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Maltese vs. Shih Tzu: Which One Is Right for Me?


Mar 14, 2023
Maltese vs Shih Tzu - Featured Image


Maltese vs Shih Tzu - Featured Image

At first glance, the Maltese and Shih Tzu look very similar. It is easy to get them confused! However, you should consider some key differences between the breeds before adopting one.

Both breeds are dogs that were bred largely to be companion animals. Therefore, they exhibit many traits the average dog owner loves, such as being affectionate and people-oriented. Neither needs much exercise, and they often get along with other pets.

However, the Maltese have fewer health problems than the Shih Tzu, a brachycephalic breed. Maltese are slightly harder to find, as they aren’t as popular as the Shih Tzu.

Let’s look at both breeds separately to help choose the best one for you.


Visual Differences

Maltese vs Shih Tzu - Visual Differences
Image Credit: Left – Maltese (Archibald Marajas, Pexels) | Right – Shih Tzu (Goochie Poochie Grooming, Pexels)

At a Glance


  • Average height (adult): 8–10 inches
  • Average weight (adult): 4–7 pounds
  • Lifespan: 12–15 years
  • Exercise: Around 30 minutes per day
  • Grooming needs: High—regular brushing and haircuts required
  • Family-friendly: Yes
  • Other pet-friendly: Yes, including cats, dogs, and small pets
  • Trainability: Intelligent but stubborn

Shih Tzu

  • Average height (adult): 9–10 inches
  • Average weight (adult): 9–16 pounds
  • Lifespan: 10–16 years
  • Exercise: Around 30 minutes per day
  • Grooming needs: High—regular brushing and haircuts required
  • Family-friendly: Yes
  • Other pet-friendly: Yes, including cats, dogs, and small pets
  • Trainability: Trainable but hard to housebreak


Maltese Overview

The Maltese is a small dog that originates from Italy. It’s related to several other small dog breeds, such as the Bichon and Havanese. However, it isn’t directly related to the Shih Tzu.

Young maltese dog in a meadow
Image Credit: Dora Zett, Shutterstock


Maltese live long, healthy lives in most cases. Their typical lifespan is up to 15 years, making them one of the most long-lived dogs. They aren’t prone to many inherited diseases. However, that doesn’t mean that they never get sick.

Like most small dogs, they are prone to luxating patella, which occurs when the kneecap slides out of place. Luckily, this condition is very treatable and often not serious. However, once it occurs once, the dog may be more likely to experience other knee injuries, like arthritis.

They’re also prone to patent ductus arteriosus, a congenital heart defect. Responsible breeders will screen their puppies for this defect before selling them. They’re also prone to dental disease like many other toy breeds, so regular teeth care is required.

a young vet checking a maltese dog
Image Credit: Creativa Images, Shutterstock


Maltese are laidback dogs that tend to be extremely affectionate with their families. However, their tiny size puts them at risk around smaller children. Therefore, we recommend them for homes with older kids only. If a small child hurts a Maltese, they can become snappy.

They can be vocal dogs but aren’t nearly as yappy as some other breeds. They can experience separation anxiety when left alone, so crate training from a young age is recommended. They may also be somewhat protective, though their smaller size makes it impossible to use them as protection dogs.


The Maltese don’t require much exercise—about 30 minutes of playtime daily is fine. However, they need tons of grooming, including daily brushing and regular professional haircuts. You’ll often need to budget to get them groomed every few weeks.

Without the proper care, these dogs can easily become matted. You can get low-maintenance haircuts to reduce the amount of daily brushing required. Puppy and teddy bear cuts are very popular amongst companion Maltese.

groomer cutting the hair of a maltese dog
Image Credit: Rovsky, Shutterstock

Suitable For:

Maltese require a lot of grooming but not very much exercise. Therefore, they work best for families with older children who don’t tend to be very active. We don’t recommend them for small children, as their smaller size makes them prone to injury.

divider-dog paw

Shih Tzu Overview

The Shih Tzu originates from Tibet—very far away from the Maltese. Despite this, the Shih Tzu and Maltese share many things in common. Their health is largely where they differ.

shih tzu puppy running on grass
Image Credit: Toberoon, Pixabay


Shih Tzus are prone to several health problems, many of which are hereditary. Because this breed has grown so popular over the last few decades, inexperienced breeders and puppy mills have bred the Shih Tzu prolifically. In the end, this has led to a less healthy breed.

These canines are brachycephalic, meaning their snouts don’t allow them to breathe correctly. Their nasal passageways are very small, preventing them from getting enough oxygen. This puts them at risk for heat stroke, anesthesia complications, and other health problems.

Because of their very large eyes, the Shih Tzu is prone to eye problems, too. It’s very common for them to develop eye problems as they age. Many have allergies that cause discharge, which must be treated with eye drops. Other dogs develop cataracts that require surgery. Their eyes are also more easily damaged.

It’s also very common for them to develop ear problems, often due to hair in their ears. The excessive hair can clog the ears with dirt and debris, leading to ear infections. Their ears must be kept clean and the hair around them clipped.

Holding her Shih Tzu dog at home
Image Credit: Drazen Zigic, Shutterstock


Shih Tzus are pure companion animals. They’re very people-oriented and bond closely with their humans. They’re friendly and get along with almost anyone, including other pets. They tend to be happy, perky dogs that can be very fun to be around.

Because of their shortened muzzles, Shih Tzus don’t chew as much as other canines. However, they can be a bit noisy and may enjoy digging.

They constantly want to be with their people, which can sometimes lead to separation anxiety. Therefore, crate training is highly recommended. We recommend them for people who spend plenty of time at home. Due to their smaller size, they aren’t best for little kids.


Shih Tzus have low exercise requirements. Their shortened snouts put them at risk for exercise fatigue, so care should be taken not to overexercise them, especially when it is hot.

However, they do require extensive grooming. If their coats are kept long, they require grooming at least once daily. You’ll also need to take them in for regular, professional haircuts. For this reason, many decide to get them trimmed down to reduce the amount of brushing required.

brushing shih tzu dog
Image Credit: hedgehog94, Shutterstock

Suitable For:

We recommend Shih Tzus for those who spend a lot of time at home. They’re great companion dogs but don’t do well with small children. Furthermore, you should budget plenty of money for professional grooming and vet care, as they’re prone to health issues.


Which Breed Is Right for You?

Maltese and Shih Tzus are small, companion breeds that don’t require much exercise. They grow to a fairly similar size and have very similar grooming needs. However, they differ in both temperament and health.

Maltese are often more independent, though they can still develop separation anxiety. They tend to be more active than the Shih Tzu, but they still don’t require more than 30 minutes of playtime daily. They’re prone to several health problems but not as many as the Shih Tzu.

The Shih Tzu is extremely people-oriented and affectionate. They want nothing more than to sit in their people’s lap all day. However, they’re prone to separation anxiety and several health issues.

Either one of these adorable pooches is a great choice for owners looking for a small, cuddly, and people-oriented dog.

Featured Image Credit: Top – Maltese (dole777, Unsplash) | Bottom – Shih Tzu (Alexas Fotos, Pexels)

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