Westie Health Problems and Raising a West Highland White Terrier Puppy to be Healthy
By Michele Welton. Copyright © 2000-2014
The most common health problems in West Highland White Terriers:
The West Highland White Terrier Club conducted a health survey in which 1 in every 2 Westies was reported as having at least ONE of the health problems listed on this page.
Allergies (which cause itchy skin and often lead to pyoderma) are very common in all terriers. Other skin diseases in Westies include seborrhea and the very serious epidermal dysplasia. In a recent study, 66% of the breed were affected by some form of skin disease by 3 years of age.
I'd like to talk a little more about epidermal dysplasia....also called Westie armadillo syndrome (for good reason, as you'll see), this inherited skin disease is quite dreadful. Between 3 and 12 months old, your Westie's head, feet, and belly become inflamed and itchy. As the disease spreads over his body, the puppy scratches constantly and loses his hair. His skin becomes greasy and thickened. Accompanying these symptoms are recurrent yeast infections. Yeast is a fungus that normally lives in low numbers on the skin of most healthy dogs without doing any harm. But when the skin becomes broken by scratching, yeast seize the opportunity to attack.
So when you see inflamed skin and intense itching in a Westie puppy, allergies and sarcoptic mange do need to be ruled out....but these symptoms are ominous warning signs of epidermal dysplasia.
Allopathic medicine tries to manage this incurable disease with steroids, antihistamines, and antifungal shampoos. These may resolve the current yeast infection and the itching may stop. But as soon as treatment stops, the yeast return, and eventually these episodes run right on top of each other so your Westie is coping with a virtually constant yeast infection requiring medication every couple of days. I wouldn't put him through these cycles.
Holistic treatment combines diet, nutritional supplements, medicinal herbs, and other natural weapons. These can be effective, but this disease is difficult to control and after awhile, if nothing natural works and your Westie must constantly be on drugs with side effects, euthanasia becomes the kindest option to end his discomfort.
Along with skin issues, endocrine system diseases are another real concern in the breed. Addison's disease is the most common and the most serious. Diabetes, Cushing's disease, and hypothyroidism also occur in Westies.
Copper toxicosis, also known as copper storage disease, is a serious inherited disease in Westies, in which copper accumulates in the liver. Westies are the 2nd most commonly affected breed, behind Bedlington Terriers. In dogs who have inherited this disease, copper starts accumulating very early in life, but it takes time to build up, so typically you don't see symptoms until 3-6 years old. Symptoms are vague – loss of appetite, loss of weight, depression. So if your Westie ever acts ill, the vet should do blood tests for liver function. This disease is ultimately fatal unless treated with a copper-chelating medication. But some drugs have more side effects than others, so you should work with a holistic vet, who will seek the gentlest effective drug and add natural supplements that provide strong support for the liver. You should also feed a homemade diet low in copper (beef, poultry, eggs, and veggies are good).
Eye diseases include dry eye and cataracts. In a Swedish study, cataracts were found in over HALF the Westies examined. Cataracts are not as common in American Westies, but they definitely occur and can lead to blindness.
A lysosomal storage disease (globoid cell leukodystrophy) occurs in Westies. It's a degenerative disease of the brain and spinal cord. It appears at 2-6 months old and is rapidly progressive, with death usually occurring prior to a year old. A simple DNA test is available for GCL so you can find out at any time whether your Westie has the disease, carries the disease, or is completely clear of it.
Orthopedic diseases in Westies include luxating patella (loose knees), craniomandibular osteopathy, Legg-Calve-Perthes disease, and hip dysplasia. The Orthopedic Foundation of America evaluated the hip X-rays of 96 West Highland White Terriers and found 12.5% dysplastic. That's high for a small dog, and the true rate is even higher because most of the obviously bad X-rays were not sent in for official evaluation.
Inherited deafness is a concern in the breed.
Digestive diseases include colitis (inflammatory bowel disease) and pancreatitis.
White shaker dog syndrome is a neuromuscular disease that can occur in Westies.
Pulmonary fibrosis occurs more often in Westies than in any other breed, appearing around 9 years old. It's a progressive lung disease where the lungs become chronically inflamed. Prognosis is poor.
Other health issues in West Highland White Terriers include hernias, pyruvate kinase deficiency, liver shunt, blood-clotting disease (von Willebrand's), cancer of the bladder (transitional cell carcinoma), and heart disease (pulmonic stenosis and septal defect).
Can you prevent health problems from happening to YOUR West Highland White Terrier?
Yes, often you can.
- Some health problems are genetic, which means inherited from parents. Genetic health issues are common in West Highland White Terriers today because of unwise breeding practices. My book, Dog Quest: Find The Dog Of Your Dreams, shows you how to find a West Highland White Terrier puppy who is genetically healthy.
- Other health problems are environmental – caused by the way you raise your dog. My best-selling dog health book, 11 Things You Must Do Right To Keep Your Dog Healthy and Happy shows you how to prevent environmental health problems by raising your West Highland White Terrier puppy (or adult dog) in all the right ways.
Here are my dog health tips for raising a healthy West Highland White Terrier puppy or adult dog:
How Long Will Your Dog Live? – Take This Quiz!
Based on your dog's breed and how you're raising him, this personalized quiz will help you understand how long your dog might live – and most importantly, how you can increase his life expectancy.
Dog Health Care – The Sensible Way
Read my advice on daily health care so your Westie lives a long, healthy life and seldom needs to see the vet.
The Best Dog Food For Feeding Your West Highland White Terrier
The best diet for feeding your Westie is real food. Real chicken, turkey, beef, bison, venison, fish....This is not "people food" and I'll tell you why.
The Second-Best Dog Food For Your West Highland White Terrier
If you can't feed homemade dog food, here are your next-best choices.
Vaccinations and Booster Shots: Needed or Not?
How many vaccinations does your West Highland White Terrier puppy really need? Does your adult Westie need yearly booster shots? The vaccination guidelines have changed. Find out what many vets aren't telling you.
The Type of Veterinarian I Recommend
Is your veterinarian really the best choice for your dog? Learn about the differences between vets who practice conventional, holistic, and alternative veterinary medicine.
Spaying Your Female Dog: Pros and Cons
Advantages and disadvantages of spaying your female Westie.
Neutering Your Male Dog: Pros and Cons
Advantages and disadvantages of neutering your male dog.
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