You know that the Maltese is small, white and adorable. What you may not know is that it is among the oldest of domesticated breeds. Your beloved dog's ancestors may have been coddled by the ancient Greeks. For more than 2,000 years, the Maltese has been a companion dog par excellence.
An Ancient History
As the name implies, the Maltese originated on the Isle of Malta, a major trading area in the ancient world. These little canines were traded along with other luxury goods. The Holy Roman Emperor made a gift of two Maltese to the Chinese Emperor. The breed was also known as the "Roman Ladies Dog" and the "Comforter." Royal Maltese owners included Queen Elizabeth I and her archrival, Mary, Queen of Scots.
A Charming Little Dog
The American Kennel Club describes the Maltese as "charming, gentle and playful." The AKC notes that the breed is also fearless, albeit in "a charming toy dog way." Perhaps the American Maltese Association is biased, but its website states that finding a more charming breed would be "really difficult." While that charm usually extends to adults, cats and most canines, it's not necessarily true for little kids. Very small dogs and very small children seldom mix well, but a Maltese can serve as a wonderful friend to older children who know how to behave around toy dogs.
Maintaining that long, white coat is a lot of work. Not only does the Maltese require daily brushing, but it also needs regular bathing to keep the coat pristine. After toweling off your freshly bathed Maltese, use a blow dryer to get him completely dry. You'll likely have a shelf devoted to canine beauty products for your pet, including shampoo, conditioner and tear-stain remover. While a show dog must display a long coat, your groomer can give your pet a puppy cut, which makes care much easier.
It takes a tough little dog to thrive for 2,000 years. Most of the health issues affecting the breed are those of toy dogs in general. These include dental problems, slipped kneecaps and tracheal collapse. To potentially avoid the latter ailment, always use a harness and leash when walking your Maltese, not a leash attached to a collar. Maltese puppies can suffer from hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, so it's extremely important to insure they are fed every few hours until they are 12 weeks old. Adult Maltese are prone to eye problems, including progressive retinal atrophy, which leads to blindness, and glaucoma. The Maltese is generally a long-lived breed, so expect to share your charming friend's companionship for 12 to 15 years.
Finding A Maltese Puppy
It's always important to find a responsible breeder when searching for a purebred, but it's even more important if you're in the market for popular toy breeds like the Maltese. These are the sorts of puppies attracting unscrupulous breeders just out to make a buck, rather than concerning themselves with puppy health or the breed's overall well-being. For best results, select a breeder currently a member of the American Maltese Association. Those breeders have indicated they intend to withhold the organization's code of ethics, and the AMA welcomes information from purchasers who have had "either had a positive or a negative experience" when dealing with an AMA-listed breeder.
At maturity, a Maltese weighs 7 pounds or less, with most dogs in the range of 4 to 6 pounds. If you hear of a miniature, micro, teacup or other diminutive for a Maltese, run the other way. These dogs are not recognized by the AMA, and they are more likely to suffer health problems than a standard Maltese. Typically, extremely small dogs are produced by breeding runts to runts, never a good breeding practice.