Comparing Breeds: Maltese vs. Shih Tzu

Comparing Breeds: Maltese vs. Shih Tzu

Choosing your next breed of dog is always a big decision! If you’re deciding between a Maltese dog and a Shih Tzu, chances are you’re looking for a small, adorable dog that’s full of life and love for its family.

So how can you make the best decision between these two cuddly breeds? We’ve broken down the similarities and differences between the two breeds in order to help you choose the best fit for your family and lifestyle.

The Breeds

Both the Maltese and Shih Tzu are toy dog breeds, making them the smallest dogs around. They are considered hypoallergenic and generally make excellent family and companion dogs.

While the similarities are numerous, there are a couple of key differences between them. Here’s how the two breeds stack up in terms of personality, health, and grooming standards.


Maltese dogs are true lapdogs, heavily attached to their owners and family members. They need a lot of attention and can become anxious if left alone for too long. They can have a stubborn streak, and be mildly difficult to housebreak.

At the same time, they are incredibly loving and take well to a bit of training. They only require a moderate amount of exercise. As they are delicate, tiny dogs, it’s not recommended to leave them with very small children who don’t know how to be gentle.

Shih Tzus are similarly loving and require similar caution around small children. They were bred for the purpose of loving their owners, and that’s what they’ll do! They are more difficult to housebreak than the Maltese and notorious for coprophagia (consumption of their own feces), which can lead to house problems.

Shih Tzus have also recently proven to be excellent in obedience and agility training, as they are relatively fearless. While this can be lots of fun for owners, care should be taken to make sure Shih Tzu does not overestimate his abilities and jump from a high place, potentially injuring himself!


Both the Maltese and Shih Tzu are susceptible to a variety of health problems, especially if careful breeding practices have not been followed. It’s important to screen your breeder before adopting from them to assure they are responsible breeders who adhere to breed standards, which helps prevent health problems from occurring.

In particular, Maltese dogs are prone to patellar luxation, an orthopedic condition in the knees, portosystemic shunts, which can result in liver failure, and collapsing trachea, which affects their breeding ability. Shih Tzus are also prone to patellar luxation, as well as to various eye conditions and hip dysplasia.

Both dogs have similar lifespans; Maltese dogs live from 12-15 years and Shih Tzus from 10-16 years. Bringing your dog to the vet at the first sign of health issues can help you ensure your dog lives a longer, healthier, and happier life.


Perhaps the most stunning feature of both of these breeds is their ever-growing, long beautiful coats of hair. Because their hair is more like human hair than dog hair, they shed very little but require daily brushing of their coats to keep them healthy and tangle-free.

Both breeds also require weekly teeth brushing and monthly nail trims. In addition, Maltese dogs are particularly prone to tear staining, reddish-brown discoloration under their eyes. This can also occur in Shih Tzus, but because of the characteristic white fur of the Maltese it can be more visible. Tear staining can be avoided by regularly cleaning the eyes and beard, especially after eating and drinking.


The Maltese and the Shih Tzu are both excellent toy breeds that make great companions, and their similarities outweigh their differences. For the final breakdown, you should:

Adopt a Maltese if:

You’re looking for a loving, relatively easy-going dog, who requires a moderate amount of exercise.

Adopt a Shih Tzu if:

You’re ok with a bit more effort in housebreaking and training in exchange for some fun on the agility course, or with some entertaining tricks.

Whatever you choose, you’re sure to have a ton of fun with your new best friend. If you have any more questions about how these two breeds stack up, let us know in the comments below and we’ll answer your questions as best we can!