The AKC is the nation’s leader in all things dog-related. In their breed popularity list ranked out of 200, the ever-popular Maltese ranks #37. So, if you don’t already own a Maltese, you’ve undoubtedly seen their adorable little faces around.
Typically, when you see a Maltese, the dog is always snow-white—almost as if it’s a trademark of the breed. If you think that, you’d be right. However, there are exceptions—and there are also growing numbers of hybridization breeds that incorporate the Maltese, giving way to new colors.
Let’s break all that down.
How Did the Breed Start?
The beautiful, elegant Maltese derives from an ancient variety of dwarf dog breeds in Italy. As its name would imply, this dog is associated with the island of Malta, where it originates. These dogs were bred for show and companionship purposes—and they have always been frilly and sassy.
These dogs are directly related to the Bichon Frise, Havanese, and Bolognese breeds—although the exact science of their DNA is unknown.
The Breed Standard
According to the Official Standards of the AKC, the Maltese is a toy breed with floor-length bright white, silky fur. They cannot traditionally appear black or brown without mixing genetics with other breeds. So, if you see a brown Maltese or a black Maltese, they are likely not a purebred Maltese.
Here are other characteristics that a purebred Maltese should have:
Coat Colors Explained
As far as the breed standard goes on the AKC website, white is the only standard color, with a few minor exceptions that are not desired. But let’s explain in more detail.
White is the desired breed standard. Nearly all Maltese are pure white from their heads to their tails. It isn’t acceptable if you are buying a dog for show and they have any other color variation.
White with Light Tan/Lemon Ears
Sometimes, Maltese are born with biscuit-colored to yellowish ears. While the AKC doesn’t find this a good quality, other Kennel Clubs—like Australia, for example—accept it.
As they age, they might also have a “tanning” effect in certain coat parts. Often, this can go away on its own. While very rare, it might also come from deficiencies in the diet.
Typically, you don’t achieve black or brown color variations unless the Maltese are mixed with another breed. Some common examples include the Maltipoo (Maltese + Poodle) or Maltipom (Maltese + Pomeranian).
Factors That Affect Coat Color
Even though your Maltese won’t change color from their beautiful snowy white (except on the ears), some factors can alter the color slightly.
If you notice a darkening around your Maltese’s face, it will likely be tear staining. This is the effect of excess tear production and is scientifically referred to as epiphora. They typically appear as red or brown streaks underneath the Maltese eyes. Because of their very light coats, this condition is much more noticeable.
Tear stains are caused by porphyrins, iron-waste molecules resulting from red blood cell breakdown. They can release through poop but might also excrete through fluid glands, including saliva and tears.
There are many potential solutions for removing tear stains. Be bold and talk to your vet about the best possible solutions for your pup.
Mating can cause discoloration in the coat. That is because when the fur binds together, creating knots and tangles, dirt, debris, and other gunk get trapped in your pet’s coat.
Solutions for discoloration due to matting include regular grooming, frequent brushing, and general coat maintenance.
If you notice your pet’s coat changing when you get them groomed, that might be due to underlying pigmentation on the skin. If your Maltese’s coat is cut very short, you might notice cow spots or another dark patchwork under their fur.
This is not actually a coat collar; this is simply the color of the skin underneath. Some Maltese can have fascinating patterns underneath their coats.
If you enjoy this aspect, you can groom your Maltese to show it off. If you aren’t a fan, you can leave their coach just long enough so it won’t show through.
Whitening Shampoos for the Maltese
You can buy whitening shampoos that are explicitly designed for breeds like the Maltese. For example, Healthy Breeds Maltese Bright Whitening Dog Shampoo is formulated to brighten this breed’s coat. This is one of many options, too.
You can find many formulas on sites like Chewy, Amazon, or pet shops and vets’ offices.
How to Buy from a Breeder
If you see someone selling a black or brown Maltese, you have to ask yourself this question—what are the breeding practices of this particular breeder? If buying from a licensed breeder, always ensure they have vet records, great documentation, and a proper reputation.
Here are some aspects of buying that should be put in place every time you purchase from a reputable breeder.
Puppy contracts are legal agreements put in place to protect the dog being sold. When you sign a puppy contract, you agree to the terms and conditions of the purchase with the breeder.
Often, terms include giving the puppy back to the breeder if you cannot take care of it. This is a very responsible practice put in place to ensure that these dogs do not wind up in shelters.
If you are looking for a quality Maltese puppy, you will have to get on a waiting list. Responsible breeders only allow their breeding dogs to give birth on a time schedule. So often, there will be long waiting periods in between.
If you have found the person you’d like to buy from, jump on a waiting list for future litters.
Deposits are completely commonplace for a reputable breeder. They want to ensure the purchaser is serious about the puppy in question. To secure your place, you’re often asked to put a portion of the total cost for the puppy down before you bring the puppy home.
This practice ensures placement to a new family and protects both the buyer and the breeder. Often deposits are nonrefundable, but it is up to the individual seller.
You have to beware of backyard breeders. These are people who breed puppies unethically. They are often in unsavory living conditions without proper genetic testing. Here are some signs of potential backyard breeding:
If you notice these behaviors, steer completely clear of this breeder. The puppies have a very high chance of being temperamentally or physically unsound. As unfortunate as that is for the poor animals, buying into this only contributes to the problem.
Don’t Buy Into Claims of Black or Black Purebred Maltese
As we have gone over in this article, no purebred Maltese is black or brown. If someone is selling one of these dogs, it is likely a hybrid between a Maltese and another breed. If they are claiming that it is a purebred Maltese, do not believe them. This is not genetically possible with this particular breed.
So now you understand that in America, the AKC would like the Maltese to be completely snow white without curly, frizzy, or fuzzy hair. The coat should be completely sleek and silky, free of any imperfections. Although lemon and tan markings on the ears sometimes happen, this is not a favorable trait.
Black and brown Maltese purebred dogs don’t exist, and neither do any other color except white. It is entirely false if someone is trying to sell you a non-white Maltese under this pretense. Before you purchase a puppy from any breeder, ensure that breeding practices are in place to protect you and your new puppy.
Featured Image Credit: Dora Zett, Shutterstock