The Maltese dog breed is a toy breed that always gets a second look. These small, all-white dogs are for those who want a pretty little thing as a pet to shower care and affection. Even though they look pretty innocuous as a lap dog, they are feisty little dogs that can take on much larger dogs if needed. They make good watchdogs and companions for those who have limited space.
Maltese dogs originated in the Mediterranean region, probably in the island of Malta as the name indicates, or perhaps it refers to another island called Mljet in the Adriatic or a town called Melita in Sicily. Whatever the exact place of origin, they are known to be around for several thousand years. Many writings and artwork dating back to the 5th century, and even as far back as 300 B.C stand evidence to the ancient origins of the breed, making it the oldest among the toy breeds of European origin.
When first introduced to England sometime in the early part of the 14th century, these dogs remained the prerogative of the elite class who had the leisure and means to pamper these beautiful dogs. They enjoyed an enviable position as the status symbol of the nobility who showed them off as lapdogs. However, by the time the 19th century came around, their popularity dipped to an all time low, and the breed became nearly extinct in England.
The breed was reinstated later when a pair of them reached England purportedly as a gift for Queen Victoria from Manila. When these dogs first appeared in the show circles, they were mistakenly called Maltese Terriers. They first reached the United States towards the end of the 19th century and came to be known as “Maltese Lion Dogs”. They became instantly popular and was recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1888.
Measuring between 7 and 12 inches and weighing just 5 to 8 pounds, Maltese dogs are light and compact. The pendulant ears and small tail are covered by long, white, silky hair as is the whole body, the dark nose and eyes offering a contrast.
These dogs always had their long coat, but it used to come in several colors earlier. But selective breeding has resulted in an all-white coat in the dogs we see today. They may have a bit of cream or off-white shade around the ears. For easy maintenance many people give them a ‘puppy cut’ keeping the hair just one inch long all over.
The Maltese dog breed is playful and active, always seeking human company and affection. They feel secure and homely in enclosed spaces, and are ideal for apartment dwellers and people who have constraints taking their dog out for long walks and other outdoor activities. Even though exercise is essential for good health and temperament, what these dogs need most is plenty of cuddles and a cozy place on their owner’s lap. They get separation anxiety if left alone for even short periods.
These dogs can get along with children, but are known to be snappy when rough handled by young children. Early socialization is necessary to reduce this tendency. Another problem with these dogs is constant barking that can be a big problem in a small apartment, and is a common reason cited for abandonment.
Grooming and exercise
Grooming of the Maltese dog breed understandably takes quite a bit of time and effort. The long, silky coat needs to be thoroughly brushed everyday to keep it in good condition. They do not have an undercoat, but the single coat is quite dense, but non-shedding. It requires a monthly trim to maintain it at the length you want. Show dogs get professional trimming, which can work out to be expensive.
The Maltese dogs do need daily exercise, but nothing too strenuous. A brisk walk around the yard or a few laps of running should be sufficient to keep them healthy and in good spirits.
These dogs are indoor pets through and through, and should be kept within the house except when taken out for brief outdoor stints. They need plenty of affection and pampering by their owners.
Common health issues of Maltese dog breed
The Maltese dog breed is generally healthy as no serious disorders are commonly seen in these dogs. Some of them may be troubled by eye disorders such as distichiasis and entropion. Hypoglycemia and patellar luxation are occasionally seen. Some of the congenital abnormalities found in this breed are hydrocephalus, open fontanel, and portacaval shunt. Dental complaints are common in these dogs.
The average life expectancy of this breed 12 to 13 years, but several dogs may live up to 15 years.