Maltese vs Shih Tzu — Dog Breed Comparison (Photos!)

Picking out a new pet is exciting, but it can also come with pressure. Every dog breed is different, so choosing the best-fit breed for your household and situation is important.

Since you’re interested in comparing the Maltese vs Shih Tzu, you’re in luck—both of these toy dog breeds are loving and friendly. However, they have some differences in their characteristics and personalities that are worth weighing.

Maltese vs Shih Tzu
Maltese vs Shih Tzu – Dog breeds comparison (Photos!)

So, I’ll compare these two breeds to help you choose the best-suited dog breed for you.

Maltese Origins

The Maltese has a long history, being recognized by the Kennel Club (AKC) in 1888. Since then, it’s become a favorite breed among people seeking toy dogs. 

Unlike many dog breeds, the Maltese’s origins are less known and a bit confusing. That’s because there are technically two types of Maltese breeds—the modern breed and an ancient breed, called the “Maltese dog,” that many people believe come from Malta in the Mediterranean. 

The contemporary Maltese is the breed I’m referring to here. These dogs have genetic links to the following dog breeds:

  • Bichon
  • Bolognese
  • Havanese

There isn’t much information about whether the ancient and modern Maltese dogs have any relationship to each other. 

two Maltese dogs
Two Maltese dogs standing beside each other.

Shih Tzu Origins

Shih Tzus are a younger dog breed than the Maltese, making its debut as an official AKC breed in 1969.

Although many people believe the Shih Tzu originated in China, this adorable toy dog breed is from Tibet. In fact, the name “Shih Tzu” comes from the Mandarin word for “little lion.”

Many people believe this refers to the Tibetan Buddhist God of Learning, given that this guide supposedly had a small lion dog at its side when traveling.

The modern-day Shih Tzu is a mix of Tibet’s original Shih Tzu breed with the Pekingese or Pug. Such a combination occurred in China, so you have to give the Chinese credit where credit is due for creating the Shih Tzu we all know and love today.

beautiful Shih Tzu
Beautiful Shih Tzu with flower on her head.

Defining Characteristics

Shih Tzus and the Maltese fall under the toy dog category. However, the Maltese are notably smaller than Shih Tzus. Their size dimensions are as follows.

DimensionsShih TzuMaltese
Height9 to 10.5 inches7 to 9 inches
Weight9 to 16 poundsLess than 7 pounds

As for their appearance when comparing Maltese vs Shih Tzu, Maltese dogs have a flowy, long coat that grows to the floor unless you keep it trimmed. Despite this, they barely shed, although you’ll need to groom them regularly to keep them looking their best.

White is the most common color for Maltese dogs. However, they can also come in white and lemon and white and tan colors. 

In contrast, Shih Tzus have a double coat that isn’t as silky as the Maltese. Their fur also grows long and needs frequent grooming. Like the Maltese, Shih Tzus barely shed, making them a joy to have in your home.

Shih Tzus come in many more color varieties than the Maltese. I won’t list them all there since there are nearly two dozen. But some examples include:

  • Black
  • Black and white
  • Brindle
  • Gold
  • Red
  • Silver

So, Shih Tzus are an excellent choice if you’re looking for a dog that won’t show dirt and stains on their fur.

Maltese and Shih Tzu
Maltese and Shih Tzu both sit posing for their photos.


Despite being a smaller breed, the Maltese tend to have more outgoing traits than Shih Tzus. That’s the case with both people and dogs, meaning you’ll need to take care to keep them away from larger dogs who could accidentally injure them during play.

In contrast, Shih Tzus have a relatively calmer personality, are fiercely loyal to their owners, and prefer lap cuddles to a bustling environment. 

The Maltese, on the other hand, are higher energy dogs that will keep a more watchful eye out the window for your “intruder” neighbor who walks up to your porch to drop off some food. 

Don’t get us wrong, though—the Maltese love human companionship, too, and require lots of attention to stay mentally and emotionally healthy. 

Maltese playing indoor
A Maltese wants to play indoor with a woman.

Exercise Needs

Both the Maltese and Shih Tzu need plenty of opportunities for exercise. So, you should ensure they receive a minimum of 30 minutes of exercise per day, although upwards of 60 minutes is ideal.

Since the Maltese have higher energy levels than Shih Tzus, they’re typically slimmer than Shih Tzus. For this reason, it’s extra important to ensure your Shih Tzu gets on the higher end of the exercise requirements.

Of course, the amount of exercise your dog needs will depend on their age, regardless of whether they’re a Maltese or Shih Tzu breed. Once your dog reaches their senior years, they won’t be able to exercise as long or as intensely as when they were younger.

Maltese have a life expectancy of 12 to 15 years, whereas Shih Tzus have a larger range of 10 to 18 years. So, you’ll need to observe your dog and use your best judgment exercise-wise for when their body starts slowing down.

Shih Tzu approaching
Shih Tzu approaching a stranger.

Health Conditions

Both the Shih Tzu and Maltese have conditions that their respective breeds have a higher likelihood of getting, as well as many shared health concerns. Let’s explore them.

Shih Tzu Health

The Shih Tzu is especially notorious for having eye and skin problems. Some of their common eye ailments are as follows:

  • Cataracts
  • Progressive retinal atrophy
  • Retinal detachment
  • Corneal dryness

As for their skin, given that they have some skin folds around their face, bacteria can build up there, and infections are more common. For this reason, it’s essential to dry between their folds well if they’re out in the rain or you bathe them.

sad Shih-Tzu
A sad-looking Shih Tzu is on the couch.

Maltese Health

While the Maltese can also suffer from skin and eye issues, they tend to have a higher risk of the following conditions:

  • Luxating patella
  • Patent ductus arteriosus
  • Other heart issues

For this reason, the AKC recommends that your Maltese to-be undergoes a patella evaluation and cardiac exam before you purchase them. That differs from the Shih Tzu, which doesn’t recommend any testing.

Of course, it’s best practice for all breeders to screen their dogs for health conditions before selling them. It’s important to do your due diligence to ensure you’re working with a responsible and honest breeder.

Another issue that the Maltese have a higher chance of getting is encephalitis. Unfortunately, it isn’t possible to do a screening test in advance for this health condition, which results in an inflamed brain and spinal cord. 

Maltese puppy and vet
Maltese puppy held by a vet for a check-up.

Keeping Up With Grooming

When comparing the Maltese vs Shih Tzu, both breeds fall under the “high maintenance” category for grooming. That’s because they have hair that grows continuously, meaning that their hair will drag on the ground and pick up everything in its path if you don’t take care of it.

You should aim to brush your Maltese and Shih Tzu’s hair every one to two days. On top of that, taking them to the groomer every six weeks for a hair trim is essential.

Because it can get expensive to take your dog to the groomer so often, you can also opt to cut your Shih Tzu’s hair at home. While you’re at it, you should trim their toenails, for they can grow long and uncomfortable for your dog to walk.

grooming Shih Tzu
Grooming Shih Tzu by a professional.

Which Dog Breed Is More Expensive?

If you’re on a budget, Shih Tzus are a better option than Maltese. Whereas you can buy a Shih Tzu for around $500, a Maltese puppy of the same age will cost you around twice the price. 

You might wonder—what’s the reason for such a vast price difference?

It comes down to supply and demand; there’s a greater number of Shih Tzus on the market. A Shih Tzu’s relatively larger size also means that it’s easier for them to give birth, often requiring less time and money from the breeder.

Of course, you don’t have to spend so much on buying a Shih Tzu or Maltese. Instead, adopting one of these breeds from your local animal shelter is an excellent way to be kinder to your wallet and rescue an animal in need.

Maltese and a peanut butter
A Maltese puppy smells peanut butter.

Are You Ready To Bring Home Your New Pet?

Both Shih Tzus and the Maltese are loving dog breeds that are intelligent and easy to train, although Shih Tzus tend to catch on to commands more quickly than the Maltese.

Regardless of the dog that you bring home, I’m confident they’ll fill your home with lots of joy and love.