The exuberant Maltese radiates life, from their gleaming dark eyes to their happy trot. Their attitude expresses a joy in living and it’s hard to think that it could ever be time for our darling friends to leave us. We all wish our dogs would live forever, but thankfully for Maltese parents, this breed comes pretty close in dog years. The average lifespan of a Maltese is 12 to 15 years, which is about 25% above average for canines as a whole.
What’s the Average Lifespan of a Maltese?
The oldest Maltese on record lived to be at least 20 years old, according to Pawleaks1. Most Malteses enjoy a lifespan of 12 to 15 years, but it’s fairly normal to hear of Malteses reaching 17 years. Unfortunately, some Malteses don’t reach their life expectancy due to a variety of factors. Some reasons for premature death aren’t preventable, but others can be mitigated with proper care.
Why Do Some Malteses Live Longer Than Others?
Everyone knows human snacks can sneak unnecessary calories, fat, and sugar into your dog’s diet. However, cheap dog food can sometimes function like fast food of the canine world. Nutritionally shallow fillers such as potatoes and white rice often replace additional sources of meat, which your dog needs for protein. Plus, unless the dog food features human grade ingredients, the meat source isn’t held by the same standards as the slab of beef you’d buy from the grocery store.
As your Maltese ages, their nutritional needs shift, so you’ll also want to find food that’s appropriate for their life stage. Ask your vet for help in finding a well-balanced food with human grade ingredients that’s formulated for their life stage, whether they’re a puppy, adult, or senior. And while you’re at it, stay away from grain-free diets unless your dog requires it due to allergies or sensitivities, and as recommended by your vet. Recent studies1 have revealed that grain-free may be an expensive fad that doesn’t enrich your dog’s life and may even be harmful.
Despite their small size and aristocratic airs, the Maltese is an energetic dog that needs at least 30 minutes of daily exercise to thrive. As companion animals, they’ll doubly benefit if you join them in their activities, such as taking them on a walk or playing ball.
While certain breeds don’t fare well in tight quarters or hot weather, the Maltese thankfully adapts to almost any living conditions. Fiercely loyal and relentless snugglers, the Maltese’s motto seems to be, “Where you lead, I’ll follow.” As long as they’re receiving their core needs of food, exercise, and love, it doesn’t really matter if you live in a palace or an apartment.
It’s no secret: small dogs live longer on average than larger breeds. We don’t really know why, but this study2 from 2011 investigated common causes of death over two decades in nearly 80,000 dogs of all sizes. They found that large dogs often died earlier from cancer, musculoskeletal, or gastrointestinal issues, as opposed to neurological or endocrine issues being the leading causes of death in smaller dogs years later.
As in humans, female dogs generally live a bit longer than males. You can expect the average female Maltese to live about a year longer than a Maltese male in similar conditions.
Although the Maltese is a fairly healthy breed, they are known to have potential medical problems that are genetically influenced. The American Kennel Club recommends a cardiac exam and a patella evaluation before breeding to make sure related genetic issues aren’t passed down to the puppies.
Even if the breed has no known health concerns, every dog becomes ill at some point. Routine vet exams and prompt sick visits can reduce the risk of your Maltese dying prematurely. You should also take care of your Maltese’s teeth with daily toothbrushing and routine dental cleanings as recommended by your vet.
The 4 Life Stages of a Maltese
From the time they’re born until 4 to 6 months old, your Maltese will delight you with sweet kisses with fresh puppy breath, test your patience with potty training, and trade their baby teeth in for adult chompers. Technically, dogs are still considered puppies until they’re a year old, and small dogs such as the Maltese may behave like puppies even until their 4th birthday. However, it’s worth defining the pure puppy stage as under 6 months because of the next phase that overlaps: puberty.
Sometime between 6 months old and their 1st birthday, your Maltese will undergo rapid growth and experience puberty. Unless they’re spayed, females typically experience their first heat around 6 months old, but may go into heat as young as 4 months. Males reach sexual maturity between 5 months and 1 year. Ironically, smaller dogs take longer than larger breeds to behave like a mature adult but develop sexually much faster. You’ll need to make your decision about if and when to sterilize your Maltese by the time they’re 4 to 6 months old, or you may have a surprise on your hands.
Once they’ve finished growing around 2 years old, your Maltese is considered a mature adult. They’ll still probably frolic like a puppy, though, until they’re around 3 to 4 years old. At this point, they’ll want to play, but probably won’t shred your bedroom slippers or run zoomies several times a day. Thanks to their long lifespan, your Maltese may stay in the adult stage for nearly a decade before they start to slow down.
A dog’s twilight years span roughly the last 25% of their expected lifespan. For a Maltese, that means they’ll be considered a senior sometime between their 8th and 11th birthdays. You’ll know when they’re getting close when they begin to gray, gain a little extra weight, or experience reduced activity levels. Malteses may also develop cataracts or arthritis as they age, but they can still have plenty of years ahead of them.
How to Tell Your Maltese’s Age
While it’s fairly easy to tell the difference between a puppy and an adult, or an adult from a senior, it’s a little harder to gauge the years in between. The presence or absence of puppy teeth informs you whether your Maltese is under 6 months old. Most dogs have a fair amount of plaque by the time they’re 4 years old, so squeaky clean teeth may also indicate a puppy or young adult.
Senior dogs often weigh a little more than a healthy adult, although obesity can be a concern at any age. Older dogs may also have trouble walking, or have cataracts as opposed to a bright-eyed and active younger adult.
Life isn’t a guarantee. While the average Maltese lives 12 to 15 years, some live much longer or shorter depending on a variety of factors. Some risks of premature death are relatively preventable, such as obesity. Others, especially genetics, may have multi-faceted characteristics that are difficult to control. If your Maltese has a shorter life on average, you can rest assured that lifespan relies on many different things, and it wasn’t your fault. If your Maltese is still alive, it’s a good idea to become familiar with the things that often cause premature death, so your pup stands a better chance at a longer life.