The Maltese dog fits the bill for a “froufrou” dog: it is small, has a fanciful fur coat and is often either dressed up in an outfit or has its “bangs” tied back in a top knot, sometimes accompanied by a frilly bow.

Centuries ago, the Maltese was a favorite choice among aristocrats and ladies of nobility, favored particularly for their small size and “royal” appearance.

Today, the dog is still one of the most popular, so cherished by American families that it continues to be one of the top 10 most-wanted dogs in the country, according to the American Kennel Club.

Maltese dog

While the exact origin on the Maltese dog is unknown, several theories prevail. The oldest-known record was discovered on a Greek ceramic vase found in Vulci, an ancient Etruscan town. The vase, dating back to roughly 500 B.C., features a Maltese-like dog. In addition, ancient Greek and Roman literature make reference to the same dog.

Another theory is that the Maltese may have originated from Asia and were selectively bred to be a small-sized dog. Some believe the dog simply migrated from the Middle East with nomadic tribes, while others think the dog originated on Malta, a small Mediterranean island off the coast of Sicily, from which the breed got its name.

Whichever the case, the Maltese is undoubtedly one of the oldest breeds of dogs. Aristotle wrote of the dog around 370 B.C. and the Roman poet Martial wrote frequently about “Issa,” a small white dog owned by his friend Publius, during the first century.

Over the course of time, the Maltese was crossbred with other dogs, including the poodle and miniature spaniels. By the 19th century there were nine different variations of the breed.

Due to its high energy level, regular exercise and obedience training is recommended to curb any bad behavior or constant yapping.

Many Maltese owners describe their dogs as having puppy-like behavior throughout their lives. This breed is a very lively, playful dog that thrives on human companionship and attention.

Despite its small size, the Maltese is a very active dog, one that enjoys outdoor activities — and one that is also known to perform well on agility courses. Due to its high energy level, regular exercise and obedience training is recommended to curb any bad behavior or constant yapping.

While the Maltese tends to behave well around children and other pets, the breed can become over protective and snappish without obedience training. The dog can also be difficult to housebreak if pampered too much and, if left alone for long periods of time, is known to develop separation anxiety.

Maltese dog

The Maltese is a small, sturdy white dog that usually sports one of two “looks”: either with strikingly long silky hair that falls straight to the ground, or a shorter, cropped look known as the “puppy” cut.

The majority of Maltese owners seem to prefer the shorter cut, as it is easier to manage. Typically, Maltese dogs headed for the show ring will retain the longer coat.

The average Maltese weighs approximately 5 to 12 pounds, although show standards prefer the breed to be no more than 7 pounds.

Maltese Dog Grooming

Due to their long coat, regular grooming is recommended to prevent matting. Because of the dog's bright white coat, dark staining around the eyes, also called “tear staining,” and mouth can occur but is easily treatable with routine — and gentle — combing combined with lukewarm water. There are also products available in pet stores that can help prevent tear stains; however, always be sure to ask your veterinarian if they are safe for your Maltese before using.

Maltese dogs shed very little with routine grooming. While many consider the dog to be hypoallergenic, it should be acknowledged that no one dog is truly capable of being hypoallergenic.

The difference between coats from one dog breed to the next is the amount of dander (dead skin) and fur it tends to shed. Allergic reactions to dogs are due mainly to allergens (proteins) found in saliva and to a lesser extent dander or the urine of dogs. There is no guarantee that you or someone in your family will not develop allergies to this particular dog breed.

Maltese dog

Maltese dogs can suffer from a variety of health conditions. While these may be common medical conditions, your Maltese will not necessarily develop those listed below.

  • Aberrant cilia is a condition when eyelashes grow in an abnormal direction. The eyelashes may then rub and irritate the eye and eyelid. Worst case scenario: an abrasion or ulceration occurs on the surface (cornea) of the dog’s eye.
  • Congenital hydrocephalus is caused by birth defects of the brain's drainage system and is not uncommon in the breed. Mild hydrocephalus, manifested by a dome shaped skull with a pronounced “soft spot,” does not appear to cause serious clinical problems in many dogs. Severe hydrocephalus may cause depression, loss of coordinated movement, eye abnormalities, vision problems, seizures, and skull enlargement.
  • Congenital patellar luxation is caused by anatomical defects of the bones that make up the knee joint. It is manifested by the kneecap (patella) slipping in and out of its normal location in the knee. Mildly affected dogs may carry the leg for 2 or 3 steps while walking. Severely affected dogs may become severely lame and refuse to use their rear legs. Surgical correction of this condition is very rewarding.
  • Cryptorchidism is a condition when the testicles fail to descend into the dog’s scrotum.
  • Eye disorders such as retinal atrophy, cataracts and glaucoma have been described in the breed but they are quite rare.
  • Hypoglycemia happens when a Maltese puppy's blood sugar is too low. This may be caused by a habitually long period of time between meals. Other environmental factors can exacerbate this condition, including stress, fatigue, a cold environment, poor nutrition or a bacterial infection, parasite or portosystemic shunt. Immediate treatment is required to try to prevent permanent brain damage or death.
  • Idiopathic Tremor Syndrome (White shaker dog syndrome) is generalized tremors of unknown cause that have been described in the breed. Treatment with immunosuppressive drugs is used to treat the tremors.
  • Monorchidism occurs when there is a single testis in the dog’s scrotum.
  • Reverse sneezing sounds like a honking, snorting, or gagging sound and usually occurs due to overexcitement, play, allergies, or when waking up. It's not life threatening, but owners should take measures to calm their Maltese down. Always consult a veterinarian if your Maltese reverse sneezes excessively.
As with any pet, be sure to regularly visit a veterinarian for routine care and medical advice for your four-legged friend.