West Highland White Terriers, commonly known as the Westies, are known for their distinctive white coat, charismatic disposition, and their world famous head tilt.
A popular breed for both everyday families and celebrities, Westies are consistently one of the 50 most popular dog breeds in the U.S.
If you are thinking about adopting a Westie yourself, you can expect to have a companion for many years to come. So, just how long do Westies live?
Westies typically live between 13 to 16 years. However, with optimal care, good health, and a bit of luck, some individuals have been known to surpass 20 years of age.
Murphy, the Westie I had growing up, lived to be a healthy 16 years old, but I have seen several examples of Westies who lived more than two decades.
- Average Westie Lifespan
- Oldest West Highland White Terrier
- Most Common Causes of Death
- The Lifespan of Westies vs. Other Dog Breeds
- Why Smaller Dogs Live Longer Than Larger Dogs
- Westie Years vs. Human Years
- Factors Affecting West Highland Terrier Life Expectancy
- Common Westie Health Concerns
- Signs of Aging
- Wrapping up the Westie Journey
Average Westie Lifespan
One of the appealing factors of Westies is their lifespan. Westies typically enjoy a robust lifespan that averages between 13 to 16 years.
More specifically, a 2016 study in the UK found that the overall median lifespan of Westies is 13.5 years, the median lifespan of male Westies is 13.8 years, and the median lifespan of female Westies is 12.9 years.
However, these numbers don’t tell the entire story. In fact, with optimal care and attention to their health needs, many Westies live beyond this average lifespan.
It’s not uncommon to find Westies living well into their twenties, much to the delight of their dedicated owners.
On the other hand, a Westie that is not well cared for or one that has health issues may have a much shorter lifespan.
Like people, each Westie is a unique individual. A dog’s lifespan can vary based on an array of factors including genetics, quality of diet, level of exercise, and overall health care. These variables are crucial to consider when pondering the potential longevity of any dog, including Westies.
Despite these potential fluctuations, it’s undeniably impressive how long Westies tend to live, particularly when compared to other dog breeds. More on this later.
This longevity is just one of the many reasons why Westies continue to be a popular choice among dog enthusiasts, offering years of loyal companionship.
Oldest West Highland White Terrier
The record for the oldest Westie is held by an extraordinary dog named Snowy, who lived in New Jersey. Snowy’s lifespan extended to an impressive 24 years, 4 months, and 7 days.
He sadly passed away on November 3, 2021. Snowy’s longevity is an exceptional testament to the Westie breed and the diligent care provided by his devoted owner, Shantell Ortiz.
Shantell shared Snowy’s story in a Facebook post. She detailed Snowy’s final days, mentioning that he peacefully passed away after eating his meal and settling in for a nap.
She described Snowy as a very happy, loved, and playful dog, and even during his last days, he was surrounded by love, cuddles, and well-deserved attention.
Shantell also shed some light on Snowy’s life. He was her first pet and got along well with her two other dogs, both three years old.
Snowy came from a farm in New Jersey, belonging to cattle ranchers. His diet consisted of grain-free and salmon dog food, contributing to his well-being and longevity.
Snowy had a regular vet visit schedule, with check-ups about every three months. Despite becoming blind and deaf in his final year, Snowy still retained all his teeth and maintained a healthy weight until his final days.
Snowy loved basking in the sun and playing with the other dogs, proving that age was just a number for this energetic Westie. His story stands as a testament to the potential longevity of the breed, setting an aspirational standard for Westie owners.
Most Common Causes of Death
While Westies typically enjoy a long lifespan, they do not live forever. The same study that gave us the median lifespans of Westies also provided valuable insights into the most common causes of death in West Highland White Terriers.
The findings revealed that the top three causes of death were lower respiratory tract disorders, cancer, and spinal cord disorders. Each of these ailments presented a significant risk, with lower respiratory tract disorders and cancer each accounting for 10.2% of the death causes, and spinal cord disorders making up 7.8%.
Understanding these potential health challenges is crucial in providing the best care for your Westie. By recognizing the signs early, initiating preventative measures, and seeking veterinary care when needed, you can contribute to the health and longevity of your beloved companion.
The Lifespan of Westies vs. Other Dog Breeds
When comparing the average lifespan of Westies to other breeds, it’s evident that Westies enjoy a relatively long lifespan. The average lifespan of dogs in general is about 12 years.
This table provides an overview of how the lifespan of Westies compares to a selection of other breeds:
|Breed||Average Lifespan (Years)|
|West Highland Terrier||13-16|
|Jack Russell Terrier||13-16|
|American Pitbull Terrier||12-14|
From this table, we can see that the average lifespan of a Westie is comparable to that of a Yorkshire Terrier or Jack Russell Terrier, exceeding that of larger breeds such as the Labrador Retriever, Newfoundland, St. Bernard, Great Dane, and Bullmastiff.
The tiny Chihuahua holds the crown for the longest lived breed. Yet, Westies still stand strong with an impressive average lifespan, especially when considering overall health and vitality.
Why Smaller Dogs Live Longer Than Larger Dogs
The notion that smaller dogs tend to live longer than larger breeds isn’t just based on anecdotes or casual observations. It’s a conclusion that’s backed by a number of scientific studies that have found a strong correlation between the size of a dog and its rate of aging.
One study concluded that larger dogs tend to have shorter lifespans because they age at a faster pace compared to their smaller counterparts.
This might seem counterintuitive, considering that larger mammals typically outlive smaller ones in the wild. However, when it comes to domesticated dogs, the opposite appears to be true.
A significant factor contributing to this phenomenon is the role of selective breeding. Another study found that breeding practices that have favored larger size in certain breeds have unintentionally resulted in these breeds being more susceptible to developmental diseases.
This, in turn, tends to diminish their longevity. For instance, the accelerated growth rates seen in larger breeds can lead to joint problems, heart diseases, and other health issues that can impact lifespan.
Interestingly though, within the same breed, a larger individual dog does not necessarily have a shorter lifespan compared to smaller individuals of the same breed. This suggests that breed-specific traits and genetics also play a vital role in determining a dog’s lifespan, in addition to size.
Westie Years vs. Human Years
For years, the rule of thumb was that 1 dog year was equal to 7 human years. However, that simple rule of thumb doesn’t hold up, especially when you consider that some breeds frequently live twice as long as other breeds.
In more recent years, the American Veterinary Medical Association has updated guidelines including:
- 15 human years equals the first year of a medium-sized dog’s life.
- Year two for a dog equals about nine years for a human.
- And after that, each human year would be approximately five years for a dog.
And because the math is a bit more complicated than multiplying by 7, and because smaller dogs live longer than larger dogs, the AVMA also developed an easy to read chart based on a breed’s size.
While the table is not perfect, it does a much better job of approximating a dog’s age to human years.
For example, the expected lifespan of Westies is 13.5 years. Using the old rule of thumb, if you multiply that by 7, you get 94.5 human years. However, according to the new table, because Westies are generally under 20 pounds, a 13 and a half year old Westie would be 70 in human years.
With an expected lifespan for humans of 72.8 years, you can see that the updated method for calculating dog years is much more accurate.
Factors Affecting West Highland Terrier Life Expectancy
While the typical lifespan of a Westie ranges from 13 to 16 years, it’s essential to understand that individual longevity can vary. Several factors influence a Westie’s life expectancy, and these can broadly be categorized into genetic factors, environmental factors, and care factors.
Genetic Factors: Some health issues in Westies are genetic, meaning they’re inherited from parent dogs. This includes conditions like Legg-Calvé-Perthes disease and pulmonary fibrosis. Being aware of these genetic predispositions can guide preventative measures and early treatments.
Environmental Factors: A dog’s environment significantly impacts its health and longevity. Exposure to harmful substances, overly hot or cold conditions, and stressful situations can negatively affect a Westie’s lifespan.
Care Factors: This is perhaps the area where you, as an owner, can have the most direct impact.
- Diet: A well-balanced, nutrient-rich diet is crucial for maintaining your Westie’s overall health and promoting longevity.
- Exercise: Regular physical activity helps to keep your Westie fit and reduce the risk of obesity, a common health concern for the breed.
- Regular Vet Check-ups: Routine veterinary care allows for early detection and treatment of potential health issues, increasing the chances of a longer, healthier life for your Westie.
- Dental Care: Westies, like many small breeds, are prone to dental issues. Regular tooth brushing and dental check-ups can prevent many of these problems.
- Mental Stimulation: A mentally stimulated Westie is a happy Westie. Providing toys, puzzle feeders, and regular interaction can contribute to your Westie’s well-being and longevity.
- Love and Attention: Never underestimate the impact of love and attention on your Westie’s lifespan. Emotional well-being can contribute to physical health, making your affection a key ingredient in your Westie’s long life.
Remember, while you can’t control all the factors influencing your Westie’s lifespan, there’s plenty you can do to give them the best chance at a long, healthy, and happy life.
Common Westie Health Concerns
Despite their long expected lifespan, Westies are predisposed to certain health conditions. Awareness of these common health concerns can be invaluable in providing your Westie with the best possible care.
According to the Westie UK study cited earlier, the most common health disorders found in West Highland White Terriers include:
- Dental Disease: Dental issues were the most common health concern, with 15.7% of Westies affected. Regular tooth brushing and dental check-ups can go a long way in preventing these issues.
- Ear Disease: This was found in 10.6% of the studied Westies. Regular ear checks and cleaning can help prevent ear infections.
- Overgrown Nails: Affecting 7.2% of Westies, overgrown nails can be easily managed with routine nail trims.
- Allergic Skin Disorder: Allergic skin conditions affected 6.5% of Westies in the study. If your Westie has an allergic reaction, your vet can help identify the cause and provide appropriate treatment.
- Obesity: This affected 6.1% of Westies. A balanced diet and regular exercise are crucial in preventing obesity and the host of health issues it can bring.
Identifying and managing these common health issues early on is key to ensuring your Westie remains as healthy as possible.
Signs of Aging
Just like in humans, Westies will display certain signs as they begin to age. Recognizing these signs can help you adjust their care regimen and better cater to their changing needs. The following are common signs of aging in Westies:
- Increased Sleep: It’s normal for older Westies to sleep more. As they age, they may not have the same level of energy as in their younger years.
- Decreased Appetite: Aging Westies may start to eat less. If you notice a drastic change in their eating habits, it’s a good idea to consult your vet to rule out any underlying health issues.
- Joint Problems: Older Westies can start to show signs of joint problems like stiffness or difficulty moving. If you notice these symptoms, it’s worth discussing potential treatments or supplements with your vet.
- Decline in Eyesight: Aged Westies may begin to suffer from diminished eyesight. You might notice your Westie bumping into furniture or being unsure in unfamiliar environments.
- Hearing Loss: It’s not uncommon for an older Westie’s hearing to decline. If your dog doesn’t respond to commands as usual or seems startled when you approach from behind, they may be experiencing hearing loss.
- Confusion: Signs of confusion in Westies can include disorientation, changes in sleep patterns, and unusual behavior, such as wandering aimlessly around the yard or neighborhood.
By the end, in Murphy’s case, I noticed all six of these signs. In the last year of her life she wandered out of the yard and around the neighborhood a few times with no discernable purpose, which is something that she had never done before in her life.
These changes are a natural part of the aging process, but they can also be signs of underlying health conditions. If you observe any drastic or sudden changes in your aging Westie’s behavior, it’s always a good idea to consult your vet.
With the right care and attention, your Westie can continue to enjoy a high quality of life in their golden years.
Wrapping up the Westie Journey
West Highland White Terriers are a breed full of character and life. While their life expectancy is 13 to 16 years, we’ve seen that the oldest Westie lived a remarkable 24 years. While that’s an exceptional case, it’s a heartening reminder of what’s possible with good care, attention, and perhaps a bit of luck.
From understanding common health concerns to recognizing signs of aging, being informed about your Westie’s health will help you provide the best care possible.
It’s not just about increasing the length of their life, but enhancing the quality of their years as well. Remember, with a balanced diet, regular exercise, and timely vet check-ups, you can help ensure your Westie enjoys a long, healthy, and happy life.