Grooming Your Maltese

If you’ve ever watched dog shows, such as the Westminster Kennel Competition, you’ve probably seen the dog that looks like a walking mop. That’s our Maltese! Their hair will grow down to the floor, and can be up to 12″ inches in length. The hair is very soft and silky, and can get mats and tangled if not cared for properly. For the Maltese puppy that is purchased as family pet, and not for show in the ring, owners can opt to keep their coats trimmed in a “puppy cut” style (which resembles their coat length as puppies), thus grooming is kept to a minimum.

The coat is a single coat (no undergrowth), and the hair is hypo allergenic, so a Maltese puppy is a great pet for people with allergies or asthma. They are very clean dogs, and are generally known to be “odor-free.” The Maltese experience little to no shedding if their coats are maintained properly. Train them when they are puppies to get used to being brushed and groomed.

I start bathing and grooming my Maltese puppies at 4 weeks of age, after their eyes are open. That way, they are not afraid because they can see what you are doing. I pet and stroke the puppies from the day they are born to get them used to hands being on their bodies. I build trust and security in being handled in each of my angels, and this also shows them they are loved. When you receive the Maltese puppy, they are calm and more relaxed because they have been handled and given personal love from the day they are born.

Bath time is a good time to clean ears, brush the teeth, and clip the nails, all before you bathe the puppy. Additional information on how to care for the ears, teeth, and nails is listed separately. I always give my angels treats between each stage of grooming if I do it all at once, or after any grooming I do. Treats, kisses and lots of “good baby,” “good puppy” talk helps reassure the puppy and keep them calm.


If you should decide to keep your puppy’s hair in the long coat, you must comb their hair daily. As the hair gets to be about 3″ long, you can then start to use the brush lightly on their hair, getting them used to the feel of the brush. By the time they are about 12 weeks old, they are no longer afraid of the comb or the brush as they are now used to both. Between baths you can use a spray bottle with conditioner in it to help prevent breaking the hair strands. Mist the hair with a conditioner; spray continuously while brushing.

You can also add a bit of coat oil to the conditioning spray for an added sheen. It is important when you are spraying their coats not to saturate the skin with the conditioner and/or oil to avoid irritating their skin.

Holding your puppy by the base of the tail gently but firmly will give you more control of the puppy while you comb and brush the coat. Brush the entire coat, not just the top. Use a pin brush and try not to flip your wrists while brushing. The grooming stroke should be a long stroke through the hair, finished off with the wrist flat. Over time, if you flip your wrists during your stroke, you can break off pieces of the hair ends, and repeated practice can cause a coat not to grow long.

Start at the back of your puppy, combing the puppy’s feet first and then work your way up to the tail. Then gently raise your puppy up, holding your hand under their front legs, and comb the hair inside the back legs. Next, comb the hair across the stomach, from under your hand down to the back legs. Now you can set your puppy on your lap, and comb the underarm of each front leg down to the paw. Make sure you get all the tangles out of the pads of their paws so there is no matting in between the toes. Comb from the shoulders down to the ends of each paw. Check for mats under the arms, inside and on the bottom of the back legs, or under their neck around their ears.

The last area of the dog that I comb is the neck area, the head and the face, being very careful around the eyes to comb downward and outward and away from the nose so as not to hurt your puppy. Puppies don’t like to have their faces combed, so if you hold their ears down under the neck with the puppy’s head against your chest, you can gently take your thumb to protect your puppy’s eyes, and comb down and outward around the face. Then comb under the neck and the hair should flow smoothly through comb.

Comb the hair from the top of the head down the back of the neck. Taking your hand and placing it on the top of the puppy’s head to hold the head firm, comb the puppy’s ears. Lift the ear and hold it on top of the head and comb the hair under the puppy’s ears. If the hair is tangled, turn your comb so you only use the tip of the teeth, and work it through the tangled or matted area, holding your fingers next to the puppy’s skin so as not to pull the skin. The mat should be freed, and now you can turn the comb back normally and comb through the rest of the hair.

You can now use the pin brush to fluff it up, combing straight down along the sides. Let the puppy shake, and the hair will fall down the sides, leaving a part down the puppy’s back. You can take the comb and run it down the part to straighten it out, if needed.


Bathe or dry-shampoo regularly — making sure your pet is dry and warm afterward. It is not unusual for them to shake with fear or cold when given their routine wet baths; however, if you speak soothingly to them during the ordeal, and keep them warm as soon as possible after the bath, they will survive! They are actually pretty sturdy little animals. Towel dry well, and then use a blow dryer on low heat to help dry their coats. Be prepared! They are lively and frisky after their baths, and want to play! This is a good way to help them dry off!

For wet baths, a sink will suffice. Make sure all mats are removed prior to bathing — water just sets the mat. Be very, very careful to not get any water inside their ears when bathing, as this will cause an ear infection. Hold or pinch the ear opening closed when rinsing the head, or put a cotton ball in the ear to help prevent water from reaching the ear canal.

Just as in bathing a baby, make sure the water is not too hot and not too cold. Use a no-tears puppy shampoo around the face in case some shampoo gets into the eyes. There are some good dog shampoos made specifically for white-coated dogs that contain bluing, which makes the white coat look even whiter. These are not “no-tear-type” shampoos, so it’s best to have both available. Conditioner on the coat is a necessity, especially if you keep their coats long, but even with a puppy cut, applying conditioner after the shampoo and rinsing well will keep their skin from drying out and reduce the scratching after a bath. The conditioner, if it’s quality, makes their silky coats even softer, and they smell heavenly! Don’t over-bathe them, once every 7 days for long haired Maltese; once every 14 days for puppy cut coats is plenty, unless they go outside and get dirty — they love to play outside and enjoy puddles! — then, a bath is a must!

Start by wetting the puppy thoroughly. First use the no-tear-type shampoo around the head and face. Gently massage around the eyes to clean the tearstain and any matter that may be present. Clean around the mouth and under the chin area. Wash the hair on the ears, being careful not to get any soap inside the ear. Place the ear in the palm of your hand and gently scrub the outside and inside. You will want to rinse the face and head before you start shampooing the rest of the body, as their face and head being wet is the part they hate the most. It is very, very important not to get any water inside your puppy’s ears. This will cause ear infections and could damage the ear or their hearing. So, hold or pinch the ear close to the puppy’s head to block the ear canal. Hold it tightly while you rinse the ears thoroughly or any time you rinse where the water could run back into the ear canal. I use a cup filled with water to rinse the ear area and around the face. This is easier on the puppy than using a spray nozzle, and gives more control over where the water goes (not in the ear!).

Now use the bluing shampoo to scrub the neck and the rest of the body.

It is important to clean and clear the anal glands each time you bathe your puppy. Maltese have a tendency to not naturally empty the anal glands. If the anal glands become blocked, there could be an infection that could harm your puppy. One way to tell that the anal glands are blocked is seeing your puppy scooting or rubbing his rear along the floor or carpet. You will need to soap the puppy’s rear thoroughly because if there is a blockage, the soap will help lubricate as you clear it. To check and clear the gland, hold the puppy’s tail at the base, lift up the rear, take your thumb and your forefinger and place them above the puppy’s anal area opening and below the tail base. Gently squeeze. If you feel a knot, this indicates there is a blockage. Squeeze downward and the blockage will come out the rectum. If you don’t feel a knot, there is no blockage, and no problem.

Rinse after shampooing and apply conditioner. Work the conditioner into the hair and massage thoroughly. While you are massaging into the hair, the conditioner has time to soften the hair shaft. If you are using a dog conditioner, you can leave a little in the coat while you rinse, you don’t have rinse as thoroughly. If you are using human conditioner, make sure you rinse it out thoroughly so your puppy won’t develop any rash. Conditioner made for human hair softens faster than conditioner made for animals, but some kinds can cause a rash if not rinsed out thoroughly.

Use your hands to squeeze the water out of the hair in a stroking motion (like a squeegee), being careful not to hurt the puppy by squeezing too hard. Lift the puppy out of the sink and wrap in a large towel to help keep drafts off the puppy while wet. Use the towel to dry as much water out of the coat as possible.

Now comb your puppy by starting at the bottom and working your way up to the back of the puppy, as you would when you are combing your puppy each day. Be very careful when combing wet hair, as when wet, the hair strands are easily broken. Comb very gently. If they have a tangle, always start at the ends and work back toward the skin, making sure you use your thumb or finger to press the skin so as not to pull and hurt the puppy.

Blow dry the puppy by starting to blow dry along the back of the puppy between the neck and tail, using a brush to separate the hair while blow drying. Make sure the heat setting on your blow dryer is not too hot, and keep the blow dryer far enough away from the skin to not burn the puppy’s skin. When dry, finish with a good brushing.

After bathing and when they are dry, use Eye Envy on any tearstains. Make sure you comb it away from the eyes. For more information on this product, see Anna Recommends.


Check your Maltese puppy’s ears on a weekly basis (before bath time is a good rule). If there is an odor, or if you see wax buildup on the hair or the skin of the ear, that is a good indication that your puppy needs the ears flushed. It could also indicate an ear infection.

If there is no indication of an infection, you can use ear wash and rinse the ears out, following instructions on the bottle. You can buy ear wash at any pet store. I, personally, prefer to buy and antibiotic ear wash from my vet and use it once a month on my angels’ ears; that way, I don’t ever have to worry about an ear infection. I have also discovered that Shark’s Liver Oil, can be used as an antibiotic for the ears, as well.

To clean the ears, I hold my puppy on my lap and press the head against your lap, or press the body and head against your chest. Fold the ear over the top of the head, holding it open with your fingers and thumb. It helps to grip both the open ear and the other ear together. This gives you control to keep the puppy’s head still. You can use one finger under the open ear to push the area around the opening up and forward, to help show you the hair that is inside the ear. You want to make sure you only pull the hair that is growing inside the ear opening, and not the hair on his ear flap. Using your fingers or tweezer, pull or pluck the hairs growing out of the ear opening. This will not hurt the puppy, as long as you don’t pull any hair attached to the ear flap. You can also use ear powder to make the hair sticky and easier to pluck, but I don’t like the powder because some residue from the powder is left in the ear, and can attact dirt by sticking to the skin in the ear canal, causing an infection. I prefer to use Shark’s Liver Oil, a natural antibiotic, to soften the hair before I pluck it out. If any oil remains, it doesn’t matter.

Nails and Toes:

You should trim your Maltese nails about every 2 weeks, unless your pet is outside on concrete or pavement a lot, in which case, he will file them down a bit himself by running on the pavement. In that case, check them about once a month or so. Don’t go over a month because the quick of the nail (which is the blood supply inside the nail) if not trimmed regularly, will grow down to the very end of the nail. At that point, you will not be able to trim the nail at all, and the nails will grow very long in circles and have to be removed. Nails that are too long can interfere with the way your Maltese stands and runs, and since Maltese love to be picked up, they will scratch at you with their paw to be held, and long nails can run hose and scratch your skin, as well as get caught in your clothing. Long nails can get caught in the puppy’s hair when they scratch, pulling the nail and causing the puppy pain. Long nails can also get caught in runners along doors, or doggy doors, and cause pain for your pet, so make sure you trim them regularly — for safety as well as comfort.

Of the two kinds of nail trimmers you can buy, the guillotine style is the best. You can see just exactly where you are going to clip. Quickly clip the nail, do not do it slowly, because the dog may jerk and you risk cutting the quick or hurting the puppy by pulling the nail. Hold the finger you are going to cut between your forefinger and thumb, squeeze gently. The nail will come forward. Clip the nail just below the pink (quick) of the nail, making sure not to cut the pink. The guillotine style clippers will make a perfect angle cut. If you do happen to accidentally cut the quick, and it starts to bleed, you can use Shark’s Liver Oil to stop the bleeding. I find it easiest to hold the oil capsule with needle-nosed pliers. Poke a hole in the capsule using a needle or safety pin, and then squeeze the pliers to drip the oil onto the bleeding area. The bleeding will stop and the antibiotic properties of the Shark’s Liver Oil will help prevent infection.

After you cut the nails, file them with a human nail file. I prefer the human nail file over the dog nail file, because it files easier and you have a smooth side of the file to buff and smooth after filing with the coarse side of the file. File around the edges and smooth it. They won’t like the grinding sensation, but just hold them firmly and talk to them while you are filing, constantly reassuring them they are being good. Lots of kisses help, too.

Trim the hair between the toe pads with small scissors or a mustache trimmer at least every other week. Check the pad of the paw at least every week, making sure the hair doesn’t need trimming, and that there is no debris, chewing gum, or other matter that may have stuck to the hair between the toes and around the center pad. Scissors are easier and don’t frighten your pet. The hair grows here as it does over the rest of the body, and will get long and matted if not kept trimmed, affecting how your pet stands or runs. Keep the hair trimmed around the feet to help your pet maneuver, (and to prevent slipping and sliding on smooth surfaces). If not kept trimmed, the toes of your Maltese puppy can “splay” prematurely.


Clean your puppy’s teeth before you bathe them, or at least once a week. As a breeder, I start introducing the puppies to having their teeth cleaned at six weeks. If you have purchased a Maltese from someone who has not previously introduced the puppy to having the teeth cleaned, you should start by putting some soft dog food on your finger, and then use your finger to gently clean the teeth and gums. This will get the puppy used to something being put in its mouth and to the motion of the brush when you are actually cleaning the puppy’s teeth. The puppy won’t mind the taste of the dog food and the intent is to get the puppy used to you reaching into its mouth.

After your puppy is used to this procedure, switch to dog toothpaste. Do not use human toothpaste. This is not made for animals, and can cause your puppy to become sick. Always use dog toothpaste, available at any pet store. Use a small, soft-bristled toothbrush with the dog toothpaste, and gently brush up and down and in circles to clean the inside and outside of the teeth. Then let them have a drink of water to rinse the mouth.