Our free comprehensive guide to breeding Maltese dogs offers the pointers for ethical breeders of Maltese puppies. From the history of the breed to the best practices when breeding Maltese dogs, we cover all grounds so you can make educated decisions.
When wondering how to breed Maltese dogs, one must understand that it all starts with understanding how canines mate and function sexually, and genetically. Dog breeding is more or less following the same journey regardless of the breed. However, a Maltese being substantially different from a Great Dane, there are considerations to keep in mind while breeding Maltese purebred dogs.
Background of Maltese Breeding
The Maltese breed got its name from Malta, an island off the coast of Italy. It was a thriving seaport in 3500 BC. People from many different parts of the world traded there.
The origin of the Maltese dog is somewhat uncertain. It may not have been native to the area. Some experts think it originated from a Spitz-type breed in China. It is pretty clear, though, that a dog identifiable as a Maltese was found in the Mediterranean region as early as 1000 BC. The dog was referred to as “Melitaie” or the Greek name for Malta. Greek ceramic pieces have been discovered which depict the breed. The great philosopher Aristotle in the 4th century BC commented on how the dog was in perfect proportion for its small size. Also, the Greeks honored their beloved pets with tombs.
The Maltese remained a popular pet when the sunset on the Greek rule gave rise to the Roman Empire. The Roman satirist Marcus Valerius Martialis in the first century AD described the little dog in one of his poems:
Issa is more frolicsome than Catulla’s sparrow. Issa is purer than a dove’s kiss.
Issa is gentler than a maiden. Issa is more precious than Indian gems.
Lest the last days that she see light should snatch her from him forever, Publius has has had her picture painted.
Roman noble ladies carried around their pets almost in the manner of a necessary accessory for being seen in public. In Egypt, the dog was given to the women of the harem who believed it could cure healing overnight. Also, legend says that around the year 60 AD the Roman Governor of Malta, Publius, presented St. Paul a Maltese in gratitude for St. Paul’s effort in the healing of his father.(St. Paul’s shipwreck onto Malta and the healing of the Governor’s father is recounted in the Bible in Acts 28:1-10). The dog’s association with healing earned it the name The Comforter.
The breed continued throughout the Middle Ages in Europe and was bred in China. In the 16th century, the Italian poet Ludovico Ariosto memorialized the dog in his poem “Orlando Furioso”. In Britain, royals such as Mary Queen of Scots (1542-1587 ), Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603), and Queen Victoria (1819-1901) were all Maltese owners.
Maltese dogs were never bred for work. They have been esteemed for centuries as companion dogs. In the 16th and 17th centuries, Europeans attempted to selectively breed the Maltese down to the size of a squirrel. These efforts decimated the breed, and later breeders bred into the bloodlines cocker spaniels and poodles to recover it. In the early 19th century there were about nine different breeds of Maltese. Some of these dogs were part-color or solid color. These dogs’ sporting colors other than white where shown in England from 1902 until 1913.
The breed was first introduced to the United States in 1877 as the “Maltese Lion Dog” at the first Westminster Show in New York. The breed was recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1888.
The first Maltese club was formed in 1906 and was called the Maltese Terrier Club of America. The first specialty of the National Maltese Club was held at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York on November 30, 1917. By the end of the 1950s, there were two Maltese clubs in America–the Maltese Dog Club of America and the Maltese Dog Fanciers of America. The two clubs finally joined to form a single parent club in 1961, the American Maltese Association.
The breed standard was accepted and ratified by the American Kennel Club in 1963.
The Maltese are good-tempered dogs. Although they are small, they have stamina. They are active companion dogs that will enjoy a walk with their owner.
Maltese dogs need the company of its people. These dogs can suffer from separation anxiety if they are left alone too long. Their small size makes them ideal for apartment living. These easy-going dogs with sweet temperaments are suitable pets in families with older children. Though they are not a particularly snappish dog, they are too small for households with very young children.
Maltese can be prone to bark. This tendency has led to the problem in South Korea and Australia of people abandoning their pets.
The versatile and people-loving Maltese dog breed remains popular with the general public. According to the American Kennel Club’s ranking in 2017 they were the 33rd dog breed out of 194 in popularity.
The Maltese breed has consistently held close to this rank over the years. Like in years past, the Maltese has been the breed choice of important and famous people. Old-time celebrities like singer/actor Frank Sinatra and actress Elizabeth Taylor owned Maltese dogs.
Heather Locklear’s dog “Harley” has frequently been photographed with her. Leona Helmsley left her Maltese, “Trouble”, a 12 million dollar trust fund, thus, making a Maltese the world’s richest dog. Also, several million more dollars of the Helmsley estate secured Trouble’s entombment in the family’s mausoleum.
Health Concerns When Breeding Maltese Dogs
Maltese like most breeds in the Toy group are long-lived dogs. The average lifespan is 12-15 years old with dogs in the upper teens being common. Maltese have few genetically-related diseases Also, those genetic diseases and conditions it is most prone to are not immediately life-threatening.
One non-threatening but common genetic problem of the Maltese is patella luxation. In this condition, the dog has a problem with its kneecap coming out of place (“luxation”). The normal kneecap functions from its affixed place in the dog’s femur. The dislocation of the kneecap may cause the dog pain initially. Normally, though, the only symptom is the unusual gait and the dog’s lameness. Patella luxation usually manifests itself in young dogs around age four months. It is a condition that does not respond well to treatment. Surgical intervention can fix the dislocation, but there is about a 50% probability it will recur. Pain can occur when the dislocated joint develops arthritis.
The deformity in the femur and kneecap is genetic. Some breeds of dogs are more prone to it than others. The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals ranks Maltese 50th of almost 200 breeds for the incidence of patella issues. Before a dog is bred, it should be examined for this problem. Dogs with the condition should not be bred. Buyers of puppies should request that they are examined for this condition and be certified as clear of it.
Progressive Retinal Atrophy
In PRA, the rods and cones (i.e. photoreceptors) of the eye degenerate. This genetic condition can strike dogs at any age. A form of it develops in puppies. It leads to blindness usually within a year or two. There’s no cure.
Maltese dogs are ranked 155th by the OFA in its occurrence of the disease. A genetic test has been developed to detect an autosomal recessive variant of this disease. However, the genetic type is breed-specific. The Maltese dog is not on the list of breeds in which the testing has been shown to be useful. Dogs with this condition should not be bred.
Maltese rank 117th by the OFA on breeds most affected by cardiac problems. Cardiac problems, nevertheless, are the number one cause of death in the breed.
Over twenty percent of Maltese deaths are from cardiac problems with mitral valve disease being the primary one. In mitral valve disease weakness in the valves results in the backward flow of blood. The disrupted blood flow prevents the oxygenated blood from flowing to the cells in the body. It is the most common cause of a heart murmur. The condition usually strikes middle age and older dogs. In the beginning, there are no obvious symptoms. As time progresses, mitral valve disease leads to congestive heart failure as the valve leaks more and more blood. The dog will begin to lag in stamina and may develop a cough as fluid begins to accumulate in the dog’s lungs.
In humans, this condition could be treated surgically. Unfortunately, surgery is not a viable option for dogs. Medicines such as diuretics, ACE-inhibitors, and a low-salt diet can be employed to buy the dog some time, but the condition will ultimately be fatal.
Congenital defects are the third leading cause of death in Maltese. Three of the most important are:
In liver shunts, the duct that takes blood into the liver for detoxification is malformed and not properly connected to the organ. Blood does not get properly purified. Puppies born with this condition will not grow properly. Symptoms include disorientation and seizures. Liver shunts can be corrected surgically.
Colitis means inflammation in the large intestine of the dog. Several diseases can cause colitis including Crohn’s disease and inflammatory bowel disease. Symptoms include diarrhea and cramping. Diarrhea may be bloody. Colitis usually comes and goes with flare-ups of varying severity. Symptoms of it may be treated medically, but there is no cure.
Dogs born with hydrocephalus have leakage of cerebrospinal fluid into the skull. In young puppies, it is not always immediately apparent. Signs include a large fontanel (the soft spot on top of the head), a dome-shaped head, and eyes that gaze in a downward direction. The leakage of the fluid causes increased pressure on the brain. As the pressure increases, the dog may experience seizures and difficulty walking normally. Hydrocephalus can lead to irreversible brain damage and death. It can be treated surgically. Dogs with any of these congenital conditions should not be bred.
The cartilage of the trachea or windpipe can become weakened and begin to collapse. This weakness is a genetic problem often seen in toy dog breeds. The symptoms include a honking cough and a bluish tinge along the gum line. The best treatment is surgery, but medicines can alleviate coughing and labored breathing.
The condition can happen to dogs of all ages but the average age of onset is six years of age. Obesity is a risk factor in the development of the condition. Dogs with a known disposition to the condition should wear a harness and not a collar.
A common behavior problem with Maltese is excessive licking. Causes of the behavior range from treatable paw problems like a fungal infection to things like boredom and separation anxiety. Some Maltese seem to develop this obsessive-compulsive disorder as a way of gaining the attention of their owners.
How to Breed Maltese Dogs
Breeding Maltese dogs is relatively easy thanks to the breed being overall healthy. There is a size-shrinking trend but most ethical breeders refuse to follow it which is saving the breed. Reading pedigrees is the key for all breeders to mix and match the right dogs together.
In general, toy dogs have smaller litters. The average litter size is 2-5 puppies with singletons not uncommon. Although Maltese are very small dogs they are not anatomically disproportionate. Toy dogs have a slightly increased rate of cesarean section births, but a Maltese dam should be able to whelp normally.
On average, Maltese dogs reach sexual maturity at six to eight months. They do not as a breed present any particular issues related to mating. As with other breeds, it is wise to allow a bitch to have at least a couple of normal heat cycles before pregnancy. Toy breeds have a slightly increased need for a c-section but anatomically Maltese are a well-proportioned breed which the majority of the time whelp normally and without much human assistance.
Maltese dogs and Maltese puppies, because of their small size, are more susceptible to hypoglycemia or low blood sugar. A puppy or dog with hypoglycemia may appear disoriented, sleepy, and have an unsteady gait. It may have glassy eyes and if the condition is not treated, it may experience seizures. Dogs with hypoglycemia will not be able to regulate their temperature. This problem is potentially life-threatening for puppies. Also, a dog with a portosystemic liver shunt is at an increased risk for hypoglycemia. A dog given a bit of honey or Karo syrup on the tongue will quickly recover from the effects of low blood sugar. A Maltese should be observed for hypoglycemia after it engages in prolonged exercise.
The tremors of hypoglycemia can be confused with those of White Dog Shaker Syndrome. In this syndrome, dogs will have whole-body tremors. Dogs of both genders and all ages may exhibit the syndrome. The condition has no cure and ranges in its severity. The main treatment is corticosteroids. The prognosis for most dogs is good. The condition usually resolves with a couple of weeks of treatment. A few dogs will need to have to continue medical treatment for life.
A healthy Maltese should weigh from four to six pounds (the standard states no more than seven pounds). The Maltese is one of the breeds advertised in a teacup size. These dogs have been selectively bred to weigh less than five pounds. Teacup Maltese cost more than a normal-sized Maltese. Also, teacup versions of the Maltese are more likely to have serious health problems.
Some breeders will cross-breed a Maltese with a poodle to create was will be advertised as a Maltipoo. This is one of many popular poodle crosses. The Maltipoo has the benefit of two breeds with low shedding genetics. This type of “designer dog” may carry with it a higher price tag.
The breed standard requires that Maltese have an all-white coat. Some tan or lemon on the ears is permissible but not desirable. Maltese have hair, not fur. The breed does not have an undercoat. Maltese are less likely to shed than other breeds. Sometimes the breed will be advertised as a hypoallergenic breed. However, no breed is entirely hypoallergenic. The main allergen in a dog is not the fur/hair but the dander. Dander is the dead skin that all dogs shed. Still, for some people, the reduction in shedding does make a difference in the level of allergy symptoms.
The hair is silky and for a conformation exhibition, a single layer long coat is required. The coat should be brushed with a pin brush. A coat not brushed frequently will quickly become matted. A Maltese may develop a yellowish stain under the eyes. This staining can be alleviated with frequent bathing or a washcloth. Special wipes are on the market for removing this common grooming problem. Occasionally, the development of tear-staining is due to an infection. If this is the cause, a veterinarian may prescribe an antibiotic such as cephalexin. The grooming regimen should include the brushing of the dog’s teeth. Maltese can suffer severe dental decay because the breed has a tendency to have maloccluded bites.
Many Maltese owners opt for the shorter and easier to maintain “puppy cut” when the dog is not getting ready for a conformation exhibition. The coat is required to be straight. A curly coat is a serious fault. Curly hair is caused by a recessive gene. Optigen sells a simple genetic test that will show if a dog is a carrier of the gene.
The nose of a Maltese should be black. A loss of pigment can make the nose brown or even pink. This loss of pigmentation occurs mostly in the winter months. Owners of Maltese call the irregular colored nose a winter nose. The nose will return to its black when it is exposed to sunlight.