West Highland White Terrier (Westie) Health Care & Feeding
By Michele Welton. Copyright © 2000-2018
Quick list of West Highland White Terrier health problems
The skin is a weak area in Westies, with two-thirds of the breed affected by some form of skin problem. Chronic allergies cause itching and scratching that can lead to skin infections. Epidermal dysplasia is a dreadful hereditary disease that occurs in Westie puppies and can be fatal.
Young Westies are also vulnerable to a fatal neurological disease called GCL, as well as a neuromuscular disease with a fitting descriptive name: white shaker dog syndrome. Also affecting young West Highland White Terriers is a painful disease called CMO in which excessive bone grows on a pup's jawbone.
Endocrine system diseases are another concern in the breed, especially diabetes, Cushing's disease, and the very serious Addison's disease. Copper toxicosis is a serious liver disease in Westies, another one being liver shunt.
Hereditary eye diseases can lead to blindness.
Joints are often bad in Westies. Loose knee joints (luxating patella). Bad elbows. A high rate of hip dysplasia for such a small dog. And a very serious degenerative hip disease called Legg-Calve-Perthes.
Pulmonary fibrosis, a progressive lung disease, occurs more often in Westies than in any other breed.
Many other health issues in West Highland White Terriers – heart diseases, lymphoma, urinary stones, bladder cancer, inflammatory bowel disease....
(See more health problems below.)
Preventing health problems
Some health problems are inherited. For example, if both parents of your West Highland White Terrier have certificates proving they were tested and cleared of hereditary eye diseases, hip dysplasia, and luxating patella, your Westie has less risk of developing those conditions.
Other health problems can be prevented, or partially prevented, by the ways you raise your dog. If you're serious about doing everything you can for your Westie, my best-selling book, 11 Things You Must Do Right To Keep Your Dog Healthy and Happy, shows you how to raise your West Highland White Terrier puppy (or adult dog) in all the right ways. It will help you be your dog's health care champion!
Here are my dog health tips for raising a healthy West Highland White Terrier puppy or adult dog:
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 Westie
Food is the #1 foundation for good health. The best diet for feeding your dog is real food. Real chicken, turkey, beef, fish....these are not just "people foods" and I'll tell you why.
Kibble or Canned Dog Food – Almost As Good As Homemade?
Are you looking for the best dry kibble or canned dog food?
Feed Homemade Dog Food Without Needing To Make It
Would you like to feed your dog homemade, but think you don't have the time or skill to make it? I have the solution for you....
Should You Buy Pet Insurance? An Honest Review
My advice on the pros and cons of pet insurance, and the best pet insurance company I've found.
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 some vets aren't telling you.
Spaying Your Female Dog: Pros and Cons
Advantages and disadvantages of spaying your female dog.
Neutering Your Male Dog: Pros and Cons
Advantages and disadvantages of neutering your male dog.
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.
Assisi Loop Review: How I Helped Treat Inflammation and Pain
Does your dog suffer from arthritis, hip dysplasia, disk disease, colitis, a skin wound? My honest review of a veterinary device you can use at home to help reduce inflammation and pain.
Complete list of West Highland White Terrier health problems
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.
Let's start with the skin. In a recent study, 66% of the breed were affected by some form of skin disease by 3 years of age. Allergies (which cause itchy skin and often lead to pyoderma) are very common in all terrier breeds. Other skin diseases in Westies include seborrhea, and a very serious disease: epidermal dysplasia.
Let's talk about epidermal dysplasia in West Highland White Terriers.
Epidermal dysplasia is 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, an affected dog becomes inflamed and itchy on his head, feet, and belly. As the disease spreads, the puppy scratches constantly and loses his hair. His skin becomes dark and greasy and thickened like an armadillo.
Then come 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 poor puppy's skin becomes broken by scratching, yeast seize the opportunity to attack.
So when you see inflamed skin and intense itching in a Westie puppy, more common conditions like allergies and 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 come with a host of side effects and only tend to resolve the current yeast infection so that itching stops for a little while. But as soon as treatment stops, the yeast return, and eventually these episodes run right on top of each other so that the poor puppy is coping with a constant yeast infection requiring medication every couple of days.
Holistic treatment combines diet, nutritional supplements, and medicinal herbs. These can be effective without side effects. Still, 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.
Now back to other health problems.
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 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. If your Westie ever acts ill, the vet should do blood tests for liver function. This disease is ultimately fatal unless treated with medication.
Young Westies are vulnerable to a fatal neurological disease called globoid cell leukodystropy (GCL), as well as a neuromuscular disease with a fitting descriptive name, white shaker dog syndrome. Also affecting youngsters is a painful disease called crandiomandibular osteopathy (CMO) in which excessive bone grows on a pup's jawbone.
Hereditary 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.
Orthopedic diseases in Westies include luxating patella (loose knees), Legg-Calve-Perthes disease, and hip dysplasia. The Orthopedic Foundation of America evaluated the hip X-rays of 400 West Highland White Terriers and found 13% dysplastic. That's very high for a small dog.
Inherited deafness is a concern in the breed.
Digestive diseases include colitis (inflammatory bowel disease) and pancreatitis.
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 liver shunt, lymphoma, bladder cancer, urinary stones, blood-clotting disease, and multiple heart diseases.
To help you train and care for your dog
To learn more about training your dog to be calm and well-behaved, my dog training book is Teach Your Dog 100 English Words. It's a unique Vocabulary and Respect Training Program that will teach your dog to listen to you and do whatever you ask.
My dog buying guide, Dog Quest: Find The Dog Of Your Dreams, will teach you everything you need to know about finding a good-tempered, healthy dog.
My dog health care book, 11 Things You Must Do Right To Keep Your Dog Healthy and Happy, shows you how to help your dog live a longer life while avoiding health problems and unnecessary veterinary expenses.