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Health (Main Page - Breed Specific)

Maltese Health Issues


The Maltese is a rather healthy breed; however, like all dog breeds, the Maltese is prone to certain health issues and conditions. Making sure that you provide proper daily care, keeping scheduled wellness checks, and being aware of the signs of certain health conditions will all work together to keep your Maltese puppy or dog as healthy as possible.

In this section we will cover:
  • Daily checklist for red flags
  • The importance of wellness checks
  • A list of common Maltese health issues
Need to know about health issues right now? Jump to Health Issues Seen with the Maltese Breed

Daily Health-check List

There may be times when you are not sure if your Maltese is ill; is your dog just tired, having an off day, or could you be noticing signs of a more serious issue? 

This checklist will help you determine the overall health of your puppy or dog, and alert you to red flags.

Temperature: One of the first signs that something may be wrong can be a fever. 

Young puppies have a lower body temperature than older pups and adults. The normal body temperature for newborns is between 96-97°F. This will slowly increase to a temp of 100°F at the 4 week mark.
The normal temperature of all dogs 4 weeks and older is between 99.5° to 102.5°F. 

If you suspect that your Maltese may not be feeling well, it is a good idea to take his temperature. The most accurate reading will be via a canine anal thermometer. This should be lubricated with petroleum jelly. The thermometer should be inserted to the length that is equal to your Maltese's paw; this is typically 1/2 to 1 inch.  

Typically, a reading 2 degrees higher than normal is reason to call the vet. 
The Nose: It is not uncommon for some dogs to have a very slight nasal drip that is licked off before owners can notice. However, if your Maltese has a visibly runny nose, with either clear or colored discharge, this is reason for concern.

The most common cause is allergies.

In regard to wet Vs dry and cool Vs warm, it is actually normal for all of these attributes to vary throughout the day. Therefore, while you may have heard that dogs should have a wet cool nose, having a warm dry nose is not necessarily a bad sign.

This said, drying to the point of visible flakes, peeling, and certainly cracks is a red flag. In some cases, using a quality nose butter can resolve those issues. 

The Eyes:  It is normal to see a bit of discharge 'sleep' in the morning when a Maltese first wakes up. Using canine facial wipes as part of your Maltese's grooming routine will take care of this.
Bella, photo courtesy of Maldonado Family 
However excessive discharge, any heavy crusting, or chronic tearing should not be ignored. Often, causes for these issues can be resolved when following the steps to prevent and treat tear stains

Mammary Glands and Testicles: These areas should be checked on female and male Maltese dogs respectively. Any swelling is a sign that a vet checkup should be scheduled.

Odor: A bad odor coming from the mouth is a common sign of dental issues; while at-home dental care may resolve this problem, any stubborn bad breath should be reported to the vet. This can be due from a wide range of issues, ranging from a tooth infection to kidney disease. 

Bad body odors can be due to improper cleansing during baths and/or using inferior products; however, it can also be caused by such things as skin yeast infections. Therefore, if using better shampoos and following bathing guidelines does not fix the smell, this is a reason for a vet visit. 

Breathing: If your Maltese appears to be having difficulty breathing, is coughing, or is making odd noises while inhaling or exhaling this could be an allergic reaction, a blockage, or other serious health condition.
Max, photo courtesy of Meri

The Importance of Wellness Checks

Veterinarian wellness checks are an important part of caring for a Maltese. Puppies are seen quite often, due to having their scheduled puppy shots. However, you will want your adult Maltese to be examined once per year, and your senior Maltese to be seen twice per year. 

If you only bring your Maltese to the vet after he starts to show signs of an illness or condition, this can greatly affect prognosis, and for a host of issues will certainly lengthen the time that your Maltese is not feeling well. 

During your dog's annual exam, the vet will check vitals, run tests on a stool sample, do a urinalysis, and check hips, back, elbows, and knees. Ears, nose, mouth, and eyes will be examined. And a CBC (complete blood count) will be run. 

The vet will discuss your Maltese's overall diet and ask you questions to see if he is meeting his exercise requirements.

This is a great time for you to ask any questions that you may have. And for this, it is recommended to keep a small notebook to jot down things that come to mind in between visits. 

Health Issues Seen with the Maltese Breed

Many of the health issues seen with the Maltese breed are genetic and others are due, in part, to environmental factors. 
Aberrant cilia

This is a condition in which a dog's eyelashes grow abnormally. Moderate to severe cases in which the lash touches the eye will need treatment.

Read more about Maltese aberrant cilia
Breathing Issues

There are several health issues that can affect a Maltese's ability to properly breathe, with asthma being a top concern. With asthma, prognosis is very good if a dog is given proper proper medications to control symptoms. Since breathing difficulties can be dangerous, it is important to have a diagnosis made as soon as possible.


This condition occurs when a dog’s colon becomes swollen and inflamed. The causes of this vary greatly and are seemingly unrelated. For example, this may be brought on by stress in some cases and due to parasites in others. 

The clear symptoms of diarrhea and blood in the feces are present no matter what the cause. 

Colitis can occur in a Maltese for just a short amount of time and clear up on its own or it may become chronic (lasting a long time – either in intervals or continually). Treatment is available.

Read more about Maltese colitis
Collapsed Trachea

This is common with small breed dogs, including the Maltese. With this, there is a genetic weakness in the rings of cartilage surrounding the windpipe that eventually leads to ring(s) collapsing inward. 

Aside from the genetic predisposition to this, a toy breed can suffer from a sudden acute injury to the neck, often caused when on on leash and collar. 

This can be a very painful and hard-to-treat condition. Signs include coughing (sometimes with an odd honking noise), intolerance to exercise, and/or wheezing. 

Depending on the severity, treatments can range from medications to surgery. 

Heart murmurs, congestive heart failure

This is most often seen with senior Maltese dogs age 10 and up. Because heart murmurs rarely have any outward signs, this is usually discovered during a wellness check when the veterinarian is listening to the dog's heart.

Murmurs do not always lead to congestive heart failure, but they can. 

These are graded on a scale from 1 to 6. Typically no treatment is required for a grade 1 to 3 murmur. 

However, this is often a progressive disease. If the murmur worsens to a grade 4, 5, or 6, there can be issues such as troubled breathing, coughing, and exercise intolerance. 

Treatment may involve a low-sodium diet and certain medications to lower blood pressure. For some dogs, this can be managed for years; for others it will progress to heart failure. 
Head Shaking

There are several reasons why a Maltese puppy or dog will shake his head. This includes ear infections, ear mites, and idiopathic head tremors, among others. Read more about Maltese head shaking 
Buddy, photo courtesy of Stephanie Agostino
Roxie, photo courtesy of Dale Lefevre
Hip Dysplasia 

Hip Dysplasia is common with some small breed dogs such as the Maltese. With this condition, the ball and socket of the dog's hip slips out of place.

This can cause severe discomfort and an inability to perform daily activities. Exercising and even walking can become overwhelmingly difficult. 

Fortunately, there is treatment for this and prognosis is good if caught early.

Read more about Maltese hip dysplasia
Hydrocephalus - A Brain Disease

This is a disease that is rare; however, the Maltese is one breed that is more prone to this health issue than other breeds.

With this, the fluid that normally surrounds a dog's brain increases in volume. This can be extremely serious and can be fatal. Early detection plays a vital role in successful treatment.

Read more about Maltese hydrocephalus 
Liver Shunts

Liver shunts, also known as portosystemic shunts, are a congenital condition affecting the blood flow to the liver. Because the liver acts as a filter, when blood does not properly enter the liver to be filtered out, metabolic wastes
can overwhelm the body. 

The severity of liver shunts will vary. With mild shunts, there may be not noticeable symptoms. 

In more severe cases, signs include poor growth rate, weakness, diarrhea, constipation, drooling, increased thirst, increased urination, pacing in circles due to confusion, and/or seizures. This can be fatal in some cases. 

Read more about Maltese liver shunts 
PDA - Patent Ductus Arteriosus
This is a sometimes fatal congenital heart condition and is the number one heart defect seen in all dog breeds. 

It most often strikes young pups under the age of one year old. And it is often fatal when present for extremely young puppies since they do not have the strength nor the size to tolerate the defect, and this brings them to a point of heart failure. 

With this, a blood vessel called the ductus arteriosus does not properly close as it otherwise would shortly after birth. This causes blood flow to be diverted (shunted), which in turn causes the heart to work much harder than it would otherwise. 

The abnormal blood flow may be left to right, or right to left. 

Symptoms include coughing, weight loss, and intolerance to exercise. 
The degree of PDA can be minor or severe. With minor cases, dogs can live up to 10 years without major issues. However, with serious cases, surgery is often needed to save the dog's life. 
Skin Problems

It is not uncommon for dogs with a single layered coat to have an array of skin issues, and the Maltese is no exception. 

There are some issues that are seen secondary to such things as allergies, and there are other conditions such as infections and infestations including mites, mange, yeast infection, and dandruff.

Read more about Maltese skin problems
White Dog Shaker Syndrome

This health condition used to be found almost entirely with just solid white dogs like the Maltese; however, it is now being seen with other breeds. 

This is thought to be related to an autoimmune reaction, and will cause full body tremors; though, it is believed that a dog does not feel any discomfort or pain. More studies need to be done; however, it is agreed that there are environmental conditions that can trigger this to happen.

Other Helpful Pages:
Maltese Lethargy - If your Maltese has lost the pep in his step, these tips can turn things around. 
Maltese Paw Issues - Covers the most common acute and chronic issues, along with exact remedies for itching, licking at the paws, and other top concerns. 
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