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Maltese Skin Problems

The skin of the Maltese is a bit more prone to certain issues since this breed has only 1 layer of hair, as opposed to some double coated breeds. 

Without much protection via the coat, the skin is vulnerable to developing sores (most  commonly found on the elbows) if not given a soft area to rest upon and to sunburn.

Please refrain from placing a Maltese in a wire bottomed crate or allowing direct sun exposure on warm or hot days for longer than one hour.

There are several skin conditions that can affect Maltese dogs. This section will provide the details on the most commonly seen issues.


Skin Discoloration

There are 2 areas on a Maltese in which skin discoloration is not uncommon and does not point to a skin disorder.

The Belly – The normal belly color of a Maltese dog is pink.  As the dog matures, owners may notice a change in color. This may be a darkening all over or it may show as grey or black spotting.  This may increase in the summer and decrease in the winter or changes may be permanent.  Without any other signs or symptoms, this is often due to sun exposure.   In this case, it is not a health concern and simply a normal part of aging. Any raised bumps should be brought to the attention of a veterinarian. More:  Black Skin  |  Maltese Belly Color
The Nose – As with the belly, the nose of a Maltese may change color in reaction to sun exposure.  Adding a small dab of sunscreen can help to prevent this if applied when the Maltese is outdoors for any extended time (45 minutes or longer). 

Sebaceous Adenitis (SA)

This can develop at any age, however approximately 60% of cases are seen in Maltese puppies under the age of 2 years old.  Adults are susceptible as well; however it is rarely seen with senior Maltese dogs that have had no prior serious skin issues.  This is thought to be a hereditary skin disease, therefore if a Maltese is found to have this, he or she should not be bred.

This is a baffling skin disorder in which antibodies attack the skin glands.  In moderate to severe cases, the glands are permanently destroyed.   Unfortunately, the cause of SA is unknown; however there are treatments that can help.
  • Flaking and/or scaling of the skin
  • Darkening pigmentation
  • Odor – often described as a musky smell
  • Skin thickens (usually once this disease progresses)
  • Thinning of the hair that often worsens to complete hair loss along several areas of the body
  • Itching (sometimes intense)
  • Sores can develop
  • Secondary infection can set in, as skin become inflamed
Diagnosis and Treatment

This is diagnosed with a skin biopsy.  There is no cure for this; however there are several treatments that can ease discomfort and work to restore the skin.
  • Gentle removal of scales – This is done with careful combing and oil bath treatments.   Bath rinses may include medicated oils that work to moisture the skin. Antimicrobial bath may also be advised.
  • Omega 3 and Omega 6 supplements are thought to improve both skin and coat health.

Yeast Infections

A certain amount of yeast (malassezia pachydermatis) is always present on the skin of dogs.  When there is an overgrowth of this, it is referred to as an infection.  This can affect the entire body of a Maltese, however most commonly it is seen around the genitals, mouth, ears and neck since it thrives in moist warm areas.

  • Itchy Skin – The dog may shake his head, rub areas of his body against surfaces in an effort to relieve the itch and/or chew or lick at infected areas
  • Odor – A telltale sign of this type of Maltese skin problem is an unusual odor, often defined as a greasy smell.
  • Visible Changes to the Skin – Affected areas may be red, swollen and/or appear irritated.
  • Hair Loss – Hair may thin out; only when not treated will there we actual fall out.
  • Color Changes – With some Maltese, the skin may turn black
  • Shampoos – Special medicated shampoos are often prescribed, which contain chlorhexidine, or a combination of sulfur and benzoyl peroxide.
  • Sprays – If a Maltese has only a small infected area of skin, a medicated spray can be used.
  • Creams – Topical creams may be prescribed that are applied directly to the surface of the affected skin.
  • Cleaners – If the ears carry a yeast infection, the veterinarian may rinse them at the office, followed by instructions to do so at home with a medicated solution.

Fungal Skin Infection

The most common fungal skin condition with the Maltese breed is ringworm (Microsporum canis). This is highly transmittable and can be passed back and forth from dogs to humans.  It is initially picked up via spores found in soil; however a Maltese can catch this from other dogs when playing at the dog park, while in doggie day care, etc.

  • Most of the time, affected areas will be circular in shape.  There will be dark pink to red areas, often with scaly skin in the center and a thinning (or loss) of hair around this.
  • Other areas may not show the typical round markings, but will be irregular shaped formations of red irritated skin usually with a crusted area.
  • If it has spread to the nail area, nails may become brittle, with cracking and deformation.
  • A secondary infection may set in, bacterial in nature, that causes itching.
  • This can be found anywhere on the body, including the head, paws and tail.

Circular shaped hair loss and skin lesions can also be a symptom of mange or black fly bites and for this reason a clear identification is important.  The most reliable method is to test hairs, studied for 1-2 weeks to look for fungi growth.

  • A topical antifungal cream will be prescribed, applied to the Maltese’s affected skin 2 times per day for 5 to 6 weeks.
  • For severe cases, an antifungal shampoo (usually one containing miconazole) will be added to this treatment regimen.
  • In very severe cases, if a Maltese has long hair, the coat may need to be shaved in order for the medication to effectively reach the skin. Additionally, an oral medication (Griseofulvin) will be used.
The House Must be Treated – The spores that cause this skin condition can live on surfaces for up[ to one year.  If a Maltese has a dog bed, this should be removed and replaced. Grooming tools and hard surface flooring should be sterilized using a 10:1 ration of water to bleach. Carpeting should be vacuumed frequently (preferably with a HEPA filter).  Until the Maltese has has recovered, any humans who touch the puppy or dog should frequently wash their hands.  Owner’s clothing and bedding should be washed with bleach (if possible) .

Mites and Mange

Skin mites (and there are many types) are normally found in small numbers on all dogs. the Maltese included.  If these mites multiple, it can cause a case of mange.  This affects both skin and coat.

  • Scabbing on the skin – if not treated this will spread, eventually covering most of the body
  • Intense itching
  • Red, inflamed sores
  • Hair loss on infected areas

Since this will not resolve itself, identification and then proper treatment is vital.  Many vets can identify this simply by looking at a dog, however a scraping of the skin to observe under a microscope may also be done.


Topical medication, oral medication or both will be prescribed.  It is important to follow application and dosing directions carefully. If a Maltese is found to have sarcoptic mange, which is highly contagious, he or she may need to be isolated while being treated.   Anti-inflammatory medication may also be given.


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