9 Common Maltese Health Issues to Watch Out For

By John Martin - August 4, 2021

Maltese getting a health checkup at the vet

Maltese dogs are one of the oldest dog breeds that are known to humankind. These tiny white dogs have been around from the heydays of ancient Greece. Maltese used to feature in Greek, Roman and Egyptian artwork and writing. This breed sure got around a lot for a dog its size!

This lapdog with its silky white mane and impish charm has found many admirers in the United States as well. This breed was recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1888 and is a popular attraction at dog shows even today.

Generally, the Maltese is a healthy dog, provided you get your dog from an ethical and responsible breeder and ensure it gets the care it needs. However, every breed has certain genetic health issues that it might be prone to. Let’s take a look at some of the common health issues that you have to watch out for in your Maltese.

Common Health Issues

You need to constantly monitor your Maltese for any symptoms of ill health as these dogs are prone to some congenital conditions.

They are likely to suffer from some respiratory issues, but these are usually manageable without medical intervention. They are also susceptible to liver problems and congenital brain damage.

These are some of the common health issues that your Maltese could be facing.

Dental Problems

Dental problems are one of the most common issues that Maltese have to deal with. If you don’t keep a close lookout and care for your Maltese’s teeth regularly these dogs can end up losing their teeth or develop gum diseases.

On top of ensuring that you brush your dog’s teeth at home regularly, you need to take your dog to the vet for dental care frequently.

If you don’t keep those pearly whites clean it will lead to tartar buildup which can progress into even more serious problems like kidney or liver damage. Keep your dog away from sweets and human food if you want to keep those teeth and gums healthy.

Collapsed Trachea

Collapsed trachea is usually a genetic condition that affects a lot of toy breeds. Weak tracheal rings will collapse inwards and accuse breathing problems.

Commonly this condition is genetic and you can’t do a lot to prevent it. But Maltese dogs are usually affected by this condition because of overuse or improper use of the leash. Any injury or long-term stress on their tiny necks can lead to a collapsed trachea.

The treatments prescribed depend on the severity of the issue. In mild cases avoiding triggers, medication and exercise are recommended. More serious cases may require surgical treatment.

Avoid leashing your Maltese. But if you must leash your dog, always use a harness instead of leashing the collar. This will reduce the stress on the neck and windpipe.

Reverse Sneezing

Another common respiratory problem that Malteses face is reverse sneezing. This condition is not as serious as a collapsed trachea and does not really require medical treatment.

It is caused by a spasm in the pharyngeal area which makes the dog breathe in rapidly. It might look like your dog is choking on something or having extreme difficulty breathing. A reverse sneezing episode can be triggered by excitement, pulling on the leash, eating, drinking or inhaling an irritant.

You can stop the spasm by massaging the throat or pinching the nostril to make your dog swallow. It is usually seen in younger dogs and cannot be cured. It only requires medical attention if the frequency and intensity of the attacks increase.

Portosystemic Shunts (PSS)

Portosystemic shunts are congenital inherited liver disorders common in Maltese dogs. Maltese are at a higher risk of developing these liver shunts.

A portosystemic shunt will cause problems with veins that carry blood in and out of the liver. The shunt will divert the flow of blood from its normal pathway. This will lead to a buildup of toxins in the dog’s body.

These shunts are congenital and usually exist right from the time the pup is in the womb. If your dog has a full shunt it will start showing symptoms in weeks or months. Partial shunts on the other hand take almost a year to show symptoms.

Symptoms of a portosystemic shunt include slow growth in puppies, poor weight gain, seizures, bladder stones and even blindness. You can usually know if your dog has a shunt if any of these problems increase after eating.

A proper diagnosis can be made only through blood tests, urine analysis and X-rays. Partial shunts can be treated with medication whereas other cases need corrective surgery.

White Dog Shaker Syndrome

This condition is caused by an inflamed cerebellum. The cerebellum is the part of the brain that controls the motor function. This condition was named white dog shaker syndrome as it was commonly seen in breeds with solid white coats.

Your dog will have episodes of repetitive and rhythmic tremors either all over the body or in specific parts. In severe cases, your dog will have trouble walking.

Patellar Luxation

Patellar luxation is a condition in which the kneecap dislocates on its own. It is a common health issue seen in Maltese and other toy dogs. It is usually an inherited disorder.

In most mild cases the kneecap can be manually slipped back into its place by a veterinarian. Surgical treatment is only required in case of severe dislocations.

Find out more about getting a patella certification here.

Canine Inherited Deafness

Maltese are famous for their silky white coats. Research shows that congenital deafness is more common in dogs with white coats than others.

Inherited deafness depends to a large extent on the genes of the parent dogs. Sometimes normal dogs will breed dogs that are deaf from birth. But breeding deaf dogs will most surely result in deaf offspring as well.


It is a life-threatening condition common among toy breeds. It is caused by an accumulation of cerebrospinal fluid in the brain. This condition is hard to diagnose. Even with treatment severe cases cannot be cured.

Hydrocephalus results in loss of coordination, seizures, skull enlargement and slow growth. It is commonly seen in puppies with round skulls and short muzzles. It can be a condition that the dog is born with but it could also be the result of trauma to the head.

Eye Irritations

Maltese have long coats, sometimes the hair can get into the eyes and cause irritation. Your Maltese can also develop a condition called aberrant cilia—abnormal eyelash growth. Eye ulcers are also a common problem that these dogs are known to face.

Most eye problems are mild, severe cases will require treatment.

Related: Do Maltese Bark a Lot?

How to Take Care of Your Maltese


Small dogs like Maltese might look deceptively easy to take care of but don’t be fooled these dogs need a lot of attention. Depending on the age and breed your dog will have different nutritional requirements.

Puppies have very specific nutritional requirements during each phase of their growth. They might need more frequent feeding cycles with smaller quantities of food to keep up all that puppy energy.

It is also good for your dog’s health if you have done your research on what human foods your dog can safely eat.

Check with your veterinarian on what kind of diet to put your Maltese on. They do well on store-bought as well as home-cooked meals. But lay off the sweet stuff as these dogs are prone to dental problems.

Since they are prone to dental issues it is best to feed them dry food more often. Wet food might cause runny bowels and tooth problems. Mixing some broth into your dry kibble is a great option that you can try out.

You should feed your adult dog twice a day. Be sure to change up the quantity and frequency depending on the age and activity level of your dog.

Related: Are Maltese Easy to Train?


One look at its long and silky coat will tell you that this breed is very high maintenance when it comes to grooming.

You need to brush your dog’s coat regularly to detangle it and ensure that it does not get matted up. Short coats should be brushed every three days. Long coats need to be brushed every single day.

Since the Maltese are white dogs they can get dirty pretty fast. To avoid discoloration you need to keep track of your grooming schedule. Facial hair is especially prone to discoloration from tear and food stains.

You need to wipe your dog’s face daily in order to avoid staining its coat. This is also helpful in keeping eye infections at bay.

Your Maltese will be healthy and happy with regular baths and coat conditioning. Ideally, you should bathe your dog every three weeks. This will ensure that you are keeping your dog clean but not stripping its coat of the natural oils that it needs.

Tooth health is very important in Maltese breeds. They have teeth that are easily prone to problems. Make sure you brush your Maltese’s teeth regularly to avoid dental issues.

Maltese have fast nail growth, so always keep the nails clipped and tidy to avoid discomfort.


Maltese dogs have moderate energy levels—not too high, not too low. You must play with them and engage in some physical activity every day.

You should walk your dog at a brisk pace for about 20 to 30 minutes every day. Regular and low-intensity workouts assist in proper metabolism and improve heart health.

However, you don’t need to tire them out with extremely sporty activities. Walks and indoor games are enough to keep your Maltese healthy.

A Healthy Dog is a Happy Dog

Getting a dog is a huge responsibility no matter its size. They can’t tell you what’s bothering them so you constantly have to keep an eye on your dog to check for symptoms of discomfort or illness.

Most of your dog’s problems, congenital or not, can be easily taken care of if you catch them in the early stages. You might not be able to pick up on the early signs of conditions that may prove to be life threatening. So never skip a trip to the vet!

Keep these tips in mind so that you end up with a happy and healthy dog for many years.