Sarah Mouton Dowdy
By Sarah Mouton Dowdy. Reviewed by Barri J. Morrison, DVM on Dec. 5, 2023
small white malshi dog on a leash wearing a jacket

In This Article

General Care

The Malshi is a mix of Maltese and Shih Tzu parents—two classic toy breeds with long locks and even longer histories. A relatively new cross, the Malshi is not recognized as an official breed by the American Kennel Club (AKC) and therefore lacks a breed standard detailing their appearance and temperament. However, we can make reasonable predictions about what you can expect when adopting a Maltese-Shih Tzu mix by studying their well-established parent breeds.  

Despite having a name that means “lion dog” in Mandarin and ancestors who lived as palace pets alongside Chinese emperors, the Shih Tzu is more playful than prideful and has a reputation for being incredibly friendly and affectionate. The Maltese has a similarly impressive past as the favorite of ancient Greeks and Romans, and as their breed standard describes, they are “among the gentlest mannered of all little dogs.”

With parents like these, properly socialized and trained Malshis tend to be similarly playful, affectionate, and outgoing family companions.

Caring for a Malshi

Malshis are pint-sized pups. Both parents are toy breeds, with Shih Tzu ranging between 9–16 pounds and Maltese weighing less than 7 pounds. A Maltese-Shih Tzu, full grown, will be around this size.

With small size comes great responsibility for pet parents. Toy dogs typically aren’t recommended for homes with small children, as toddlers often lack the understanding and fine motor skills needed to keep tiny pups safe from harm. Similar caution is needed around other animals in the home, and particularly those much larger than a Shih Tzu-Maltese mix or that have a high prey drive

However, this small stature serves Malshi dogs well in other areas. They don’t need a lot of living space and can do well in apartments when given daily walks and play. In addition to not needing a lot of physical space, Malshis also don’t need much personal space. These are social, loving dogs who need close companionship throughout the day. Leaving them alone for too long can lead to loneliness, boredom, and behavior issues. 

Malshi Health Issues

Both Maltese and Shih Tzu are healthy breeds with life expectancies of 12–15 years and 10–18 years, respectively, and the Malshi’s lifespan is similar. Still, like all dogs, the two breeds are prone to various health conditions that can be passed to their offspring.

Patellar Luxation

Patellar luxation occurs when the patella (kneecap) moves out of its normal groove on the femur. The condition is more common in smaller breeds like Maltese and Shih Tzu. Mild cases may not cause a problem, but severe cases may require surgery.

Signs of patellar luxation include:

  • Limping

  • Bunny-hopping

  • Popping or cracking sound with knee movement

Periodontal Disease

Periodontal disease, or dental disease, is a progressive condition in which bacteria accumulate in the mouth and damage the dog’s gums, teeth, and surrounding bone. While the disease is common in all dogs, small and toy breeds (including the Maltese and Shih Tzu) are especially prone to the problem. 

Signs of periodontal disease range from irritated gums and bad breath to missing teeth and root exposure. Mild cases may only need a professional dental cleaning, while severely affected teeth must be extracted.

Frequent tooth brushing at home (at least three times a week), water additives or dental chews, and regular professional cleanings are the best way to prevent periodontal disease. To get your Malshi used to a dental hygiene routine, begin brushing their teeth during puppyhood.

Portosystemic (Liver) Shunts

While portosystemic shunts, or liver shunts, are relatively uncommon, Maltese and Shih Tzu are among those predisposed to the condition.

A liver shunt is an abnormal blood vessel that allows blood from the digestive tract to flow directly into the circulatory system without going through the liver. This blood—which contains nutrients, hormones, and waste material—therefore skips the vital detoxification process that happens in the liver. Waste products in the bloodstream affect multiple body systems, including the nervous system.

Signs of a portosystemic shunt include:

Treatment depends on the severity of the condition. Some dogs are good candidates for surgery and others require medical management, which may include medication and diet change.

Hip Dysplasia

Hip dysplasia is a condition in which the hip joint doesn’t develop properly, leading to joint instability and degenerative joint disease (osteoarthritis). Both of the Malshi’s parent breeds are prone to this condition.

Common signs of hip dysplasia include:

  • Limping

  • Reluctance to rise or jump onto furniture

  • Shifting of weight to front legs

  • Loss of muscle mass in the back legs

  • Hip pain

Mild cases are treated with interventions like physical therapy and anti-inflammatory drugs, but severe cases may require surgery.

Eye Problems

Shih Tzu are prone to several eye conditions that their Malshi puppies may inherit.

  • Cataracts: Cataracts cause the eye’s lens to become cloudy, which leads to vision loss. If you notice cloudiness or signs of vision loss in your dog, such as clumsiness, notify your veterinarian. Cataracts are progressive but can be treated with surgery.

  • Dry eye syndrome: Dry eye syndrome, also known as keratoconjunctivitis sicca (KCS), occurs when a dog doesn’t produce enough tears to properly lubricate their eyes and protect them from irritation. Signs of dry eye syndrome include red and inflamed eyes, pain, increased blinking, and discharge. Most cases are treated with a medication that stimulates tear production. 

  • Progressive retinal atrophy: Progressive retinal atrophy (PRA) is an umbrella term for eye disorders in which the rods and cones of the retina either don’t develop properly in puppies (early-onset PRA) or begin deteriorating in adulthood (late-onset PRA). Signs of disease include reluctance to enter dark spaces, clumsiness, and cataracts. There is no cure for PRA and the condition eventually leads to blindness.

Patent Ductus Arteriosus

Patent ductus arteriosus (PDA) is a common congenital heart defect in dogs, and Maltese are at an increased risk. The condition can lead to heart failure, which is characterized by difficulty breathing, coughing, weakness, and exercise intolerance.

Corrective surgery is the treatment of choice, and outcomes are best if the procedure is performed before the dog develops heart failure. 

Brachycephalic Syndrome

The Shih Tzu is a brachycephalic breed, meaning they have flattened faces. This unique facial structure can predispose brachycephalic dogs to a wide range of issues, including breathing problems, digestive issues, eye diseases, birthing issues, spinal malformations, exercise and heat intolerance, sleeping problems, skin and ear diseases, and dental disease.

Malshis tend to have longer muzzles than their Shih Tzu parent, but that doesn’t mean a Maltese-Shih Tzu puppy will completely avoid the issues associated with brachycephalic breeds. 

What To Feed a Malshi

black and white fluffy malshi puppy
Photo credit: Adobe/Mike

There’s no one-size-fits-all recommendation for feeding your Malshi dog. Instead, you’ll want to work with your veterinarian to develop a feeding plan that’s nutritionally complete and balanced for your pup’s age, weight, and health.  

How To Feed a Malshi

Malshi puppies need frequent meals (three or four a day) to avoid hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). Adult Malshis can be fed less frequently, typically two or three times a day. Your vet can help you determine the best schedule for your dog’s age.   

How Much Should You Feed a Malshi?

The nutrition label on your dog’s food bag includes a feeding guide that gives you a general idea of how much to feed your Malshi based on their weight. But for a more precise answer, ask your veterinarian.

A vet will tailor their recommendation to your dog’s weight, body condition score, lifestyle, and health needs. Remember to factor treats into your Malshi’s daily calorie allotment as well. 

Nutritional Tips for a Malshi

If your Malshi is eating a complete and balanced diet of dog food approved by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), they shouldn’t need anything extra.

However, nutritional supplements and even prescription diets are sometimes used to treat or prevent certain health conditions. Given the parent breeds’ predisposition for developing periodontal disease, your vet may recommend dental chews as a precaution, though they won’t replace regular brushing.

Talk to your veterinary team before adding anything new to your dog’s diet, including supplements.

Behavior and Training Tips for Malshi Dogs

Malshi Personality and Temperament

Malshis may be short in stature, but they have a lot of smarts and affection for their human family. Though highly adaptable (thanks in part to their tiny size), the Malshi is vulnerable to injury when around small children and large dogs, and they can be a bit wary of strangers. 

Malshi dogs have moderate energy levels and need short walks and opportunities to play each day. As quintessential lap dogs, they thrive with close companionship.

Malshi Behavior

Malshis adore their families and typically desire to be close to them as much as possible. Long periods of time spent alone can lead to boredom, anxiety, and related behavior issues like barking, chewing, and house soiling.

Malshis don’t need a lot of living space and can do well in apartments when given daily walks and play.

Malshi Training

All dogs go through a critical development period from birth to around 16 weeks of age. During this time, they learn how to interact with humans and other animals. Talk to your Malshi breeder about how they approach socializing puppies. Pet parents must continue socializing their Malshi puppy as soon as their new family member comes home.

Malshis are smart and eager to please, but they’re known for having a bit of a willful streak. Regardless of temperament, all dogs benefit from consistent positive training that uses rewards instead of punishment. In addition to building and supporting the human-animal bond, positive training time has the added bonus of exercising your dog’s brain and body. 

Fun Activities for a Malshi

  • Neighborhood walks

  • Indoor or outdoor play

  • Skills training

  • Obedience training

Malshi Grooming Guide

Both of the Malshi’s parents are known for their eye-catching coats that have a reputation for being hypoallergenic. And while a 100% hypoallergenic dog doesn’t exist, Malshi pups can be a good fit for some people who experience dog allergies because of their minimal shedding.

Skin Care

Good coat care is the foundation of good skin care. Matted fur can trap moisture, debris, and other irritants next to your Malshi’s skin, so it’s essential to keep their hair free from tangles. 

Ask your veterinarian how often you should bathe your Malshi. Keep in mind that bathing your pup too often can strip their skin of healthy oils and lead to dryness and itchiness

Coat Care

Expect your Shih Tzu-Maltese mix to require daily brushing and regular trips to the groomer. Shorter haircuts, like the popular “teddy bear” cut, can make your at-home brushing duties easier. 

Eye Care

The Malshi’s Shih Tzu heritage makes them prone to eye issues. Regularly check your Malshi’s eyes for signs of problems, like cloudiness and inflammation, and keep the hair around their eyes trimmed to avoid irritation.

Ear Care

Shih Tzu have floppy ears and hair that grows in the ear canal, which is an unfortunate combo when it comes to developing ear infections. Depending on your Malshi’s anatomy, they may be predisposed to infections as well.

Ask your veterinarian how and how often you should clean your dog’s ears and whether hair in the ear canal should be plucked. If you see signs of infection (redness, odor, pain, itchiness), it’s time to visit the vet.

 Considerations for Pet Parents

white malshi dog sitting in a living room
Photo credit: Adobe/Bangkok Click Studio

Here are some questions to consider before adding a Malshi to your family:

  1. Can I brush a dog’s coat at least once a day? 

  2. Can I brush a dog’s teeth at least three times a week?

  3. Do I live in a home where a toy dog would be safe from humans and animals that could cause unintentional harm?

  4. Am I home often enough to give a dog companionship? 

  5. Do I have the time to provide a dog with mental and physical exercise every day? 

  6. Do I have the skills, patience, and dedication to train a dog using positive reinforcement?

  7. Am I financially prepared to provide veterinary care, including regular dental cleanings?  

  8. Can I provide a dog with a loving home for their lifetime, which could be 18 years or more?

If you can answer these questions with an enthusiastic “Yes!” you may be ready to parent a Malshi.

Malshi FAQs

Is a Malshi a good dog?

As a Shih Tzu-Maltese mix, Malshis can be great dogs for many families. They are intelligent, affectionate, and fun dogs that thrive on companionship and need homes where they won’t be left alone for long stretches of time.

Do Malshi dogs bark a lot?

Malshis aren’t particularly vocal dogs. However, if your Malshi is lonely, bored, or anxious, they may exhibit unwanted behaviors like excessive barking.

Is a Malshi hard to train?

Malshis are smart and typically eager to please their families. Their Maltese parentage can mean they’re strong-willed at times, but all temperaments respond best to consistent positive training that uses rewards instead of punishment.

Featured Image: ferrantraite/iStock / Getty Images Plus via Getty Images

Sarah Mouton Dowdy


Sarah Mouton Dowdy

Freelance Writer

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