The Maltese is one of the world’s most popular lapdogs. The breed’s pristine white fur, inquisitive eyes and trusting nature are loved by fans of small dogs and show canines alike. While their origins are unclear – historically, Maltese dogs have often been confused with other similar toy breeds – we do know these little guys have been our companions for an extraordinarily long time.
There are many ancient Egyptian artifacts that depict Maltese dogs as pets and a Roman governor reportedly doted on his Maltese back in the days of the Empire. Queen Elizabeth and her sister Mary Queen of Scots also owned and cherished Maltese pups. So, we know the breed is very old indeed.
Despite this, Maltese dogs are often thought to be quiet, dull pets with significantly more beauty than brains. Here are 10 paw-some Maltese facts.
10. One Of The World’s Oldest Breeds
Considering there’s no clear origin story for the Maltese breed, history gives us a remarkable account of just how long these dogs have been our pets. Some believe the breed dates back to 500 B.C and the time of Aristotle who is likely the first person to reference the Maltese in written documents.
Documents from ancient Rome tell us the Emperor Publius owned a Maltese called Issa. Evidence suggests he lavished the dog with gifts and treated her like a child. We’re not joking when we say there’s both a painting of Issa and a poem dedicated to her beauty by writer Marcus Valerius Martial.
09. A Talented Gymnast
It’s a wonderful thing to see a Maltese jump. Looking at this little dog with his diminutive stature, it’s quite a surprise to discover how springy he can be. He has powerful legs and can leap high into the air. Many owners have been mystified by escapee pets only to later catch them jumping over safety gates.
Maltese dogs are lively gymnasts and will hurdle barriers, leap across furniture, and escape enclosures with vigor. If leaving one of these dogs unsupervised, you’re advised to keep fragile items as high up as possible. Don’t be fooled. The little white cloud might look dainty but he’s an Olympian in training.
08. Vulnerable To Sunburn
All dogs can be sunburned, but Maltese is particularly vulnerable. These little dogs have very pale skin beneath their fur and no undercoat like other breeds do. Even though they appear fluffy, their hair is fine and easily penetrated by strong sunlight. Owners should take extra care when walking them in summer.
Some tips for protecting your Maltese are applying balm when their nose is dry, using a sunscreen designed for canines and avoiding walks between noon and three o’clock as sunlight is at its strongest then. If you’re worried your dog might have a sunburn, check his tummy area first. This spot is particularly vulnerable because the sun reflects off the ground and up onto his soft underbelly.
07. Often Used As A Therapy Animal
Maltese dogs are highly sought after as therapy pets because they have a fearless nature. They’re not only affectionate, but they’re also very trusting. These furballs greet everybody as a friend whether they’re a human, another dog or even a cat. It’s extremely rare for them to show aggression and they are less reticent around strangers than other canines.
This makes them marvelous therapy dogs as they’re happy to introduce themselves to anybody with a treat. They will leap onto laps, accept strokes and show great affection for humans who offer it in return. The breed is commonly used to help people with anxiety, depression and other psychological disorders.
06. Some Maltese Have Tear Stained Eyes
This isn’t as sad as it sounds, we promise. Some Maltese dogs are prone to patches of discoloration beneath their eyes. This is referred to as ‘tear staining’ and it can make the eyes and mouth look brown or rusty red color. The good news is tear stains don’t pose medical problems. They’re almost always harmless and more of an aesthetic issue than anything else.
Tear stains are caused when they have unusually watery eyes or, in some cases, slightly larger tear ducts than usual. As long as this overactivity is not the result of an underlying physical problem (such as poor diet, ingrown eyelashes, etc.), there’s no health risk to your pup. Some owners use topical lightening solutions anyway to return the fur to a uniform color.
05. Maltese Dogs Have A Winter Nose
First-time Maltese owners can be very alarmed in winter when their dog’s nose suddenly becomes patchy and discolored. This is referred to as ‘winter nose’ and it is completely harmless. For reasons that still aren’t clear, some canine breeds develop a form of vitiligo in the winter months.
The Maltese is one of these breeds, as is the Siberian Husky, Golden Retriever and Bernese Mountain Dog. As their exposure to daylight decreases, their noses turn from jet black to a light brown or rosy pink color. This happens gradually in blotchy patches and looks rather strange if you’ve never seen it before. Don’t worry, as soon as warmer days arrive, your pooch’s nose will darken back up again.
04. Breeding Trends Almost Wiped The Maltese Out
In the 17th and 18th centuries, attempts were made to produce a Maltese dog as small as a squirrel. Sadly, breeders were so aggressive in their haste to do this that they caused countless deaths and deformities. Eventually, it was feared the breed might become totally extinct due to health problems relating to these breeding programs.
Drastic interventions were called for and breeders began to cross them with a variety of other small breeds. This would save it from extinction and lead to the creation of some iconic dogs such as the Bichon Frise, Havanese, and Bolognese.
03. Has A Big Dog’s Energy
According to the American Kennel Club, the Maltese dog has a ‘medium’ energy level. Considering it’s a very small breed, this should tell you a lot about how lively and dynamic these pets are. They can be kept in small apartments without gardens but they must be exercised outdoors at least once per day.
These white furballs with no outlet for their energy are likely to race around the house causing mayhem. They may also develop behavioral problems due to a lack of stimulation. Ideally, you should walk your dog twice per day (for a minimum of 15 minutes per walk) to ensure they’re getting plenty of new sensations and opportunities for play.
02. Has A Very Long Lifespan
If you decide to own a Maltese, be ready to own him for a delightfully long time. While many similar sized breeds top out at a maximum lifespan of twelve years, they can live as long as eighteen years. For Maltese dogs in good health, twelve years is the minimum life expectancy. Consider this carefully before you make the decision to own one.
You should also be aware of the breed’s physical vulnerabilities. Maltese and other small canines can suffer from overdevelopment of dental cavities. They can also experience problems with their eyes because their fur is long and hairs sometimes get trapped in tear ducts. Owners must pay special attention to their diet as, being so small, they gain weight easily and this can cause joint dysfunction.
01. Can Be Grumpy Around Children
The reputation Maltese dogs have for being very affectionate and trusting leads to an assumption they must be a good fit for families. In actual fact, these dogs can be rather cantankerous around young children. While they rarely pose a threat beyond a nip and a warning bark, these dogs react strongly to being grabbed or poked.
Despite their energy and extraordinary acrobatics, they remain a small and delicate breed. They don’t like to be manhandled and find it hard to tolerate repeated intrusions into their personal space. Maltese dogs can be trained to socialize well with children provided training occurs during puppyhood. In any case, children should be taught how to read a pet’s body language and what type of contact is acceptable and enjoyable for a Maltese.