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A Maltese dog.
Country of origin Central Mediterranean Area [1]
Patronage Italy [1]
Weight Male 4-7 lb.
Female 4-7 lb.
Height Male 8-10 in.
Female 7.5-9 in.
Coat White
Litter size avg. 3 puppies
Life span 12-14 years[2]

The Maltese is a small breed of dog in the toy group, known for its silky white hair, though many owners of pet Maltese give them a short "puppy cut" for ease of grooming.[3] The Maltese breed is descended from dogs originating in the Central Mediterranean Area. The breed name and origins are generally understood to derive from the Mediterranean island of Malta; however, the name is sometimes described with reference to the Adriatic island of Méléda, or a defunct Sicilian town called Melita.[4][5][6][7]



This ancient breed has been known by a variety of names throughout the centuries. Originally called the "Canis Melitaeus" in Latin, it has also been known in English as the "ancient dog of Malta," the "Roman Ladies' Dog," the "Maltese Lion Dog," and the "Bichon" amongst other names. The Kennel Club settled on the name "Maltese" for the breed in the 19th century.[4]

The Maltese is thought to have been descended from a Spitz type dog found among the Swiss Lake dwellers and was selectively bred to obtain its small size. There is also some evidence that the breed originated in Asia and is related to the Tibetan Terrier; however, the exact origin is unknown.[8][9] The dogs probably made their way to Europe through the Middle East with the migration of nomadic tribes. Some writers believe these proto-Maltese were used for rodent control[6][10] before the appearance of the breed gained paramount importance.

The oldest record of this breed was found on a Greek amphora[11] found in the Etruscan town of Vulci, in which a Maltese-like dog is portrayed along with the word Μελιταιε (Melitaie). Archaeologists date this ancient Athenian product to the decades around 500 B. C.[12] References to the dog can also be found in Ancient Greek and Roman literature.[13]

Aristotle was the first to mention its name Melitaei Catelli, when he compares the dog to a Mustelidae, around 370 BC.[14][15] The first written document (supported by Stephanus of Byzantium[5][16][17][18]) describing the small Canis Melitaeus was given by the Greek writer Callimachus, around 350 BC.[19] Pliny suggests the dog as having taken its name from the island of Adriatic island Méléda;[16] however, Strabo, in the early first century AD, identifies the breed as originating from the Mediterranean island of Malta,[7][20] and writes that they were favored by noble women.[4][17][19][21]

During the first century, the Roman poet Martial wrote descriptive verses to a small white dog named Issa owned by his friend Publius.[22] It is commonly thought that Issa was a Maltese dog, and various sources link Martial's Publius with the Roman Governor Publius of Malta,[23] though others do not identify him.[24]

John Caius, physician to Queen Elizabeth I, also claimed that Callimachus was referring to the island of Melita "in the Sicilian strait" (Malta).[17] This claim is often repeated, especially by English writers.[6][25] The dog's links to Malta are mentioned in the writings of Abbé Jean Quintin d'Autun, Secretary to the Grand Master of the Knights of Malta Philippe Villiers de L'Isle-Adam, in his work of 1536, Insulae Melitae Descriptio.[26]

Around the 17th and 18th centuries some breeders decided to "improve" the breed, by making it smaller still. Linnaeus wrote in 1792 that these dogs were about the size of a squirrel.[6][19] The breed nearly disappeared and was crossbred with other small dogs such as Poodles and miniature Spaniels. In the early 19th century there were as many as nine different breeds of Maltese dog.[6]

Parti-colour and solid colour dogs were accepted in the show ring from 1902 until 1913 in England,[27] and as late as 1950 in Victoria, Australia.[28] However, white Maltese were required to be pure white. Coloured Maltese could be obtained from the south of France.[28]


Maltese Puppy

The Maltese had been recognized as a FCI breed under the patronage of Italy in 1954, at the annual meeting in Interlaken, Switzerland. The current FCI standard is dated November 27, 1989, and the latest translation from Italian to English is dated April 6, 1998. The American Kennel Club recognized the breed in 1888, its latest standard being from March 10, 1964.



Characteristics include slightly rounded skulls, with a finger-wide dome and black nose that is two finger-widths long. The body is compact with the length equaling the height. The drop ears with long hair and very dark eyes, surrounded by darker skin pigmentation (called a "halo"), gives Maltese their expressive look. Their noses can fade and become pink or light brown in color without exposure to sunlight. This is often referred to as a "winter nose"[29] and many times will become black again with increased exposure to the sun.

Coat and color

Maltese with a puppy-cut.

The coat is long and silky and lacks an undercoat. The color is pure white; although cream or light lemon ears are permissible, they are not regarded as desirable. Also, a pale ivory tinge is permitted. In some standards, traces of pale orange shades are tolerated, but considered an imperfection.[1]


Adult Maltese range from roughly 3 to 7 lb (1.4 to 3.2 kg), though breed standards, as a whole, call for weights between 4 and 7 lb (1.8 and 3.2 kg). There are variations depending on which standard is being used. Many, like the American Kennel Club, call for a weight that is ideally less than 7 lb with between 4 and 6 lb preferred.


Maltese are bred to be cuddly companion dogs, and thrive on love and attention. They are extremely lively and playful, and even as a Maltese ages, his or her energy level and playful demeanor remain fairly constant. Some Maltese may occasionally be snappish with smaller children and should be supervised when playing, although socializing them at a young age will reduce this habit.[30] The Maltese is very active within a house, and, preferring enclosed spaces, does very well with small yards. For this reason, the breed also fares well in apartments and townhouses, and is a prized pet of urban dwellers.[31] Maltese have a bad reputation as yappers.[32]

An Australia-wide (not including Tasmania) research project carried out in conjunction with RSPCA found owners likely to dump their Maltese terriers,[33] citing the tendency of Maltese to bark constantly.[33] This breed is Australia's most dumped dog.[34]


A Maltese dog that exhibits signs of tear staining[35] underneath eyes and around the muzzle.

Maltese have no undercoat, and have little to no shedding if cared for properly. Like their relatives Poodles and Bichon Frisé, they are considered to be largely hypoallergenic and many people who are allergic to dogs may not be allergic to the Maltese (See list of Hypoallergenic dog breeds). Daily cleaning is required to prevent the risk of tear-staining.

Regular grooming is also required to prevent the coats of non-shedding dogs from matting. Many owners will keep their Maltese clipped in a "puppy cut," a 1 - 2" all over trim that makes the dog resemble a puppy. Some owners, especially those who show Maltese in the sport of conformation, prefer to wrap the long fur to keep it from matting and breaking off, and then to show the dog with the hair unwrapped combed out to its full length.

Dark staining in the hair around the eyes, "tear staining,"[35] can be a problem in this breed, and is mostly a function of how much the individual dog's eyes water and the size of the tear ducts. Tear stain can be readily removed if a fine-toothed metal comb, moistened with lukewarm water, is carefully drawn through the snout hair just below the eyes. This maintenance activity must be performed every two or three days, as a layer of sticky film is quick to redevelop. If the face is kept dry and cleaned daily, the staining can be minimized. Many veterinarians recommend avoiding foods treated with food coloring, and serving distilled water to reduce tear staining.

Crossbred Maltese dogs

A Maltese/ Cocker Spaniel mixed breed.

A crossbreed is a dog with two pure bred parents of different breeds. Dogs traditionally were crossed in this manner in hopes of creating a puppy with desirable qualities from each parent. Crossbreeds are typically larger than the pure breeds.[36] For pet dogs, crosses may be done to enhance the marketability of puppies, and are often given cute portmanteau names. Maltese are often deliberately crossed with Shih Tzus and Poodles to produce small, fluffy lap dogs. Maltese-Poodle crosses are called Maltipoos. Maltese crossed with Pugs are also seeing an increase in popularity. Maltese with Shih Tzus are called Mal-Shihs, Shihtese, or Mitzus. This results in a dog which is a small, friendly animal and may have a unique low (or no) shedding coat.

Maltese crosses, like other crossbred dogs, are not eligible for registration by kennel clubs as they are not a breed of dog. Each kennel club has specific requirements for the registration of new breeds of dog, usually requiring careful record keeping for many generations, and the development of a breed club. At times, a crossbred dog will result in a new breed, as in the case in the 1950s when a Maltese and Lhasa Apso were accidentally bred. Descendants of that breeding are now a "purebred" breed of dog, the Kyi-Leo.

See also


  1. ^ a b c Davis, Peggy (translator) (1999-06-04). "Maltese". FCI standard No. 65. Retrieved 2009-04-14. 
  2. ^ "Maltese". Animal Planet dog breed directory. Retrieved 2009-08-29. 
  3. ^ Hochberg, Ilene (2007). Dogs by Design: How to Find the Right Mixed Breed for You. New York and London: Sterling Publishing Company. p. 113. ISBN 1402743548. Retrieved 2009-04-17. 
  4. ^ a b c Drury, William (1903). British Dogs - Their Points, Selection, and Show Preparation. L. U. Gill. pp. 575–581.,+Selection,+And+Show+Preparation&lr=#PPA575,M1. Retrieved 2009-04-14. 
  5. ^ a b Lee, Rawdon Briggs (1894). A history and description of the modern dogs of Great Britain and Ireland. (Non-sporting division.). London: H. Cox. pp. 312–322.,M1. 
  6. ^ a b c d e Hyytinen, Iiris. "Maltese - A Lovely Little Toy Dog". Retrieved 2009-04-14. 
  7. ^ a b Cramer, John Anthony (1828). Geographical and Historical Description of Ancient Greece. Clarendon Press. pp. 45–46.,M1. Retrieved 2009-04-16. 
  8. ^ Leitch, Virginia T. (1953). The Maltese dog. Jon Vir kennels. 
  9. ^ Carno, Dennis; Virginia T. Leitch (1970). The Maltese Dog: A History of the Breed. International Institute of Veterinary Science. 
  10. ^ Maratona, Annamaria. "History and Origin of the Maltese Dog". Anna's Heavenly Maltese. Retrieved 2009-04-15. 
  11. ^ "A Vase painting of a Catuli Melitaei dog". Retrieved 2009-04-14. 
  12. ^ Johnson, Helen M. (1919). "The Portrayal of the Dog on Greek Vases". The Classical World XII (27): 209–213.,M1. 
  13. ^ Busuttil, J. (1969). The Maltese Dog. Cambridge University Press. pp. 205–208. 
  14. ^ Aristotle; Giulio Cesare Scaligero and Johann Gottlob Schneider (1811). De animalibus historiae (Latin) (History of Animals). X. In Bibliopolio Hahniano. p. 391. Retrieved 2009-04-14.  (Latin)
    Ictis autem est Melitaei catelli magnitudine; pilo autem et facie et candore ventris atque ciiain morum maleficio mustelae similis.
  15. ^ Raymond-Mallock, Lillian C. (2005) [1924]. The Up-to-date Toy Dog: History, Points and Standards, With Notes on Breeding and Showing. Read Books. pp. 72–74. ISBN 1846640695. Retrieved 2009-04-14. 
  16. ^ a b C. Plinius Secundus; Philemon Holland (translator, 1601). The Historie of the World. Book III. pp. 50–71. Retrieved 2009-04-16. 
  17. ^ a b c Wentworth (1911). Toy Dogs and Their Ancestors: Including the History and Management of Toy Spaniels, Pekingese, Japanese, and Pomeranians. Duckworth.,M1. Retrieved 2009-04-16. 
  18. ^ Unknown (September and December, 1815). "An Answer to A Late Book Written against the Learned and Revered Dr. Bentley, relating to some Manuscript Notes on Callimachus". The Classical Journal (London: A. J. Valpy) XII: 373.,M1. Retrieved 2009-04-16. 
  19. ^ a b c Fulda, Joe (1995). Maltese: Everything about Purchase, Care, Nutrition, Breeding, Behavior, and Training. Barron's Educational Services. ISBN 0812093321.,M1. Retrieved 2009-04-15. 
  20. ^ Jean Quintin d'Autun Insulae Melitae Descriptio, 1536, vii, "Huic insulae Strabo nobiles illos, adagio, non minus quam medicinis..."
  21. ^ Thomas Spencer Baynes, ed (1890). "Malta". Encyclopædia Britannica. 15 (9th ed.). The Henry G. Allen Company. pp. 339–343.,M1. Retrieved 2009-04-16. 
  22. ^ Serpell, James (1996). In the company of animals: a study of human-animal relationships. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521577799. Retrieved 2009-04-16. 
  23. ^ Blarney, Edwin Reginald; Charles Topping Inglee; American Kennel Club. The complete dog book. The care, handling, and feeding of dogs; and Pure bred dogs; the recognized breeds and standards. p. 622. 
  24. ^ Vioque, Guillermo Galán; J. J. Zoltowski, Martial (2002). Martial, book VII: a commentary. BRILL. p. 467. ISBN 9004123385.,M1. Retrieved 2009-04-16. 
  25. ^ Bryant, Jacob, Esq. (1807). A New system, or, An Analysis of Antient Mythology: Wherein an Attempt is Made to Divest Tradition of Fable and to Reduce the Truth to its Original Purity. V (3rd ed.). London: J. Walker. p. 359.,M1. Retrieved 2009-04-16. 
  26. ^ Jean Quintin d'Autun Insulae Melitae Descriptio, 1536
  27. ^ Foxstone Maltese - Maltese Breed History by Sharon Pearson, Eads, Colorado, member of the American Maltese Association, retrieved 2009-04-14
  28. ^ a b 'The Maltese of the Past' by Trudy Dalziel - Snowsheen Maltese (Maltese Kennel Club of Victoria, Australia) at, retrieved 2009-04-14
  29. ^ Maltese Only FAQ
  30. ^ I Just Got a Puppy, What Do I Do? by Mordecai Siegal, Matthew Margolis, and Tara Darling, Simon and Schuster, 2002.
  31. ^ Planet dog: a doglopedia by Harry Choron, Houghton Mifflin, 2005.
  32. ^ Puppy Parenting: Everything You Need to Know About Your Puppy's First Year by Jan Greye, Gail Smith, and Beverly Beyette, Harper Collins, 2002.
  33. ^ a b Dog Dumpage factsheets at Burke's Backyard done in conjunction with the RSPCA, Australia, 2004
  34. ^ Burke, Don. The Complete Burke's Backyard: The Ultimate Book of Fact Sheets, Murdoch Books, 2005, pp 831-832
  35. ^ a b Is There a Cure for Maltese Eye Stain? from, retrieved 2009-05-14
  36. ^

External links


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