"Why do Maltese suffer so much from gastrointestinal problems?

"Why do Maltese suffer so much from gastrointestinal problems?

Health & Safety

There are many lovely smaller breeds in the world, but one that stands out from the crowd and which has remained one of the most popular breeds in the UK is the delightful Maltese. Not only are they charming looking, but they also boast wonderful personalities making them the perfect companion as well as family pet. The Maltese is prone to suffering from certain health issues although on the whole the breed is known to be a healthy one. With this said, the Maltese is more prone to suffering from gastrointestinal issues than some other breeds, three of which are covered in this article.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease or IBD

Unfortunately, why some dogs develop Inflammatory Bowel Disease remains unknown, but it is thought that nutrition, genetics, abnormalities in a dog's immune system as well as genetics could be responsible. With this said, IBD is not actually a disorder as such, but it is characterised by the body responding to specific conditions that could be triggered by several things.

Symptoms associated with IBD

There are some common symptoms associated with inflammatory bowel disease which are vomiting and diarrhoea. With this said, symptoms depend on what part of a dog's gastrointestinal tract has been the most affected. When dogs experience vomiting it is usually a dog's stomach and the upper part of their small intestine that is the most affected by the condition. When a dog suffers diarrhoea, it is more usual for their colons to have been negatively impacted by the condition.

All too often a dog's faeces contain an elevated amount of mucous and there is also blood present with stools being loose. Dogs can suffer a bout of diarrhoea and vomiting but then they are okay so the symptoms often come and go. Should their symptoms be more severe, dogs are often depressed, lose their appetites and are feverish which all results in them losing weight and condition.

Diagnosing the problem

A vet would need to take a tissue sample otherwise referred to as a biopsy of a dog's bowel which they would undertake by doing an endoscopy or abdominal surgery. Taking a biopsy is essential as it helps vets rule out any other reasons why a dog might be suffering from the condition which includes the following:

  • Hypersensitivity to a diet or certain foods
  • Lymphoma
  • Histoplasmosis which is a fungus
  • Malassimilation issues
  • Bacterial infection/overgrowth

Treating the condition

The end goal of any treatment is to alleviate a dog's systems and the first way a vet would undertake to do this is to recommend they a dog be fed a diet that promotes and is easy on their immune systems. In short, a dog suffering from IBD would be put on a low fat diet which their systems would find easier to cope with. Dogs typically benefit from being fed carbohydrates that have a low gluten content and specific foods should be avoided which includes the following:

  • Wheat
  • Oats
  • Rye
  • Barley

Some vets recommend that dogs be fed a homemade diet, but care should be taken because often these are not as well balanced as a lot of commercially produced pet foods.

When a Maltese is diagnosed as suffering from IBD it takes a lot of time and patience on the part of their owners to help them cope with their condition, bearing in mind that they will have to live with the disorder for the rest of their lives and will have to regularly be examined by a vet who would want to check on a dog's condition.

Glycogen Storage Disease otherwise known as GSD

Glycogen Storage Disease is a metabolic disorder that is known to affect the Maltese. The condition negatively impacts how a dog converts glucose in their systems. There is a number of enzymes needed in a dog’s system to convert this from storage to energy and vice versa. When a dog is missing any of these much-needed enzymes, they develop the disorder.

Whereas in humans, GSD can be treated, when a Maltese puppy has the condition the outcome is never that good because they are unable to produce glucose in their livers and as such suffer low blood sugar levels, become depressed, have poor body condition and puppies cannot suckle with the symptoms being similar to Fading Puppy Syndrome. Other symptoms that puppies with GSD show include the following:

  • Poor growth even when they are unable to suckle from their mothers
  • Distended bellies which is caused by enlarged livers
  • Affected puppies have very low glucose levels and very high cholesterol

It is worth noting, however, that a few Maltese puppies can suffer from a condition known as juvenile hypoglycemia and it's important not to confuse the two conditions. Puppies suffering from GSD look sickly and weak, whereas those with hypoglycemia act and look much healthier. The prognosis for puppies with GSD is poor and they don't survive. However, it is important for a vet to carry out an autopsy so they can find out the cause.

Testing for GSD

Luckily, dogs can be tested for GSD-Ia which involves a cheek swab that can be sent off for DNA analysis. The condition is an autosomal recessive disorder and as such the test will establish if a dog does not carry the mutated gene and whether they are carriers which means that although they would not suffer from GSD, they could pass the gene mutation on to their offspring.

The good news is that GSD is a condition that rarely affects the Maltese, but breeders should have breeding stock tested to reduce the risk of puppies being born with the disorder. With this said, if a Maltese is a carrier, they can be bred, but only to a Maltese that has come back clear.

Portosystemic Vascular Anomalies otherwise known as PSVA and Microvascular Dysplasia or MVD

The Maltese has also been reported as suffering from another congenital inherited condition known as Portosystemic Vascular Anomalies that affects other terrier-type breeds which includes the following:

  • Yorkshire Terriers
  • Cairn Terriers
  • Tibetan Spaniels

The condition negatively impacts a dog's liver function. The first condition is PVSA which is often referred to as liver shunt which sees a blood vessel develop so it carries blood around a dog's liver rather than through it as it should. The most common form of the disorder seen in the Maltese is extraphepatic shunt and it can cause a lot of damage to a dog's system because the liver is unable to purify the blood as it should and it is unable to convert glucose to glycogen which stores food and helps with a dog's digestion.

Symptoms associated with PVSA

The first signs of there being a problem present themselves when a Maltese is young and puppies tend to be slow growing and therefore are often poor doers"". They tend to be the runts in a litter and all too often experience digestive issues which includes being constipated or suffering bouts of diarrhoea. Puppies will also experience bouts of vomiting and show signs of neurological issues which is due to the toxins building up in their systems. This includes the following:

  • Head pressing
  • Aggression
  • Circling
  • Blindness
  • Dementia
  • Lethargy
  • Seizures

The signs of there being something wrong tend to be when puppies or dogs have just eaten and often they have an increased thirst which means an increase in the desire to urinate too. Some Maltese do not show any signs of there being something wrong with them until they are that much older and in some cases the symptoms may be asymptomatic too.

When a Maltese is diagnosed as suffering from liver shunt, they have problems recovering after having been given certain medication which includes sedatives and barbiturates. Some dogs develop infections and stones in their bladders and when their kidneys are often enlarged.

Treatment options

The first thing a vet would want to do is take bloodwork to establish the following:

  • Low blood urea nitrogen (BUN)
  • Creatinine
  • Cholesterol and glucose
  • Higher liver enzymes (ALT, AST)
  • Low protein (albumin)
  • Smaller than normal red blood cells (microcytosis)


The prognosis depends on the severity of a dog's condition with some Maltese being candidates for surgery or a vet might recommend a dog be given specific medication and be put on a specific diet.

Symptoms associated with MVD

When a Maltese suffers from MVD, rather than large blood vessels bypassing a dog's liver, it happens on a much smaller, microscopic scale. Blood flows through the liver, but not as it should and the levels can be quite different from dog to dog. It has been established that MVD is far more prevalent in the Maltese than the PVSA form of the liver disorder. Dogs suffering from the MVD are categorised into two distinct groups which are as follows:

  • Symptomatic
  • Asymptomatic

The good news is that most Maltese that are diagnosed with MVD are asymptomatic which means they typically go on to lead full lives without the need of any sort of veterinary care.


Newsletter icon
Get free tips and resources delivered directly to your inbox.


Pets for StudWanted Pets

Accessories & services


Knowledge Hub


Support & Safety Portal
All Pets for Sale