The Maltese and the bichon frise — both beautiful, cute, fluffy dogs — make you want to pick them up and cuddle them. Although just because they’re both adorable and white doesn’t mean they’re interchangeable. Once you know the characteristics of each, you'll never confuse the two again.
The American Kennel Club categorizes dog breeds by their name and by their group. The Maltese and the bichon frise do not share either. The Maltese is in the toy group, and the bichon is in the non-sporting group. Dogs in the toy group are there because of their size; they need to weigh less than 7 pounds. Their purpose, according to the AKC, is “to embody sheer delight.” Toy dogs typically like to sit in your lap, and they are a good choice for apartment dwellers. The non-sporting group contains a diverse grouping. The dogs are sturdy and all have different appearances and personalities.
The Maltese is an intelligent, lively, affectionate and gentle dog. These dogs are refined and aristocratic and have been owned by royalty for 28 centuries, making this one of the oldest of all the dog breeds. Just because they are small doesn’t mean they are timid. A Maltese is a brave and fearless, yet playful, dog, which makes this breed ideal for families. The prominent characteristic of the bichon is his cheerful personality. The bichon is descended from the water spaniel and needs plenty of exercise. This ex-circus breed now mostly exists as a companion dog. The bichon doesn’t shed, and it is a good choice if you have allergies, according to the AKC.
The Maltese is covered with silky, long, white hair that almost touches the ground. There is no undercoat. You can tie up the long hair on the head in a topknot. The hair should not be curly or kinky. The Maltese should weigh between 4 and 6 pounds. The bichon has a curly double coat; the outside is textured, and the inner coat is silky. The breed looks like a big powder puff or cotton ball. A bichon can weigh anywhere from 10 to 18 pounds.
The Maltese and the bichon frise have a comparable lifespan; the Maltese lives about 12 to 14 years, and the bichon 12 to 15 years. They are prone to different health issues, however. The Maltese can suffer from deafness, shaker syndrome — a condition where the dog shakes — and dental problems. The Maltese breed can also have knee problems, eyelash and eyelid disorders and water on the brain. The bichon can suffer from Cushing’s disease in dogs — which can cause gastrointestinal disorders — allergies, kneecap dislocation and hip dysplasia.
Laura Agadoni has been writing professionally since 1983. Her feature stories on area businesses, human interest and health and fitness appear in her local newspaper. She has also written and edited for a grassroots outreach effort and has been published in "Clean Eating" magazine and in "Dimensions" magazine, a CUNA Mutual publication. Agadoni has a Bachelor of Arts in communications from California State University-Fullerton.