What is a Maltese?

wiseGEEK Writer

The Maltese, sometimes called a Maltie, is a small white lap dog that has been bred as a companion breed for literally over a thousand years. The Maltese results from a cross between the Bichon Frise and the Poodle, and is prized for its intelligence, its low-shed coat, and the ease at which the dog can be trained. Some people now train Maltese as visiting dogs to hospitals and convalescent homes, where their small size and hypoallergenic coat make them quite welcome to patients. Their ability to be affectionate with new people makes them valuable assets as visiting or therapy dogs.

A Poodle is mated with a Bichon Frise to produce a Maltese.
A Poodle is mated with a Bichon Frise to produce a Maltese.

Maltese are quite small—at full size the largest Maltese may weigh about 10 pounds (4.54 kg). Some are significantly smaller than this size, with weights as low as three to four pounds (1.36-1.81kg). Concern exists about Maltese that are very small, as females may have difficulty bearing pups, and in general, the small size may indicate poor health or overbreeding.

Queen Elizabeth I owned a Maltese.
Queen Elizabeth I owned a Maltese.

The dog should appear pure white, with a black button nose and dark brown eyes. The coat of the Maltese is very long, the upper parts extending past the feet. Many owners who have a Maltese for companionship don’t relish the daily coat care and simply have the dogs groomed with a short puppy cut. When they have the shorter cut, Malties greatly resemble their ancestor the Bichon Frise.

Like most white dogs, Maltese dogs are prone to tear-staining, small dark brown spots that appear below the eyes. Wiping the eyes once a day can help reduce this issue though it may not completely eliminate it. Using bleach to remove tear staining is not recommended since it can damage the dog’s eyes.

Maltese are known for their easy companionship, and they have been owned by many historical figures in the past. Queen Elizabeth I, Marie Antoinette and Queen Victoria all owned at least one Maltese. They were sometimes called Roman’s ladies dogs of old, since Roman women might carry the dog in large bell sleeves. Maltese thrive on companionship; it’s simply in their nature to be social. They therefore need pretty constant companionship and are not a good dog choice for people who are often away from home.

There’s some debate about the suitability of the Maltese temperament in homes with children. One concern is that the small size of the dog could make them prone to injury if a child accidentally trips or steps on the dog. While this may be the case, similar concern exists with kids and small cats. Decision about whether a Maltese is suited to your home and family should take into consideration the potential clumsiness of any household member, and whether children might be likely to roughhouse with the dog. If such is the case, a less delicately built dog may be a better choice.

Maltese dogs can be charming, but they should always be obtained from a reputable breeder and chosen for families with adequate time for the dog. Unfortunately, because they are greatly popular, disreputable breeders and puppy mills frequently overbreed this small dog. Choosing a breeder recommended by a humane animal organization like the American Kennel Club will help you support legitimate breeders and not fund puppy mills.

The Maltese is considered an easily trained dog.
The Maltese is considered an easily trained dog.

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Discussion Comments


@dill1971: A Maltese makes a wonderful pet but they can be time consuming. Their hair needs to be combed and brushed at least 3 times a week. If you groom them properly, they rarely shed. You also need to wash their face every day so that they develop tear stains under their eyes.

The ears need to be cleaned with cotton balls. They need their teeth brushed regularly with canine toothpaste to prevent tooth loss.


My daughter wants a puppy and we went to our local pet store and she fell in love with a litter of Maltese puppies. I have heard that a lot of care is involved with these dogs. Is it really that bad?

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