Maltese's long white flowing coat may have been the reason he was a favorite of Queen Elizabeth I.

History and Origin

For over 28 centuries, the Maltese has been depicted in paintings, ceramics and literature. The breed has even been memorialized in Greek tombs and is typically thought of as a dog of royalty and nobility. With a Mediterranean heritage, the breed hails from Malta and has always been a human companion and beloved pet.

The origins of the Maltese are traced back to spaniels, not terriers as you might think. The long silky white hair coat hangs to the ground and made the breed a cherished pet of noble ladies in the 1800s. Due to their diminutive size, these dogs were typically carried in the ladies' sleeves or tucked into their bosom.

In 1877, the Maltese was first shown at the Westminster Dog Show. At that time, the breed was called the Maltese Lion Dog. In 1879, the breed was again shown at Westminster, this time under the name Maltese Skye terrier, though it is not a terrier. Eventually, the breed was accepted into the toy breed group of the American Kennel Club as the Maltese in 1888.

Appearance and Size

The most striking characteristic of the Maltese is the long, silky, white hair coat. The breed is tiny, standing 8 to 10 inches high at the shoulder and weighing only 4 to 6 pounds, but he has the appearance of elegance and grace. The neck is long and the rounded head is held high. The muzzle is moderate in size and the ears are set low. The hair on top of the head is typically divided in the center and gathered into two topknots, secured with rubber bands.


Though the Maltese is tiny and looks like a terrier, the breed is actually associated more with spaniels. This means that the Maltese is not known for mischief and troublemaking that plagues the terrier group. Quiet and docile, the Maltese enjoys spending peaceful time with his companions. But, the Maltese can also be lively and active when necessary.

Home and Family Relations

The Maltese is a loving and devoted family pet. He can spend hours on a family member's lap, relishing the attention. Since they are tiny, they are not recommended for small rambunctious children or older rough playing children. The Maltese is an excellent dog for the elderly. If the hair coat is kept groomed, shedding is minimal.


The Maltese is the quintessential pet. Other than standard obedience, he does not really need further training.

Special Concerns

The long flowing hair coat of the Maltese requires daily grooming. People unable to groom daily sometimes choose to have the hair trimmed.

Common Diseases and Disorders

  • Patellar luxation is a disorder affecting the kneecap.
  • Hypoglycemia is a disorder of low blood sugar characterized by fainting spells and seizures.
  • Portosystemic shunt is a malformation of the blood flow associated with the liver. The blood is shunted away from the liver, resulting in accumulation of blood toxins and subsequent profound illness.
  • Cryptorchidism is a condition in which one or both testicles do not descend into the scrotum.
  • White shaker disease is a tremor condition seen in small white dogs.
  • Patent ductus arteriosis (PDA) is a congenital birth defect caused by a blood vessel that normally closes after birth, but remains open resulting in the passage of extra volumes of blood into the lungs.
  • Chronic valvular heart disease (VHD) is a condition characterized by degeneration and thickening of the heart valves.
  • Malassezia dermatitis – is a yeast infection of the skin caused by Malassezia pachydermatitis.
  • Pyloric stenosis – is a congenital hypertrophy of the pyloric muscle which can cause vomiting and obstruction.
  • Hydrocephalus is a neurological disease in which there is excessive accumulation of cerebrospinal fluid within the ventricular system of the brain.
  • Distichiasis is a condition in which there is growth of extra eyelashes from the glands of the upper or lower eyelid.
  • Glaucoma is a disease of the eye that develops when the pressure within the eye increases which can lead to blindness.
  • Progressive retinal atrophy is a disease that causes nerve cells at the back of the eye to degenerate. The condition usually begins in older pets and can lead to blindness.

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