What Health Problems Are Common in Maltese Dogs?

This beauty can live between 15 and 18 years.
i Funny doggie image by Alina Chiannie from Fotolia.com

In spite of his delicate appearance, the Maltese is a tough little dog with few health problems. However, certain issues crop up with all purebred canines, and the Maltese is no exception. If you're buying a puppy from a breeder, ask for a genetic history to avoid hereditary diseases.

Eye Problems

Those adorable button eyes can be subject to problems, with blindness resulting in some cases. Maltese are prone to retinal atrophy, which affects vision in dim lighting. If your notice your dog bumping into things or becoming disoriented, take him to the vet for a checkup. Retinal atrophy can progress to complete blindness in a worst-case scenario. Maltese also suffer from aberrant cilia, a medical term that means an extra set of eyelashes. If his eyes frequently tear or swell, or if they appear to bother him in any way, take him to the vet. While aberrant cilia is common in the breed, in many cases it never affects the dog negatively.

Dental Problems

Many small breed dogs suffer from the simple fact that their 42 adult teeth don't have adequate room to fit in the mouth. Regular dental care is important for the Maltese. Brush your dog's teeth daily and schedule dental cleanings with your vet as recommended. Your dog's teeth may fall out, or some may need pulling due to overcrowding. Check the mouth for loose teeth or gum inflammation.

Liver Shunt

If your young Maltese isn't growing properly and appears undersized even for a small breed, liver shunt may be the cause. In this condition, the dog's circulatory system doesn't develop correctly, affecting the liver. Symptoms include vomiting, seizures, disorientation, pacing and general unthriftiness. Take your dog to the vet if she exhibits these symptoms. Untreated liver shunt leads to serious repercussions, including eventual blindness.


Colitis, an inflammation of the large intestine, occurs in Maltese. Symptoms include diarrhea, painful elimination, constipation, vomiting and mucus or blood in the feces. Take a fecal sample along with you when visiting the vet to aid in diagnosis.

Hip and Leg

Your dog's kneecap may come out of its socket, a common problem in small dogs called luxating patella. Keeping your dog at an appropriate weight can avoid this problem, as obesity affects the joints. Dogs with luxating patella may require surgery to fix the problem. Legg Calve Perthes disease, also known as avascular necrosis, causes the femoral head of the hip joint to collapse. It is similar to hip dysplasia, a genetic disease affecting larger breeds.

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