One of the few breeds bred for companionship, the Maltese is known to be gentle and affectionate. Not surprising to Maltese owners, these little dogs are also active and playful. Even with their diminutive size, the Maltese can be relatively fearless. Their small size makes the Maltese suitable for apartment life, but their energy makes them suitable for other activities such as obedience, agility, and so much more.
The Maltese is an ancient breed with reports of these dogs stemming from around 500 B.C. While it is known the Maltese originated from the Mediterranean, the exact location is not known. With the uncertain location of the Maltese origin, the breed has been called by many names over the years, including Melita, Ancient Dog of Malta, Roman Ladies Dog, and Maltese Lion Dog. The name Maltese was finally settled upon in the 19th century.
It is believed that little white dogs were brought to the Mediterranean with nomadic peoples. It is unsure if they were bred from Swiss Spitz dogs or Asian dogs such as the Tibetan Terrier. Originally, the Maltese may have been used to hunt rats before they made the switch to companions. As companion dogs, the Maltese were favored by noble women.
In the 17th or 18th century, breeders wanted to try to make the Maltese smaller, around the size of a squirrel. Today’s Maltese breed standard is for them to be less than 7 pounds, with 4-6 pounds being preferred.
Shortly after this time, the Maltese almost went extinct. Small poodles and spaniels were used to try to reintroduce the breed. At one point there were nine varieties of Maltese dogs, some with color.
In 1954, the Maltese was entered in a European registry as being from Italy and a standard was accepted.
The Maltese is a very striking dog with dark eyes and a black “gumdrop” nose against pure white fur. The single coat should be long and silky and may reach the ground. The fur on the face can be put up with bows into a top knot. Some people, however, will keep their Maltese trimmed in a “puppy cut.” The Maltese is fine boned, but the leg and joint structure is that of an athlete.
There is a long list of potential health disorders, however, most are rare. Maltese are generally a long lived, healthy breed.
Like most toy dogs, dental disease is a big problem. Home dental care, with regular veterinary cleanings, is important to prevent tooth loss and the need for teeth extractions.
The eyes can have several potential maladies, including distichia – inward growing hair – improper tear drainage causing staining, cataracts, and glaucoma.
Some birth defects to watch for include cleft palates, hernias, open fontanelle, hydrocephalus, and Patent Ductus Arteriosis. Solid white dogs may also be deaf in one or both ears. Many toy breeds are also prone to having liver shunting, microvascular dysplasia of the liver, juvenile hypoglycemia, glycogen storage disease, luxating patellas, and Legge-Calve-Perthes disease of the hips.
Maltese may be more prone to certain neurologic conditions such as syringohydromyelia, encephalitis, and White Shaker Dog Syndrome which causes tremors.
Collapsing trachea can occur in Maltese and heart murmurs are not uncommon as they age. Any coughing should be evaluated by a veterinarian. Reverse sneezing can sound like a cough or gag and can also happen in Maltese.
Reputable breeders have been trying to screen for and eliminate many of the health concerns in the Maltese. Researching and interviewing them will help you find the perfect, happy little Maltese.