Highland Maltie

Linda Simon
Dr Linda Simon (MVB MRCVS, University College Dublin)
Photo of adult Highland Maltie
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A small white dog that will melt your heart, the Highland Maltie has a confident and excitable character that comes in a pint-sized package and is a cross between the West Highland White Terrier and the Maltese. Lively and quite full-on when young, the Highland Maltie may not be for everyone and certainly requires a good deal of time and dedication if they are to mature into a well-rounded adult pet.

With shining, dark brown eyes and a glossy white coat, the Highland Maltie is an attractive small breed with a sturdy body. If left to grow, their beautiful fur can reach great lengths although does require a lot of upkeep, meaning most will end up trimming it short.

About & History

As is the case with so many of the newer designer dogs, there is limited information available regarding the origin of this new breed. Bred from the West Highland White Terrier and the Maltese, the Highland Maltie is likely to have been established sometime around the beginning of the 21st century.

The West Highland White Terrier

The West Highland White Terrier (or simply the ‘Westie’) originates from Scotland, the birthplace of many similar breeds, including the Cairn Terrier and the Skye Terrier. As is true of all Terriers, these breeds have never lacked in vivacity and personality and were often used as feisty little hunters who were fearless in the face of prey, such as badgers and weasels.

The Westie is thought to have originated in the 1800s from a now extinct breed known as the Poltalloch Terrier, which was very similar in appearance and was a direct descendant of the Cairn Terrier. It wasn’t until the early 1900s that the name Poltalloch Terrier was replaced by today’s moniker: West Highland White Terrier. Some historians believe that the white coat colour was bred in to the breed so that they were easier to distinguish from their darker-furred prey, such as foxes and badgers; meaning their owners would be less likely to shoot them in error when hunting. Today, the Westie is recognised by the Kennel Club within their Terrier Group and they are an extremely popular pedigree breed worldwide.

The Maltese

The Maltese is a content little dog that is perhaps best known for its silky white coat and smiling face. Though some assume this dog originates form the island of Malta it is actually thought that they were first established on an island formerly known as Meleda and now known as Mljet, off the coast of Croatia.

An ancient breed that was around at the same time as the ancient Greeks, they have always been prized for their loving natures and were kept as loyal companions, rather than being used to fight or work. Rarely measuring more than 25cm at the withers, the Maltese belongs in the Toy Group of the Kennel Club.


The appearance of the Highland Maltie will depend on which genes it inherits from which parent and so dogs may resemble either parent breed or may be a good mixture of both. All are small and compact, measuring from 25cm to 30cm and weighing from 4.5kg to 7kg.

They have a rectangular body shape with medium legs, which should be straight. Their head is not overly large and their dark eyes and nose complement their white facial fur nicely. Their ears are variable in position, with some inheriting the erect Westie ears and others possessing the drop-down ears of their Maltese parent. Their tail is moderate in length and may be well plumed with fur.

The characteristic feature of the Highland Maltie’s coat is its colour, which must be white without exception. It is thick and long, generally with a slight wave or crimp to it. For convenience and to reduce grooming time, many owners will elect to trim the fur short, particularly in the summer time when dogs can be prone to over-heating.

Character & Temperament

Full of bravado and with a cheeky streak, the Highland Maltie has a big personality and is not afraid to speak up for itself. Loving and sweet, they usually enjoy being around people though can be more independent than one might expect.

More feisty than similar-sized dogs, some may find them somewhat overwhelming at times and they certainly require consistent training. Boisterous and full of their own importance, they are rarely shy and approach potentially intimidating situations with bravado.

Thorough socialisation should help the Highland Maltie to adapt to living with other pets and children but they may not be as tolerant of them as one would hope. Some will inherit the hunting instincts of their Westie relatives and cannot be trusted with smaller pets, such as guinea pigs or rabbits.


Not one to accept training gladly, the Highland Maltie is frequently stubborn and is not always the most willing of training partners. Trainers should prepare themselves for lifelong training sessions that should remain consistent throughout and should focus on using positive methods, avoiding punishment. Punishing negative behaviours can result in an even bigger reluctance to accept training and usually ends up being counterproductive.


There are a number of health conditions that are more prevalent in the Highland Maltie population than others. It is important to selectively breed this new hybrid to maintain the healthiest population possible.

White Shaker Dog Syndrome

This condition may also be called ‘Idiopathic Steroid Responsive Shaker Syndrome’. Dogs begin to shake for no apparent reason and signs tend to first occur when a dog is as young as one or two. For some, the signs are barely noticeable, while others will suffer from quite extreme tremors, which worsen with exercise or stress.

We do not yet know what causes this condition and there is no definitive test for it. As it can mimic other things, such as toxicities or Addison’s Disease, vets will have to run several tests to rule out other causes of shaking. Steroid and other immune-suppressing drugs are used to treat the symptoms, with good success in most cases.

Skin Allergies

Westies in particular are known for suffering with bad skin and allergic skin disease can take over a dog’s life if severe. A condition that is rarely cured and is instead managed for life, owners and vets find this to be a frustrating disease to deal with. Symptoms typically present between the ages of six months and five years and may be worse at certain times of the year, depending on if the allergy is seasonal or not.

Affected dogs tend to have pink skin and might lick at their paws, scratch their skin and rub their faces on the ground. Secondary skin infections with bacteria and yeast are common and can exacerbate the signs. Modern advances in veterinary medicine have allowed for better control of skin disease, with new anti-itch medicines having less side effects and being better tolerated than those used in the past. Similarly, immunotherapy is a relatively new treatment, which can be very effective in some cases.

Umbilical Hernias

It is not uncommon for some dogs to be born with a small hernia in the region of their belly button. For most, the contents consist of fat and can be easily pushed back into the abdomen.

As hernias can worsen with time, it is usually recommended for them to be repaired at the same time as neutering. Those with hernias should always be neutered as it is a defect which is known to be passed down to future generations.

Exercise and Activity Levels

A sprightly character, the Highland Maltie likes to be involved in its master’s day to day life and has plenty of energy. They are active both when inside and outside of the home. A couple of 20 to 30-minute walks are enough to keep them satisfied and they enjoy playing scent games when out and about.

It is certainly possible to keep the Highland Maltie within a small home or apartment though their exercise needs should not be neglected as this may lead to boredom and nuisance behaviours, such as incessant yapping or furniture chewing.


The thick coat of the Highland Maltie can become easily matted and tangled so owners should introduce a grooming regime from a young age. A sturdy brush will be needed and owners should focus on areas, such as the armpits and groin, which tend to become matted the quickest. The services of a professional groomer can be used every few months, particularly if owners wish to keep the coat short.

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