Maltese vs Shih Tzu – A Detailed Comparison of Both Dog Breeds!

Hi, I’m Caitlin. My family includes a very energetic Jack Russell called Harvey.

I may not own these beautiful breeds but a common game for us is guessing the breed when we meet fellow doggy families on our walkies.

This is why I’ve put together an overview of these gorgeous breeds of Maltese vs Shih Tzu so you too can find the perfect doggy companion.

So You Want a Dog or Puppy?

Whether you buy a puppy, or save a dog from the rescue centers there are a few general things to consider.

1) It is costly. Kennel club suggest costs of £25 a week and upwards

2) This is a commitment that on average lasts 12 years, although the oldest dog on record passed away at an impressive age of 29.

3) Dogs need companionship, walks and love every day of their lives.

4) Grooming and occasional vet visits will also need to be accounted for with variations for specific breed types.

Fortunately, there is usually a breed type or service to help people with every sort of lifestyle welcome a furry friend into their home.

Finding the right breed for you is the first step to ensuring that a wonderful relationship will blossom between you and your dog.

The Fédération Cynologique Internationale which is the federation of a number of different kennel club’s officially recognises 344 different breeds of dogs.

That’s not including crosses so well done if you managed to narrow it down to two breeds! Don’t worry if you haven’t yet!

Overview of Maltese vs Shih Tzu

A quick overview of these two breeds:


1) They are both toy dog breeds aka small and pretty

2) Both are suitable to apartment living

3) They both are able to grow a floor length coat, so require high grooming maintenance

4) Both breeds have been welcomed by classy people throughout their ancient history

5) Both breeds, like most toy dogs take a long time to toilet train


1) Colors, purebred Maltese are always white, whereas, Shih Tzu’s have a wide range of color combinations with secondary and every tertiary colors to their coats.

2) Shih Tzu are more suited to being around children and other pets i.e. cats than Maltese

3) Maltese have a higher energy level and good obedience in agility style training and competition

4) Shih Tzu’s’ are bred to be companion dogs and enjoy a lot of your company, although Maltese’s are still very affectionate too.

5) Maltese have more guard dog tendencies, although both breeds will yap excessively if not trained appropriately



This breed has a long and sophisticated history.

The breed was likely introduced to the Phoenicians, a Mediterranean maritime trading society between 1550 BCE and 300 BCE. This is before the rise of ancient Greece!

This breed was likely introduced to Malta, where the breed takes its name from by nomadic tribes and is thought to be descended from a spitz-type dog bred by Swiss Lake Dwellers to catch rodents. 

Some people suggest that there is also some evidence that it may also be related to the Tibetan terrier from Asia.

The first record was found on a Greek container (amphora) found in the Etruscan town of Vulci in modern day Italy dated to 500 BC.

This breed has been enjoyed by the wealthy ladies all over the world and is even pictured on golden age ceramics although called the ‘Melitaie Dog’ at the time of the Greeks.

Even Aristotle, an ancient Greek philosopher referred to the breed to be perfectly proportioned.

This breed remained a status symbol throughout the Roman era; with no-self respecting Roman matron was without her ‘Roman ladies dog’.

Even Emperor Claudius approved of the breed and it became prevalent in roman myths and legends symbolizing loyalty.

The breed nearly collapsed with that of the Roman Empire, but was fortunately saved by Chinese breeders albeit crossed and refined with some Chinese toy dog breeds.

The new style Maltese was then reintroduced back to Europe and rightfully took center stage at the first New York’s first Westminster show in 1877, which referred to the breed as the Maltese lion dog.

This breed continues to be popular, ranking 48 in the top 100 favorite dog breeds by the UK public in 2018.


No humble beginnings for this breed. The name itself of Shih Tzu translates to ‘lion dog’ and can be dated as far back as to 800 BC.

It is thought that the breed we know and love today was developed within the secretive walls of the Chinese emperor’s palace by imperial breeders crossing two Sino-Tibetan breeds, the Pekingese and the Lhasa Apso, two ancient breeds.

The latter of which was perhaps gifted by the Dalai Lama to the Chinese emperors in the 17th century.

These breed remained the royal dog for hundreds of years and the emperors would even give gifts to those breeders who could produce the most beautiful and affectionate dogs.

It wasn’t until the 1930’s that the breed became known outside the palace by breed clubs from Peking and later England and now owners have included Queen Elizabeth II and Miley Cyrus.

This is again a popular breed ranking 12th on the list for the mirrors publicly voted favorite dog breeds and ranked 20th in 2017 for the American Kennel club.

Here is the list if you would like to compare other dogs! 

Breed characteristics

Maltese vs Shih Tzu: Which is The Larger Breed?

Neither of these two breeds’ is much larger than the average adult pet cat. The Maltese is the smaller of the two typically weighing less than 7 pounds and only reaching a height of seven to nine inches.

On the other hand, the Shih Tzu weighs 9-16 and stands eight to 11 inches tall.

This is measuring from floor to shoulder so there actual height will be a bit taller. This leaves plenty of space for either of these breeds even in the smallest of apartments.

Maltese vs Shih Tzu: Temperaments

The American Kennel club describes the Maltese as gentle, playful and charming, and the Shih Tzu as affectionate, playful and outgoing. What does this really mean?

The Maltese is a very intelligent dog for the toy dog, and very good at agility styled games.

They are fairly energetic and would enjoy a yard to bounce around in as well as walks and plenty of games.

They tend to be well tempered with a range of other dogs and strangers; however, they do require some firm training to begin with as they are prone to excessive barking.

They will announce to you when a guest reaches your door as they can be defensive and tend towards a little guard dog.

They are also experience separation anxiety although this can be controlled if not ‘over-loved’.

How Does The Shih Tzu Compare?

This breed was bred to be a companion, giving him a loving, affectionate temperament and meaning that this breed tends to be less demanding and yappy compared to their fellow toy breeds.

This breed is more solidly built and is actually known to be good with children and the elderly due to enjoying cuddles and lower exercise requirements.

With proper socialization, this breed tends to be good with strangers and other dogs as well as other household pets.

This breed can also be stubborn, but living with a Jack Russell it can be rather funny to watch when all the basics are covered.

Overall, the Maltese is may be more playful, but the Shih Tzu is more suited to family environments.

Remember that the temperament of each dog will differ, just like their personality and this won’t be apparent until they are adults.

Maltese vs Shih Tzu: Lifespan

We can expect a happy, healthy Maltese to live for between 12-15 years, whereas the Shih Tzu has a wider range of 10-18 years.

There are records of Maltese dogs to reach 20 years and Shih Tzu’s to reach 23 years. These breeds are long lived, with the overall average dog age being between 10-13 years.

Maltese vs Shih Tzu: Are They Prone to Health Conditions?


Maltese are relatively healthy dogs, with few diseases they are prone to.

The American kennel club recommends that breeders check for luxating patella, a condition where kneecap moves out of its normal position and heart conditions such as patent ductus arteriosus, where a heart duct fails to close after birth.

A bile-acid test in puppies is also recommended to rule out congenital liver issues such as liver shunt (abnormal vessels that allow for blood to bypass the liver) and microvascular dysplasia (abnormal vessels within the liver affecting blood flow).

For example, the Maltese has a 20 times higher risk of liver shunts than other breeds but 85 % of surgeries lead to the dog having a completely normal life a few months after surgery and this is only going to improve with medical advancements.

There have also been cases of encephalitis, brain swelling which can be a cause of white dog shaker syndrome which causes full body tremors but there is not a pre-test available for this condition yet.

They are also prone to allergies which will make them itch and sight loss through glaucoma and retinal atrophy.

Like most dog breeds, they require regular teeth brushing and trips to the vet to ensure there are no dental problems.

When getting a puppy, ask to see the parent’s medical history as some of these diseases are genetic and therefore if the parents don’t have the condition, the puppies will have a lower risk.

Getting your dog scanned as early as possible will also help vets do the best for your Maltese as many of these conditions can be cured by surgery.

Shih Tzu

Shih Tzu, again are relatively healthy dogs especially with responsible breeders screening for particular diseases like they do for the Maltese.

This breed has a particular short face and long coat, therefore does not cope well in heat and will struggle to swim to cool down predisposing them to a higher risk of heat stroke.

Conditions this breed is prone too includes hip dysplasia, where the ball and socket joint does not align properly from birth and patellar luxation (a slipped kneecap).

The Shih Tzu long back can be a risk of intervertebral disk disease.

The disks in the back can bulge or rupture damaging nerves and causing severe pain and if not treated paralysis but if under a grade 4 in symptoms there is a 95% success rate if surgery is opted for.

It is a 50-60% success rate if managed non-surgically of an ability to walk.

The eyelids on this breed sometimes fail to close properly and can cause corneal dryness and inflammation.

The bulgy eyes tend to make infections and corneal ulcers more prevalent as they are more likely to be damaged by flying objects or rubbing with paws.

Entropion, where the eyelids turn inwards and the eyelashes irritate the eye and epiphora where your dog will look like its crying because the tears cannot drain properly are also possible.

Other eye conditions include cataracts, progressive retinal atrophy (degeneration of the retina) and retinal detachment (where the back of the eye pulls away from the blood vessels).

These all sound like scary conditions, but nearly every breed of dog has its list of increases risk health problems and although a higher risk, the risk is still low and therefore should not put you off either of these beautiful breeds.

This is only a relatively short list that you should be aware of but as always check with your local vet.

Maltese vs Shih Tzu: What do They Look Like?


Maltese are like puppies that never grew up. Their rounded skulls and compact body, the length not greater than height give them a perfect looking body.

With the dark brown or black large eyes and gumdrop nose this is a face even cat people will fall for.

The Maltese is famed for its silky, pure white coat. Occasionally, tan and lemon coloration may appear around the ears.

The coat is a single layer and is able to grow down to the floor in a straight, elegant manor but many owners now opt for a shorter ‘puppy cut’ to make things easier.

The purebred Maltese are always white, but black Maltese can be found but this isn’t technically a breed and is likely to be a cross between another dog breed.

Shih Tzu

The Shih Tzu is the sturdier of the two breeds with a greater deal of weight and substance. This breed is longer than it is tall with a shortened face with dark eyes peeping up at you.

An unusual feature is there under bite which is a breed standard but a Shih Tzu will always wear a proud look upon its face, after all, it is a dog fit for royalty.

Shih Tzu has a double coat unlike the Maltese’s.  The coat, flows smoothly down to the floor unless opted to be cut short called a ‘puppy cut’ or a ‘teddy bear cut’.

The coat can be found in a range of colors, commonly white with patches of grey.

This breed, although bred for the appearance of strength is actually one of the slowest dog breeds, reaching only 6 mph.

With the average walking speed of a person being 3.1 mph, if your pup does decide to try and make a break for it at least you won’t be far behind!

The Maltese, a more energetic dog is likely to be a bit faster, with many owners claiming their Maltese can outrun them.

Smaller breeds are slower than there larger cousins with most dog breeds reaching a 19 mph max with likes of only pugs reaching up to 10 mph.

Maltese vs Shih Tzu shedding: What Kind of Coats do They Have?

The Maltese coat is has a silky, straight coat but no undercoat.

Good news if you think you are allergic to dogs because Maltese dogs are hypoallergenic, meaning that you may not be allergic to this little dog.

This is because they do not really shed or drool. This is because they do not possess an undercoat.

Unlike the Maltese, Shih Tzu do possess a double coat, so do have an undercoat. This coat can still reach the floor.

This breed may not be considered hypoallergenic by everyone but it still has a very low shedding rate so is still a good choice for people who may be allergic or those who rather not spend all day brushing fur off everything!

Maltese vs Shih Tzu: Grooming Requirements

Both breeds have fast growing hair and nails, meaning that they both require a large amount of grooming attention.

They both require daily brushing and regular trips to the groomers especially if you want to keep that coat short and easier to manage, perhaps every month and a half.

Maltese dogs need to have regular baths as well as coat conditioning. Their ears also need weekly checks for long hair which needs to be trimmed and for excess earwax.

The hair around the bottom will also need to be kept short for hygiene reasons, as you can imagine!

A regular wipe around the eyes will help prevent tear staining, but if it becomes excessive it may be that your dogs eyes may not be draining properly giving the hair around the eyes a darker color. This should be accessed by a vet.

Shih Tzu dogs require similar time commitments with grooming.

Daily brushing with a wire brush with flexible pins so ensure the skin is touched due to the double coat and the moustache and top knot need to be combed daily with the hair.

Dogs with hair left to grow out must have it tied up out of the dog’s eyes to prevent irritation.  Baths should be given every three to four weeks to ensure a clean, healthy coat.

If you would like to know how to groom your dog check out our article!

Maltese vs Shih Tzu: How Easy are They to Train?


Maltese, a playful dog is therefore makes very good agility dogs. They respond well to treats-based training. They are very loyal and protective of their owners.

This can lead to problems with separation anxiety. They also tend to act like a little, fearless watchdog. After all, they wouldn’t want anything to happen to you!

They are very affectionate dogs but do have a mischievous streak.

They also have a habit of ‘mad time’ where they will just run around and bark. Which I am sure is funny at times. I tend to call it ‘the puppy run’ with my dog.

With appropriate mental stimulation and exercise these can be reduced, albeit I tend to encourage it and barking can be trained out of the run.

Training a Maltese is possible, they are not considered particularly intelligent dogs ranking 59th out of 79 in Stanley Coren’s The Intelligence of Dogs

This doesn’t cover many forms of intelligence outside working breeds skills and there are plenty more than 79 breeds to consider.

They are perfectly willing to please and capable of following positive, repetitive reward based training for basic commands such as sit. They just want to please you!

The main concern with this breed is that they are notoriously hard to house train.

This is common in many toy breeds and can be approached in a variety of ways, for example in a colder climate consider an indoor style toilet/puppy pad approach.

Shih Tzu

The Shih Tzu definitely meets the requirements of a teddy bear and can be as stubborn as one.

They have a charismatic ‘what’s in it for me’ attitude meaning that training will go a lot smoother if began young and treats are in the picture.

Short, praise based training should work as remember they are lap dogs so are not known for a high energy level.

They still need exercise to prevent them getting fat whether they like it or not! They are considered less yappy than the Maltese but still a firm hand is required to prevent excessive barking.

A similar trait with all toy breeds is the difficulty in house breaking the breed. This is something you will likely need to be prepared for if you are getting a puppy.

Training this can take over eight months for a Shih Tzu, so make sure you read up on potty training and how to remove that urine smell (we have an article on this to link to?) before you get your puppy.

It is even recommended that all variation is minimized so even take you dog to the same place in the garden to pee to ensure they know what a good doggy is.

Toy breeds are not bred for intelligence and obedience like other working dogs but training, although may take a little longer is definitely possible.

With some prior reading and preparation creating a perfectly behaved member of the family will not take too long.

If you need extra help training check out our article here!

Maltese vs Shih Tzu: Are They a Rare Breed?

Both these dog breeds are very popular. The kennel club had 3119 registrations for Shih Tzu placing this breed as number 16th on the list most popular dog breeds in 2017.

The Maltese may not have made the top 20 but is still popular with 1139 registrations in 2017. Remember this is just registered dogs and there will be many more that are not purebred.

On a different ranked list, the mirror, ranked Maltese dogs 48 out of 100 of most popular dog breeds in 2018 voted by the public in Britain and the Shih Tzu ranked 12th.

It is clear that many people choose the Shih Tzu over the Maltese, but both breeds are relatively widely available.

Even older dogs of a couple of months if you rather avoid that awkward potty training stage are available.

The popularity of Shih Tzu dogs means that although there are purebred dogs available there are also many more cross breeds.

This means that you will need to check the characteristics of the breed as well to make sure the dog is a right fit for you.

This is because no characteristics are guaranteed with crossbreeds and is likely to be a blended appearance and personality of both breeds.

Maltese vs Shih Tzu: What do They Eat?

Both breeds offer a luxurious coat which demands a high-quality dog food, most people recommend a dry food over wet. Treats are essential for training purposes.

It is cautioned that some dogs are more prone to obesity so ensure that the right food in the right qualities including treats is given in accordance with the dog’s age.

This is not anything different to that of any other dog breed. Toy breeds in particular are more prone to hypoglycemia or low blood sugar especially in puppies so a good diet being fed at the right times is important.

It is recommended that initially to help the move of your puppy from the breeder to your home to continue on the same brand of dog food that the breeder has been providing to encourage your puppy to keep eating and minimize stress.

It is also important to remember that small dogs tend to have sensitive stomachs and due to their size even small amounts of harmful foods can do a lot of damage. 

This means to be sure to check out which are harmful human foods for your dog, whatever dog you get.

Shih Tzu’s, similarly to Maltese have little stomachs and therefore a good-quality defined sometimes by the protein content is essential to ensure they are able to eat enough food and still get all the nutrition they need.

It is recommended that a brand which is 25 % protein is a good quality brand of food.

The fast growing nature of these dogs fur also mean that the food should have a high good fat content such as omega three and six and vitamin A to ensure a healthy, silky coat.

A hypoallergenic diet will also help determine if your puppy is allergic to any flavors if you are worried about this.

Their diet may be the same but how much to feed them?

It is recommend that you read the instructions on the food you are provided or listen to your vet especially if providing home-made food. 

Shih Tzu

Roughly a Shih Tzu will require approximately 35 calories per pound, and reduced down to 30 for a less active, more senior dog.

This means that if your Shih Tzu weighs 12 pounds, you will need to feed it 420 calories a day, usually spread across two to three meal times.


A Maltese may require a few more calories per pound as they are a bit more active.

This is recommended at approximately 45 calories per pound of body weight and more in puppies. So a seven pound Maltese will need 315 calories across the day.

These are only rough guidelines and the exact amount will represent the actual weight of the dog and vet recommendations.

Maltese vs Shih Tzu: Are They Good With Children?

Do you have or planning to have a family with young children? Then a Maltese is probably not the right dog for you, whereas a Shih Tzu is known to be very affectionate with children.

Maltese are known to be intolerant of children and their small size also means they are not immune to even well meaning children’s rough play.

The larger size and docile nature of a Shih Tzu make this breed a good choice for families with children and other pets.

It is important to be aware that this breed is still small, children may still be a little too rough or if you already have a dog, large dogs are not careful when they play.

Ever have an enthusiastic lab through its paw at you to get a treat? It adorable but painful!

This is only a breed characteristic and the individual temperament and personality of every dog will differ.

Maltese vs Shih Tzu: Where Are They Suited Best?


Maltese dogs are very adaptable to suitable to a range of environments.

They are fairly energetic for a toy breed and will appreciate indoor play and a roam in the garden or a walk around the block.

There social nature means they would also appreciate meeting other dogs in the local park but they can be more than happy in an apartment where exercise is given.

A Maltese may prefer a warmer climate but if you prepare for a colder winter with shorter walks and a cute jumper then the cold can be doable.

Just be aware that smaller dogs lose heat quicker than that of larger breeds and the hair can trap snow and ice against the paws so a check every walk is required to ensure the dog is kept as warm as possible.

The Maltese coat does thicken in the winter but it does not possess an insulating undercoat and the coat takes time to thicken so in these times make sure you dog is kept nice and toasty.

Shih Tzu

Shih Tzu’s are bred to companions, they are suitable to apartments and don’t require too much exercise to remain fit and healthy and don’t mind if you don’t have a large yard.

These dogs are definitely not outside dogs, they will feel the cold but they also don’t like excessive heat due to their long fur and shortened face.

This breed was bred to be a companion, so will likely follow you and will hate being left alone for long periods of time.

Maltese vs Shih Tzu: Are They Expensive to Look After?

The simple answer to this is yes. These are deserving but high maintenance dogs.


These are welcomed show dogs and therefore a purebred Maltese with a pedigree lineage can easily sell for over a £1000 a puppy. After all these are status symbols.

Fortunately, if the heritage isn’t an issue for you then there are puppies available for around £300.

Shih Tzu

Again, in Shih Tzu’s, puppies can sell for a few hundred pounds but purebred, show lineages can give rise to values of over $2000.

These dogs require high end food, but with these small stomachs are unlikely to gobble it up quickly.

This certainly reduces the cost here. The largest cost with both of these breeds is that they both require regular, professional grooming.

You can expect to pay between $30 and $90 dollars on standard grooming. This is required every couple of months.

The nails, which also grow fast and need clipping will be required on top of this, along with a decent brush and combed for everyday use.

A status symbol and royal heritage are usually quite demanding and expect a little luxury in their life so allow for things such as a nice, perhaps heated dog bed and special treats.

They’re cute little faces will definitely make you want to spoil them rotten in a happy healthy way of course so make sure your wallet can allow for those mesmerizing eyes!

Final Thoughts: Maltese vs Shih Tzu

The ancient status symbol vs royalty, both these dogs have a rich past and they deserve it. The Shih Tzu is a calm companion who is more suited to a family scenario than the Maltese.

The Maltese is more energetic and independent and suited to people who are out a bit more or want a small dog to run with.

Both breeds are pretty healthy, although the Shih Tzu may have a few more issues associated with its squished face so expect a few more vet visits with that breed.

They both require a lot of grooming time, so if brushing hair does not appeal to you then sadly, neither of these beautiful dogs are right for you.

In summary, the main differences are color choices, Maltese are always white mainly and the ability to tolerate families and energy level.

If you still cannot decide, perhaps consider a cross between the two breeds.

We hope you found this page useful whether you already have either breed or are looking into getting a new puppy.

Getting a dog is in our eyes is one of the best things you can do.

The rewarding feeling, unconditional love is beyond compare whatever the breed.

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