What Do Miniature, Toy, Teacup Mean for a Maltese

As you search around for information about the Maltese, you’ll inevitably come across the terms toy Maltese dogs and Maltese teacup dogs. Dig any further, and you may find yourself mired in an ongoing debate and controversy surrounding teacup dogs.

So is the Maltese officially a miniature, toy or a teacup? The short answer is the Maltese is a toy breed but is sometimes called and sold as a teacup dog. The term “miniature” is sometimes used instead of the term teacup for the Maltese. The toy group is the officially recognized category of the Maltese breed by kennel clubs around the world while the teacup is not.

The Maltese are a small breed that easily falls under the definition of a toy dog, but you will see later that this is distinction is not made very clear generally. Therefore it can be very misleading for prospective buyers to figure out what a normal Maltese should be like, and in some cases paying a premium to unscrupulous breeders for a more “exotic” looking dog.

Hopefully, this article can clear some confusion and misconceptions so you can make an educated decision when it comes to purchasing a Maltese.

Definition of a Toy Breed

We established earlier that the Maltese are considered to be a toy dog. But first, let’s define what a “toy dog” really means. Most kennel clubs around the world do not provide a specific description detailing what can qualify as “toy.”

Rather, they tend to define dogs in terms of groups or sections and give a list of breeds under each specific group. However, the Canadian Kennel Club (CKC) does provide a succinct but accurate definition of Toy Dogs as follows:

  • Characteristic – “Charming characters concocted to capture hearts, Toys can worm their way into your affections as well as your bed.” and “Perky, playful and cuddlesome, most of the Toy breeds are lively, upbeat characters.”
  • Purpose – “Most of the others were primarily pampered lap dogs, meant mainly to look as appealing as possible and to sop up all the excess adoration available.”
  • Size – “Think “small,” from the tiniest Chihuahua barely tipping the scales at less than three kilograms (six pounds) to the solidly built Pug that should not exceed eight kilograms (18 pounds).”

A healthy adult Maltese weighs under 7 pounds (3.2 kg) with 4-6 lb (1.8-2.7 kg) being a typical and ideal range. They should also not be over 10 inches (25 cm) from the ground to top of shoulder. By default, someone looking at a healthy Maltese (and you don’t need to be a breed judge to do this) should immediately be able to tell that a Maltese is a toy dog.

So why are terms like “teacup” and “miniature” used for the Maltese breed when kennel clubs around the world define the Maltese as a “toy” dog? Do we need further distinction within the breed?

The Meaning Behind ‘Teacup’ and ‘Miniature’

Looking for teacups and miniature dogs in breed standard documentation on kennel club websites will be a fruitless, time-wasting effort. Neither “teacup” or “miniature” are considered as proper terminology when it comes to describing the Maltese breed. Sometimes they will be used to describe other breeds, for example when comparing the three size varieties of Poodles. For Poodles, Toys are the smallest, followed by Miniatures and Standard sizes as defined by the American Kennel Club (AKC) here.

Again, there is no such official distinction for the Maltese breed at all, but you will still see it from time to time. Instead, “teacup” and “miniature” are descriptive terms used interchangeably as a way to describe a Maltese that is smaller than usual. Sometimes, a smaller than normal Maltese puppy may appear to be so diminutive that they might appear in a teacup, hence the moniker.

Even as an adult, a “teacup” dog may be considered to be under 4 pounds (1.8kg) as a loose rule. It is generally considered impossible for an adult dog of any kind to be under 2 pounds without some severe health complications.

Sometimes there is also an additional connotation attached to the word teacup. Because Maltese are already small dogs, a particularly petite Maltese may be introduced to buyers as a more premium and exotic option. And that means that buyers are sometimes asked to pay an artificially inflated price for an unhealthy Maltese.

It’s not that uncommon to see listings where teacup Maltese puppies go for around $8500! Nope, that is not an extra zero – that is over e-i-g-h-t t-h-o-u-s-a-n-d US dollars!! That’s ridiculous, and to justify why a teacup might be better, some apparent advantages of being “teacup” include:

  1. They are easier to handle and groom
  2. They are considered to be even cuter and more puppy-like in adulthood
  3. They need to eat less
  4. They can be carried around more easily, like in pockets and handbags
  5. They are apparently how the wealthy and celebrities like their dogs

Sounds great right? Not really. Read on to see why.

A Word of Caution

A Maltese meeting the agreed breed standards of kennel clubs might live up to an age range between 12 to 15 years old. A teacup Maltese might be lucky to live beyond just 6. Smaller dogs come with their own host of problematic health issues that don’t plague bigger breeds (or at not as much), and this problem is far worse for a smaller “teacup” sized Maltese. To get a teacup or miniature sized dog, breeders will have to select the smaller dogs and the easiest way to do this is to select and breed runts.

Runts are simply the offspring of any animal that is the smallest amongst the litter. They have a lower chance of survival due to their weakness, and sometimes face rejection from the mother. However, most runts that do survive beyond their infancy have a reasonably good chance of survival and won’t necessarily have major complications in their adulthood.

Most reputable breeders will not actively select runts to be bred to ensure that the offspring are healthy and possess the most desirable genetics possible. By breeding two small adult runts together, there is a very high likelihood that the resulting offspring will be tiny as well. This is prime time for the breeders to whip out their camera and market these puppies as “teacups,” with a matching price to boot.

Here is a short list of things that could go wrong for dogs specifically bred to be teacups:

  • Liver failure as a congenital birth defect (e.g. liver shunts)
  • Various bone problems that can lead to arthritis
  • Brain diseases like hydrocephalus which can also be congenital
  • Much higher tendency to get hypoglycemia (low blood sugar levels)
  • Physical trauma has a much higher likelihood to cause major damage or even death
  • Thermoregulation, mainly staying warm, is harder
  • Treatment for any of these problems is both typically more expensive and harder to correct

No matter how you call it, a teacup Maltese, miniature Maltese, or the toy Maltese all refer to the same thing: they are all Maltese! There is no need to make a distinction between a smaller Maltese as a teacup and a bigger, fatter one as a non-teacup Maltese. Please be informed and don’t go actively seeking out the smallest Maltese you can get your hands on. It will likely not end well for both you and the dog.

If you absolutely must get a smaller Maltese, make sure the breeder is reputable and can provide the necessary evidence that neither of the parents of the puppy has a history of genetic disorders (or other known issues). Take the dog to regular checkups and make sure that all health issues that the Maltese are prone to have are correctly managed or dealt with.

Further Reading

PetMD – “The Truth About Teacup Dogs” – Link: https://www.petmd.com/dog/general-health/truth-about-teacup-dogs
Dogster – “No Small Problem: The Ethics of Teacup Dogs” – Link: https://www.dogster.com/lifestyle/teacup-dogs-small-dog-breeds-health-ethics-puppies-pictures-photos