If ever there were a living, breathing, barking incarnation of cuteness, it is the Maltipoo. A mix of two of the most popular of small dog breeds, the Maltese and the Poodle, the dogs are small, clever, playful and affectionate. They're also "forever young," staying puppy-like well into their senior years. Those qualities have made the Maltipoo one of the most popular deliberate mixes.

Traits, Personality and Behavior

A well-bred, well-raised Maltipoo should be friendly, people-oriented and easy to train, and just a little bit of a mischief-maker. Be warned, however, that a Maltipoo from an irresponsible or inexperienced breeder -- and most certainly, from a pet store -- can be a mess of the combined genetic problems of his ancestors, without the benefit of the kind of health and temperament testing done by good breeders. That can mean a snappy, noisy tyrant of a dog, nearly impossible to house-train and with a wide variety of costly health problems.

Maltipoos are first and foremost companion dogs, and cannot live outdoors. They need to live in the house with you and your family. He's likely to be a bit of a barker as well, so be prepared to nip nuisance barking in the bud with gentle correction, and make sure you can live with his watchdog nature. And while he'll probably like children and other dogs, care has to be taken to protect him from excessive roughness from either.

The Maltipoo's grooming needs will vary depending on his coat, but all Maltipoos need regular, even daily, brushing. Those with the curlier Poodle coat require professional grooming every 4-6 weeks. Some owners learn to use the clippers and do the job themselves, but most rely on the pros. Either way, it's essential to take proper care of the coat, because without regular grooming it will quickly become a matted mess that can cause painful skin infections at the roots of the hair.

Your Maltipoo's ears need to be kept clean and dry. Trapped moisture in the ear canal can lead to bacterial and fungal infections, and repeated infections can cause so much damage to the ear canal that the dog will lose his hearing. Severely affected ears may require surgery to control the infections.

Variations of the Maltipoo

Crossbred puppies like the Maltipoo -- even within the same litter -- can look very different from each other, and can look the same as or different from either of their parents. The Maltipoo is usually extremely small, but his size, color, coat type, temperament, activity level and health risks will vary depending on what an individual puppy has inherited from his parents.

Generally, Maltipoos are around 10 pounds and have a slightly scruffy coat, although it can also be curly like the Poodle's coat. They can come in a variety of colors, but are often white or cream.

Health Issues Common to Maltipoos

Maltipoos are susceptible to the health problems of both the Maltese and the Poodle, although possibly at a lower rate than purebred dogs. Very small dogs can have some very big health problems, and others that are minor but still require care. Maltipoos can suffer from the condition known as a "collapsing trachea," where the windpipe becomes weak and closes off, making it hard for the dog to breathe. Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) is also a common problem, especially in very small dogs and in puppies.

Tiny mouths frequently mean there's no room for proper development of teeth, and it's essential that Maltipoo owners get regular veterinary dental care for their dogs. The kneecaps of most very small dogs, including the Maltipoo, can very easily become displaced, a defect known as "luxating patellas." Ask your veterinarian to examine your dog's knees regularly, especially if you notice him limping or "hopping" while running.

Maltipoos are at increased risk of a liver defect, present at birth, known as "porto-systemic shunt." Dogs who have this defect require expensive surgery to survive. And like many small white dogs, Maltese can suffer from "white shaker dog syndrome" (idiopathic cerebellitis). Somewhere between the age of 6 months and 3 years, dogs with this condition will start trembling uncontrollably, especially when they try to move or get up. Some become unable to walk at all. Dogs with shaker dog syndrome will need to be on medication to control it for the rest of their lives. There's no screening test for the condition, and dogs who have it must never be bred. It's not clear if Maltipoos do or do not suffer from this condition, but it's likely that they do.

Like many small dogs including the Poodle, the Maltipoo can suffer from Legg-Calve-Perthes disease. Dogs with this condition have reduced blood supply to the head of the rear leg bone, which begins to shrink. It usually shows up by the time the dog is around 6 months old, and the first sign is limping. While it can be treated with surgery, affected Maltipoos are at great risk of developing arthritis later in life. The sooner it's caught and treated, the greater the chances the dog will have a full recovery.

Make sure to have your Maltipoo's eyes examined once a year by a board certified veterinary ophthalmologist for genetic eye diseases, and seek veterinary care immediately at any signs of cloudiness, redness, itching or irritation of the eyes, or if the dog is squinting or pawing at them.

To protect yourself from the expensive vet bills associated with these conditions, you'll want to purchase pet insurance for your Maltipoo before they show symptoms or are diagnosed.

Condition Risk Profile Cost to Diagnose and Treat
Portosystemic Shunts Low $2,000-$6,000

9 Tips to Bring Home a Healthy Maltipoo Puppy

Don't ever, ever, ever buy a puppy from a pet store. You're more likely to get an unhealthy, unsocialized and difficult to house-train puppy and will be supporting the cruelty of high-volume puppy mills.

Make sure you seek a breeder who is less interested in the capitalizing on the fad of made-up "breeds" with cute names and is more interested in crossbreeding for the sake of reducing the incidence of certain hereditary problems.

Look for a good, reliable breeder who can match you with the right puppy. It is crucial to choose the right breeder when dealing with crossbred, hybrid, and so-called "designer dogs," because crossbred puppies can inherit genetic diseases from either of their purebred parents, and only the most knowledgeable and careful of breeders can really know and understand what those are. Careless breeding, or the idea that "crossbreeding" somehow magically eliminates genetic disease, can result in puppies with serious genetic problems.

Seek out a Maltipoo breeder who is genuinely trying to produce healthy companions and family dogs, who wants to combine the best of both breeds in a loving, healthy companion dog. Almost no ethical Maltese or Poodle breeders will allow their dogs to be used in breeding Maltese/Poodle mixes, and it can be quite difficult for Maltipoo breeders to continue to find Maltese and Poodles to use to produce new generations of Maltipoos. Before you buy a Maltipoo, take a look at the Code of Ethics of the Poodle Club of America and that of the American Maltese Assocation, and see if the breeder or seller can live up to its standards.

Ask your puppy's breeder to provide you with documentation from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) that your puppy's parents are free of Legg-Calve-Perthes, luxating patellas and thyroid disease. She should also have test results from the Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF) that her dogs are clear of genetic eye disorders known to occur in the Maltese and the Poodle.

Don't accept excuses and lies like, "I know my dogs are healthy because the vet checked them," or "I don't have those problems in my lines," or "Those problems only affect purebred dogs." Those are the standard lines of a bad and irresponsible breeder. While mixed breed dogs can be healthier than purebred dogs, any individual dog can inherit genetic diseases from his parent, and wishful thinking is no substitute for genetic testing and ethical breeding practices.

Consider an adult dog from a shelter or a rescue group. Many of the health and behavior problems in Maltese, Poodles, and Maltipoos aren't apparent in puppyhood, but by adopting an older dog, most of them can be ruled out.

Puppy or adult, take your Maltipoo to your veterinarian soon after adoption. Your veterinarian will be able to spot visible problems, and will work with you to set up a preventive regimen that will help you avoid many health issues, particularly thyroid, skin, ear and other problems common to the Maltese and Poodle.

Make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter or rescue group that spells out responsibilities on both sides. In states with "puppy lemon laws," be sure you and the person you get the dog from both understand your rights and recourses.

Pet Insurance for Maltipoos

Even if you find a good, responsible breeder, your Maltipoo is still at risk of accidents and various illnesses. There is no guarantee that the puppy will be free of the hereditary conditions common in the breeds of his parents, so it is always a good idea to insure your pet.

While Maltipoos are not purebred dogs, these hybrids or crossbreeds are more likely than mixed breeds to make claims for some hereditary conditions that are expensive to treat. Therefore, their insurance will cost slightly more than for mixed breeds, but not as much as for purebreds.

Embrace dog insurance plans offer full coverage for all breed-specific conditions (excluding those that are pre-existing) to which Maltipoos are susceptible. The best time to get pet insurance for your Maltipoo is when he's a healthy puppy. You can't predict what will happen in the future, and pet insurance is the one thing you can't get when you need it the most.