#31 The Maltese


For such a small dog, the Maltese has an incredible history, dating back to approximately 500 BC. For instance, archaeologists have found references to a Maltese-type dog on a Greek amphora that was uncovered in the Etruscan town of Vulci, and even Aristotle himself has mentioned the Maltese by name.  The breed’s ancestors likely include Spitz-type dogs from the Swiss Lake Dwellers, or the Tibetan Terrier from Asia.  Original relatives to the breed likely made their way to Malta (the region from which they earned their name) from the Middle East as nomadic tribes migrated west.  In the 17th and 18th centuries the breed was made even smaller, approximately to the size of a squirrel; however, shortly thereafter the breed almost went extinct but was saved thanks to the introduction of blood lines from poodles and other miniature dogs.  By the end of the 19th century the Maltese gained popularity throughout the rest of the world, including America, where it was officially recognized as a breed in 1888.

Although some historians believe that the original Maltese ancestors may have been bred to chase off rats, the modern dog is considered to be a companion animal. As such, Maltese are playful and energetic, but prefer the company of humans and in small settings.  They are ideal apartment dogs, as they are quiet when well-trained and do not require an excessive amount of exercise.  They are not highly tolerant with children, but with adequate socialization can be great family pets.  As is true of most toy-sized dogs, their attitudes are fearless and larger-than-life.

The Maltese has no undercoat, meaning that with proper attention its medium-length, hypoallergenic fur can be low-maintenance with regular care. Weekly baths and brushing sessions are recommended.  As with most dogs that are all white, tear staining is common which can be remedied with daily cleaning of the face and eye area with a specially formulated cleanser.  The coat should be clipped every 6 – 8 weeks since the fur does not shed but continually grows.  When the fur is long, mats and tangles are likely, which can lead to skin problems for the dog, including loss of circulation.  As a member of the toy breed the Maltese should not weigh more than 8 lbs for males or 7 lbs for females.  The only acceptable coat color is pure white with black points the only permissible marking.

The most common health problem associated with toy breeds is its high risk of injury. Due to their small size and fragile nature they can easily become hurt when jumping off furniture or if they are accidentally stepped on.  Maltese should always be supervised around children or other, larger animals.  From a hereditary standpoint, epilepsy, patent ductus arteriosus (a heart condition) and mitral valve disease are all common concerns that are increasing in their prevalence among the breed.  Up to 22% of Maltese are also affected by thyroid conditions, so regular blood work is recommended.  However, with vigilant care Maltese dogs can live long lives, with an average life span of 12 – 15 years.

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