Shih Tzu vs Maltese: What Are 8 Key Differences?

Written by Jennifer Gaeng
Updated: October 25, 2023
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The Maltese and Shih Tzu are two little purebred companion dogs that are incredibly popular. What, though, makes these two dogs distinct? The Shih Tzu, for example, is Chinese in origin, whereas the Maltese are Italian in origin. We’ll look at eight further distinguishing characteristics of the Maltese and Shih Tzu dog breeds in this article. Attributes like appearance, character, and health status will all be explored. Let’s get started!

Shih Tzu vs Maltese: A Comparison 

The Maltese and the Shih Tzu are both small dogs with different origins, features, traits, and health.
Key DifferencesShih TzuMaltese
Height8 – 11 inches8 – 10 inches
Weight9 to 16 lbs.6.5 to 9 lbs.
Coat typeDense, Long, FlowySilky, Straight, Feathered
ColorsMultiple Color OptionsWhite
TemperamentLively, Courageous, OutgoingEasygoing, Docile, Sweet
Stranger FriendlyLow to AverageHigh
Life Expectancy10 to 16 Years15 to 18 Years
Health ProblemsAllergies, Hip Dysplasia, and InfectionsCollapsed Trachea, Hypoglycemia, White Dog Shaker Syndrome
Shih Tzu vs Maltese: A Comparison

Key Differences Between Shih Tzu and Maltese

Shih Tzu (Canis familiaris) - portrait

Shih Tzus come in a variety of color options, more than most breeds. Black, blue, brindle, brown, red, and silver are just some of the hues.

©Angel LeBlanc/

While Maltese and Shih Tzus are both little, long-haired dogs, they share little else in common. The primary differences between the two are size – with Shih Tzus being quite a bit larger – life expectancy, and comfort with strangers. Let’s consider the most evident differences between the two breeds…


Prettiest / Cutest Dogs - Maltese puppy running on grass

Maltese are a toy dog breed. They are hypoallergenic dogs with white hair. Maltese were most likely bred from spitz type dogs.


Shih Tzu vs Maltese: Height

A mature Maltese stands between 8.5 and 9 inches tall at the shoulders. In comparison, the Shih Tzu is an average height of 9.5 inches, coming out slightly taller than the Maltese.

Shih Tzu vs Maltese: Weight

The Shih Tzu is heavier than the Maltese. A Maltese weighs an average of 6.7 pounds. In comparison, the Shih Tzu weighs an average of 12.5 pounds and can reach a maximum weight of 16 pounds.

Shih Tzu vs Maltese: Coat Type

Emotional Support Animals

A Maltese dog is small and compact enough, so people who are dealing with emotional or psychiatric conditions can bring the dog along for support – it loves to be cuddled, and thrives on human attention.

©Dora Zett/

Maltese are a smooth-coated breed with long, silky, and feathery hair. Because they have hair rather than fur, they shed less than other breeds.

While the Shih Tzu coat is similarly long and flowing, unlike the Maltese, it is thick and refuses to drape. Each of these breeds is hypoallergenic.

Shih Tzu vs Maltese: Colors

A purebred Maltese should have an all-white coat, though lemon or tan-colored spots are acceptable. Apart from the coat, the Maltese are supposed to have black ‘spot’ markings on the eye rims, paws, nose, and lips.

The Shih Tzu is distinguished from other dog breeds by its unique hair texture and coloration. Black, blue, brindle, brown, double-colored, red, silver, tri-colored, and white are all considered standard color descriptions.


Prettiest / Cutest Dogs - Shih Tzu - running through grassy field near lake

Bred solely to be companions, Shih Tzus are affectionate, happy, outgoing house dogs who love nothing more than to follow their people from room to room.


Shih Tzu vs Maltese: Temperament

The Maltese is an easygoing, docile, and sweet-tempered breed that is also playful and easy to train. Since they are more sensitive than the average dog, they require a great deal of affection and social engagement. They have a moderate degree of energy and require modest physical activity.

Shih Tzus are a little dog breed with moderate emotional capabilities. They are not the most sensitive canine breed. Although Shih Tzus enjoy spending as much time as possible with their owners, they lack great energy and are not the most lively of dogs. They enjoy socializing a great deal but do not require a great deal of activity to maintain their health.

Maltese are one of the most affectionate dog breeds, and require lots of love and attention in order to prosper.

©John Dowling/

Shih Tzu vs Maltese: Stranger Friendly

The Maltese is an extremely sociable breed with a minimal biting tendency. They have a great capacity for adaptation and get along well with strangers. Additionally, they get along well with other dogs and children, which makes them ideal for outdoor activities and living in the family home.

Although the Shih Tzu is not the most child-friendly breed of dog, it appears to get along well with other cats and dogs. They are known to be accepting of newcomers and are not aggressive or snappy.

With appropriate socialization at a young age, Shih Tzus can become very friendly dogs.

©Galina Savina/

Health Factors

Maltese running through fall leaves

The Maltese has silky, elegant fur.

© Dulinskas

Shih Tzu vs Maltese: Life Expectancy

The Shih Tzu can live anywhere between 10 to 16 years of age, but Maltese live even longer with an average of 16.5 years! Both types typically outlive the normal dog and are relatively healthy animals.

Shih Tzu vs Maltese: Health Problems

Collapsed trachea, hypoglycemia, and White Dog Shaker Syndrome are all possible Maltese health problems. In dogs, WDSS is a disorder characterized by widespread head and body tremors. This disorder is sometimes referred to as ‘Little White Shaker Syndrome’ because of its prevalence in small white dog breeds such as the Maltese.

Although the Shih Tzu is a particularly healthy breed, you should still visit your veterinarian on a regular basis because they are susceptible to allergies, bladder stones, ear infections, and hip dysplasia, among other things.

Wrapping up Shih Tzu vs Maltese

Shih Tzu (Canis familiaris) - standing in grassy field

Shih Tzus have dense, long, and flowy hair.


Shih Tzus and Maltese are both terrific companions for families. However, these two breeds are distinct from one another in a variety of ways. For example, they do not react in the same way. Shih Tzus are not as affectionate with children or strangers, whereas the Maltese require a great deal of affection and social connection with other people of all ages. Both breeds are known for having somewhat laid-back personalities. With the right home setting and direction, each is endearing in its own way and has the potential to be a wonderful companion.

Did the Shih Tzu Line Almost Go Extinct?

Red and white Shih Tzu dog

It’s hard to imagine that this beautiful Shih Tzu breed was almost completely wiped out after the Communist Revolution of 1949.

©Sue Thatcher/

The Shih Tzu dog breed, which is thought to have originated in Tibet, and was popular among royalty during the Ming Dynasty in China, faced near extinction after the Communist Revolution of 1949. The new communist regime ordered for Shih Tzus to be killed because of their popularity among the rich.

Thankfully, the breed found sympathy with a British woman living in China at the time–Lady Brownrigg–who took it upon herself to have some of them imported to England. An English officer stationed there also rescued a small amount of Shih Tzus. From these animals, the breed was able to continue in foreign lands–namely Europe.

In Britain, dog breeders dedicated themselves to preserving the Shih Tzu line by creating a program for their propagation. The offspring of these rescued dogs found homes in many countries like Australia, Scandinavia, other European countries, as well as the United States. In 1969, The Shih Tzu triumphed over evil as it was recognized by the AKC.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Dulinskas

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About the Author

Jennifer Gaeng is a writer at A-Z-Animals focused on animals, lakes, and fishing. With over 15 years of collective experience in writing and researching, Jennifer has honed her skills in various niches, including nature, animals, family care, and self-care. Hailing from Missouri, Jennifer finds inspiration in spending quality time with her loved ones. Her creative spirit extends beyond her writing endeavors, as she finds joy in the art of drawing and immersing herself in the beauty of nature.

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