Maltese vs. Shih Tzu: Which Breed to Get?

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Maltese vs. Shih TzuThe Maltese and the Shih Tzu are very popular small dog breeds that can make amazing pets when in the right household and family.

The two breeds are very similar in some regards, and very different in others – so which one is best for your next pet? Or is neither of them suitable?

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Maltese vs. Shih Tzu: A Detailed Comparison

Let’s start by looking at the two breeds side-by-side.


The Maltese and the Shih Tzu both have very extensive histories, and neither of their histories is entirely concrete. Both are ancient toy dogs, and their origins are hard to track due to the record-keeping at the time.

It is thought that the Maltese developed in one of three ways; either the breed came from the Isle of Malta, where it descended from spitz-type dogs from around the Mediterranean Sea, or it developed from spitz dogs in Italy, or, perhaps even developed from East Asian spitz dogs and then traveled across the continent. However it developed, the breed has since spread itself wide and far and has been well beloved for many years.

In the 16th century, the breed was a favorite of Queen Victoria in the UK, and then in the 18th century, it became a popular pet among royals and aristocrats in France. But then, in the same era, the breeding of the Maltese became too much. Breeders were aiming for a dog too small to function, and the Maltese as we know it almost went extinct. Luckily, breeders mixed Maltese studs with spaniel breeds, Poodles, and East Asian breeds to help bring it back to a normal dog size!

The Shih Tzu on the other hand is possibly even older than the Maltese. The breed has been identified as one of the 14 oldest breeds out there. It is thought that it might have been developed by Tibetan monks and then given to Chinese royalty, or instead that the breed was the result of breeding with Lhasa Apsos or Pekingese.

Experts know that the breed was definitely around in 618 AD in China, during the Tang Dynasty. Evidence shows the dogs to have been popular then, and continuously from then across East Asia for a long time. In 1928, the breed made its way to England, and then to the United States. It was not, however, until 1969 that the American Kennel Club officially recognized the breed.


The two breeds are not particularly different when it comes to appearances.

The Maltese have silky white long hair that flows down. This coat covers the entire body and is reasonably thick. The breed has a rounded skull with a black nose, dropped ears, and dark, observant eyes. Resting on short legs, the breed measures in at around 8 to 10 inches tall, and will typically weigh up to 7 pounds.

The Shih Tzu is around the same size, measuring between 9 and 10.5 inches tall, but will typically weigh between 9 and 16 pounds. The breed has a recognizable undershot bite as well as a flowing coat that comes in black, black and white, gray and white, and red and white, as well as characteristic dropped ears.

Aging Profile

As small breeds, both the Maltese and the Shih Tzu have quite long live expectancies. They benefit from the slow metabolism and rate of maturity present in most small dog breeds, and as such, the Maltese can live for anywhere between 12 and 15 years, and the Shih Tzu can live for anywhere between 10 and 16 years.

As puppies, the breeds will grow quite fast. This will then slow down once they reach their full size; for the Maltese, this will be after about 6 to 8 months, and for the Shih Tzu it will be around the 10-month mark.


Often, small dogs are associated with shrill barking and unreasonable aggression, but that is so far from the case, especially for these two small breeds.

The Maltese are lively and incredibly friendly dogs. The breed is people-orientated by nature and will do anything to make you happy and spend as much time with you as possible. They are insanely affectionate and cuddly, but also bubbly and fun. Maltese are known to be very trusting but are probably more known for being spoilt. They have such a look about them that いit makes it almost impossible to say no to them!

Shih Tzus are so far from the assumption that many people make about small dogs. They were bred to be companions, and that’s still what they love to do most. They’re affectionate, alert, and lively, and will always be friendly and happy. Expect plenty of cuddles, playtime, and general goofing around from this breed.


Both the Maltese and the Shih Tzu are intelligent dogs; they are not necessarily the brainiest of the bunch, but they will be able to learn a fair selection of obedience and possibly even agility commands. However, the Shih Tzu is a bit of a pain when it comes to training. Whilst the breed is smart and does enjoy training, it will also require convincing to do the work. That’s where positive reinforcement comes in!

The Maltese also responds very well to positive reinforcement but is more likely than the Shih Tzu to respond without it. The breed is eager to please and loves being the center of attention, so whilst they will learn quicker with reinforcement, it may not always be necessary.

As both breeds are reasonably intelligent, owners should also be aware that they need to provide plenty of mental stimulation. This can come in the form of training, play, or even dog enrichment activities such as hidden treats or puzzle toys. Failing to keep smart dogs busy may lead to destructive behavior and anxiety.


Too often overlooked, grooming is an essential factor to consider when getting a new pet. Grooming can be a long and tiresome process, or alternatively can cost substantial sums of money. New owners should be aware of their new pets’ grooming requirements in order to meet them and prevent matting, discomfort, foul odors, and infections.

The Maltese is pretty high-maintenance when it comes to grooming. The long silky coat is prone to matting, and so to avoid this owners should brush their Maltese on a daily basis. The breed also requires regular bathing and will need its white face wiped between meals and throughout the day to avoid stains.

The Shih Tzu will also require daily brushing and combing in order to prevent mats, and frequent bathing is a necessity. Like the Maltese, the breed will need its face wiped on a regular basis to prevent anything from staining.


The cost is undoubtedly something that should be considered when getting a pet. There are a few different costs that should be considered, including the upfront cost and the cost of food per month. You might also choose to look at local veterinary insurance costs for the said breed to get a better understanding of how much money you will need to spend on your new pet each month.

For a Maltese, potential owners can expect to pay between $600 and $2,000 upfront. This will be dramatically lower for those adopting or rescuing, however. Each month, pet owners will typically spend between $50 and $80 for high-quality food for a Maltese.

Shih Tzus, on the other hand, will only cost potential owners between $750 and $1,500. Again, this will be lower for those looking to rescue or adopt their pets. In food, Shih Tzus will also cost between $50 and $80 each month.


One of the factors that veterinarians will use to price up insurance for a breed is whether or not the breed is predisposed to any health conditions. For example, breeds with shorter muzzles often develop problems with their breathing. A breed’s likeliness to develop health conditions will not only increase the cost of insurance but may also lead to further vet costs down the line.

Luckily, most health conditions can be safely managed with the care of an expert, but it is still worth knowing what to look out for and getting an idea of whether, as an owner, you’ll be able to provide lifelong care for a dog.

In this case, the Maltese is prone to patellar luxation, portosystemic liver shunts, progressive retinal atrophy, hypoglycemia, white dog shaker syndrome, collapsed trachea, and reverse sneezing. The Shih Tzu is likely to develop allergies, hip dysplasia, patellar luxation, juvenile renal dysplasia, bladder stones, bladder infections, eye problems, dental issues, portosystemic liver shunt, and ear problems.


As small breeds, both the Shih Tzu and the Maltese do not require excessive amounts of food on a daily basis. They both need only ¼ to ½ a cup of high-quality dry food each day. This can be supplemented with some treats, but overfeeding the dogs can lead to weight gain, and this can exacerbate or bring on various health conditions.

The exact amount depends on each specific dog and should be consulted with a vet.

Required Space

Neither the Maltese nor the Shih Tzu requires masses of space.

Since they are both toy breeds, an apartment or a home will give them plenty of space to run around and explore. So long as they have space to wander, space to rest, and are given plenty of exercise on a regular basis, both breeds are more than suited for apartment living.

Maltese vs. Shih Tzu: Which Should You Get as a Pet?

In addition to everything mentioned above, potential owners also need to consider whether or not a breed will fit in with their routine and their daily lives.

This means considering things like whether or not a breed gets on with children. In this case, for example, those with children are lucky enough to be able to choose between the two breeds! The Maltese are only advised to have around older children, simply due to their size, but both breeds will thrive in a family home.

There is also the factor of any other pets; many breeds will show aggression toward other dogs (especially of the same sex) and this is something you want to avoid. Between the Shih Tzu and Maltese, the former is better with animals generally, but both can live with other pets. For the Maltese, this may require a lot of socialization from quite a young age, though.

Finally, one of the most important factors to consider is whether or not you will be able to leave the breed home alone. Many owners need to leave their homes for work on a daily basis. It is, therefore, important to own a breed that will be able to handle extended periods of solitude. Unfortunately, neither the Maltese nor the Shih Tzu is particularly well suited to this.

Both breeds can only really be left for an absolute maximum of 4 hours before becoming distressed.


Both the Maltese and the Shih Tzu are amazing, affectionate toy breeds that date back to ancient times. They are both sweet, reasonably intelligent, and fun to have around. The differences arise with their ability to be trained; the Maltese are smart and happy to learn.

Very person-orientated, the Maltese is eager to please, whereas the Shih Tzu will take a substantial amount of work to train.

Cost-wise, both breeds are in similar ballparks, and many of them can be found in rescue centers. They will both thrive in large or small living spaces, and could even get on absolutely fine in much smaller spaces like studio apartments.

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