Maltese Vs Shih Tzu: How To Easily Differentiate Them

The Maltese and the Shih Tzu are both friendly little dogs, that people love having as laps dog. Both breeds have developed since ancient times. But there are many differences between the Maltese vs Shih Tzu.

Key DifferencesMalteseShih Tzu
Height7-9 inches9-10.5 inches
WeightUnder 8 pounds9-16 pounds
CoatSilky and LongLong Double Coat
ColorsWhiteVariety of Colors
TemperamentHigh-energy, CourageousCalm, Docile
Life Expectancy12-15 years10-18 years
Common Health ProblemsLuxating patella, Patient Ductus Arteriosus, Liver shunts, White Dog Shaker SyndromeBreathing issues, Hip dysplasia, Intervertebral disc disease, Eye problems

The Origin Of The Maltese And The Shih Tzu

The origin of these two similar dogs is very different. But one thing is similar, they are both very ancient dogs.

The Maltese – This breed has a vast history beginning in ancient times. It is believed that the dog was initially introduced in Malta, hence the name. There are records about this breed since 500 BC. This dog was loved by both ancient Greeks, and ancient Romans. It was even mentioned by Aristotle. It was recognized by the AKC in 1888 and has become one of the most favorite dog breeds.

The Shih Tzu – This is another very ancient dog breed that has its beginning in Tibet, China, dating back to 800 BC. It was kept as a royal dog and bred for hundreds of years by the Chinese emperors. Its name literally means “little lion” because of its appearance. The dog was officially recognized by the AKC in 1969 and is one of the most popular dogs, loved by many families around the world.

Differences In Their Appearance

When we compare the Shih Tzu vs Maltese, we can notice some differences in their appearance. The Maltese have larger eyes, compared to the Shih Tzu who have deep-set ones.


When it comes to size, it is obvious that both of these breeds are considered small. Both their bodies are small and compact, with the Shih Tzu being larger.

The Maltese has a height of 7-9 inches and a weight of under 7 pounds.

The Shih Tzu has a height of 9-10.5 inches and a weight of 9-16 pounds.

Coat And Color

What is similar in these two dog breeds’ coats is that both of them are low-shedding dogs. This means that they are great for people who have allergies.

The Maltese have a silky long coat that tends to grow long if not trimmed. It usually comes in white color, however, a white and lemon and white and tan combinations are possible. It can also have black “spot” markings on the eye rims, paws, nose, and lips.

The Shih Tzu has a long double coat that can also grow very long if not trimmed. It comes in a variety of colors including black, blue, brindle, gold, liver, red, silver, and many more. It can also have a tan, black, or white markings, and a black mask.

Temperament Of The Maltese vs Shih Tzu

When it comes to their personalities, both breeds have their positive and negative traits. They are both loyal, friendly, and loving dogs, perfect for any family. Even though they are small, they are also really good watchdogs. Both breeds are also considered intelligent, however, they can also be a bit stubborn.

The Maltese is a very energetic dog breed and loves to run around in the yard and go on walks. Even though it is a small dog, the Maltese is daring and can get aggressive with other dogs, no matter their size. It is very aware and will start barking if a stranger approaches your dog. That said it is also very friendly with strangers if properly socialized. These dogs are also prone to separation anxiety.

The Shih Tzu is less energetic than the Maltese. It is known for its calm personality, likely bred into it by Tibetan monks. In contact with other dogs, this breed can be a bit calmer in its reaction compared to the Maltese. It does have watchdog capabilities but it is less snappy and aggressive towards people it doesn’t know. This makes it easier for them to socialize with strangers and children.

Taking Care Of The Maltese And The Shih Tzu

No matter if you have a Shih Tzu or a Maltese, you still need to take care of your dog. There are a few things to think about when caring for your pup.

Health And Life Expectancy

Both of these dog breeds are relatively healthy and live long lives. The average lifespan of a Maltese is 12-15 years, while the lifespan of a Shih Tzu can be around 10-18 years. There are records of these dogs living much longer, around 20 years.

That said, there are a few diseases both dogs are predisposed to. The Maltese are known to develop these diseases:

  • Luxating patella – This happens when the patella, or the kneecap, gets out of its place, or gets luxated. You can notice your dog skipping or running on three legs, then getting back to normal. In time, it can lead to arthritis in the knee.
  • Patent Ductus Arteriosus – This is a heart defect where a small arterial shunt between the aorta and the pulmonary artery persists after birth. Symptoms include difficulty breathing, a loud heart murmur, abnormal pulses, and exercise intolerance. 
  • Liver shunt – This is another persistent shunt that forms between the portal vein and another vein, bypassing the liver. Symptoms include stunted growth, poor muscle development, abnormal behaviors, and seizures.
  • White Dog Shaker Syndrome – This disease causes tremors which are rhythmic, repetitive, and involuntary muscle movements that look like shaking. They can be present in one part of the body or generalized. They can worsen with excitement and exercise.

There is a difference between Maltese and Shih Tzu when it comes to disease predisposition. The Shih Tzu is known to develop these diseases:

  • Breathing issues – Because the Shih Tzu is a brachycephalic dog, it has problems with breathing properly. You may notice it snoring, snorting, and noisy breathing. Because of this, it is also prone to overheating and heat stroke.
  • Hip dysplasia – This is a joint disease, where the hip joints develop improperly and the ball and socket joint doesn’t align. In time, it leads to arthritis. Common symptoms include difficulty walking, limping, and pain in the joints.
  • Intervertebral disc disease – This is a disease of the spine, where the discs bulge or rupture, putting pressure on the spinal cord and damaging the nerves. Symptoms include severe pain and possible paralysis.
  • Eye problems – This includes Progressive Retinal Atrophy which causes night vision problems, poor eyesight, and blindness. Entropion causes the eyelids to turn inwards and irritate the eye. There are also Cataracts, Corneal dryness, Detached retina, and others.


When it comes to their diet, there isn’t any difference between the Maltese and Shih Tzu. Every dog, no matter how different, need a high-quality diet consisting of mostly protein. You should try to feed low-carb dog food. Their diet should also consist of enough vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and healthy fatty acids.

Small dogs can sometimes have sensitive stomachs. Due to this, you should be careful when choosing the diet for these breeds. Always use safe dog foods meant for small dog breeds. You can feed them around ¼ – ½ of cups of dog food, split into smaller amounts throughout the day. This is only a rough estimation as different pups need different amounts of food. 

Exercise And Training

When it comes to exercise, both of these little dog breeds require around 30-60 minutes of exercise every day. It’s best to split these into two sessions, one in the morning and one in the evening. Because these dogs are small, they might get tired while going for long walks. In this situation, it is best to have a carrying bag on hand to carry them in.

When it comes to training, both of these dogs are intelligent, so they will understand your commands easily. However, they are both stubborn dogs, so you need to be very persistent in your training. Using techniques like positive reinforcement and obedience training will help you in this process. Both dogs should also be socialized from an early age, especially the Maltese, due to their aggressive behavior. These dogs can also be difficult to housebreak.


No matter if you have a Shih Tzu or Maltese, you have to take care of their grooming because both of them are high-maintenance breeds. Their hair grows very long so it needs daily brushing to protect it from matting and knotting. They also need regular trims, once every six months, to keep their hair short. Trimming is especially important on the mustache and head hair. The head hair can also be tied up in a knot.

When it comes to bathing, once every 3-4 weeks should be the required amount. Both dogs can also grow their nails pretty fast, so you should commit to cutting your dog’s nails regularly.

Their ears should be checked for excess earwax and cleaned regularly. You should wipe around their eyes to prevent tear staining. Their teeth should also be brushed daily.

Price Difference Between Maltese And Shih Tzu

There is a price difference when looking at both of these dogs. Usually, the Maltese breed is more expensive than the Shih Tzu breed. A Maltese can cost around $600 to $2,000, while a Shih Tzu costs around $500 to $1,600. The reason might be that there are more Shih Tzus on the market and they are bigger dogs, which makes birth easier. Puppies that come from show-winning parents can cost much more.

High prices are common for smaller dogs like the Maltese and Shih Tzu. For example, Teacup Yorkies cost around $1,000 and $3,000.

A cheaper option to get one of these dogs is to visit a dog shelter. There you might find a puppy that is searching for a home and you will be doing it a kind favor. And it will love you for it.

Maltese vs Shih Tzu – How Different Are They?

The Maltese and the Shih Tzu are both beautiful little lap dogs, that are popular all around the world. Even though their small size and fluffy coat make them similar, they are quite different dogs.

The Shih Tzu is slightly larger compared to the Maltese. It has a long double coat that can come in a variety of colors. The Maltese has a long silky coat that always comes in pure white color.

Both breeds are loving, loyal, and great family dogs. The Maltese is more energetic and brave, and it can start barking matches with any dog, no matter its size. The Shih Tzu is calmer and more reserved when in contact with other dogs. Both breeds are intelligent, yet stubborn, which makes training challenging.

To properly care for these breeds, you need to know their health predispositions, as well as their diet, exercise, and grooming needs.


Who barks more Shih Tzu or Maltese?

The Maltese is known to bark more than the Shih Tzu. Shi Tzus are known to be a calmer breed, and the Maltese is more energetic and confrontational. But both dogs bark and are great as watchdogs.

What is a Maltese x Shih Tzu mix called?

The Maltese x Shih Tzu mix is often called Mal-Shi, which is as small and cute as its parent breed. The Mal-Shi can be mixed with a Poodle, Yorkie, or another breed, to create another dog.

Which is cuter Maltese vs Shih Tzu?

Both dogs are very cute and fluffy. Some people like smaller dogs and choose the Maltese, while others like them a little larger and choose the Shih Tzu. Different people have different tastes.

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