Editor’s note: This article has been reviewed for accuracy by Dr. Sara Ochoa, DVM. Dr. Ochoa is a graduate of St. George’s University with a Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine.
West Highland White Terriers are one of the most popular dog breeds in the world. They are known for their independent nature and spunky personality. Westies are generally a healthy breed, but like all breeds they are prone to certain health issues.
In this blog post, I’ll go over the 12 most common Westie health problems you should be aware of as a Westie owner.
- Seborrhea Skin Condition
- Dental Crowding
- Otitis Externa Ear Infection
- Sensitive Stomach
- Joint Problems
- White Shaker Dog Syndrome
- Pulmonary Fibrosis
- Keratoconjunctivitis sicca (KCS) Dry Eye Syndrome
- Small Dog Syndrome
The most common West Highland Terrier health concern is allergies. Allergies can be caused by a number of things, including environmental factors such as pollen or dust, or they can be caused by food sensitivities.
If your Westie is scratching a lot, has red and irritated skin, or is having digestive problems, it may be time to see the vet to rule out allergies.
2. Seborrhea Skin Condition
Another common health issue for Westies is skin problems. Westies are prone to a condition called seborrhea, which causes dry, flaky skin. Seborrhea can be caused by several things, including genetics, allergies, or even poor nutrition.
If you notice your Westie’s skin is dry and flaky, it’s important to see the vet to rule out any underlying health issues.
3. Dental Crowding
Westies are also prone to dental problems. Because of their small mouths, Westies can develop a condition called crowding, which means that their teeth don’t have enough room to grow properly. This can lead to tooth decay and other dental problems.
It’s important to brush your Westie’s teeth regularly and take them to the vet for regular checkups to ensure their teeth are healthy.
4. Otitis Externa Ear Infection
Westies are susceptible to a particular type of ear infection known as Otitis externa, also known as swimmer’s ear. Otitis externa is caused by an overgrowth of bacteria or yeast in the ear canal. Symptoms include itching, redness, discharge, and pain. If left untreated, OE can lead to deafness.
The good news is that otitis externa is relatively easy to treat with medication. However, it is important to catch the infection early and to avoid using cotton swabs or water in the ear canal, as this can worsen the condition.
Like many small breeds, Westies are vulnerable to obesity. Because they are a small breed of dog, Westies can easily overeat and become overweight. When left unchecked, obesity can lead to other health problems, including joint pain, respiratory difficulties, and diabetes.
You can help your Westie stave off obesity by feeding them a high quality diet, making sure they get enough exercise, and limiting the amount of treats they are fed.
6. Sensitive Stomach
West Highland Terriers are also known for having sensitive stomachs. While this is not usually a major health concern, it can be frustrating for owners because it can lead to vomiting and diarrhea.
There are a few things that you can do to help your Westie’s stomach issues. First, make sure that you are feeding them high-quality food. Another thing that you can do is to feed them smaller meals more often throughout the day.
7. Joint Problems
Many Westies suffer from hip dysplasia, a condition in which the hip joint does not develop properly. This can lead to pain and lameness. Westies are also susceptible to elbow dysplasia, a similar condition that affects the elbow joint. In severe cases, surgery may be required to correct the problem.
Fortunately, there are many steps that owners can take to help prevent joint problems in Westies. For example, providing plenty of exercise and maintaining a healthy weight can help reduce stress on the joints. Additionally, regular vet check-ups can help catch joint problems early, before they cause too much damage.
8. White Shaker Dog Syndrome
For some reason, White Shaker Dog Syndrome is a condition that primarily affects small white dogs such as West Highland Terriers, Maltese, and Poodles. The syndrome is characterized by tremors and seizures. The cause of the disease in unknown.
There is no cure for White Shaker Dog Syndrome, but early diagnosis and treatment can dramatically help to improve the dog’s quality of life. Treatment usually involves steroid medication which can resolve the tremors within 2 weeks. Typically, the dog will remain on the medication for the rest of their life, but many dogs with this condition can live long and happy lives.
9. Pulmonary Fibrosis
Pulmonary Fibrosis is a serious lung condition characterized by the thickening and scarring of the lung tissue, which can eventually lead to breathing problems and even death. While the exact cause of pulmonary fibrosis is unknown, it is believed to be genetic in nature.
PF usually manifests itself in senior Westies. Treatment typically focuses on managing symptoms and supporting respiratory function.
10. Dry Eye Syndrome
Compared to other breeds, Westies are more susceptible to an eye condition known as Keratoconjunctivitis sicca (KCS) or dry eye syndrome. The condition occurs when the tear glands do not produce enough tears to keep the eyes lubricated. This can lead to several problems, including inflammation and ulceration of the cornea, cloudy vision, and pain. In severe cases, keratoconjunctivitis sicca can even lead to blindness.
There are a number of possible causes of dry eye syndrome in dogs, including immune-mediated disease, certain medications, and trauma to the eye. Treatment will vary depending on the underlying cause, but may include artificial tears, immunosuppressive drugs, or surgery. If your dog has any signs of dry eye syndrome, it is important to have him examined by a veterinarian so that the appropriate treatment can be started.
Another eye condition that affects Westies is cataracts. Cataracts occur when the lens of the eye becomes cloudy, obstructing light from reaching the retina. This can cause blindness if left untreated.
While usually seen in older Westies, juvenile cataracts can affect younger Westies as well.
There are several different factors that can contribute to the development of cataracts in Westies, including genetics, age, environment, and disease. Fortunately, cataracts can be surgically removed, and many dogs go on to live happy and healthy lives.
12. Small Dog Syndrome
If you’ve never heard of it before, Small Dog Syndrome is the term often used to describe the behavior of small dogs who think they are in charge and therefore misbehave as a result. While it is not technically a medical condition, it is a very real phenomenon that can make life more difficult for both owners and their Westies.
Small Dog Syndrome usually occurs when owners allow their dog to be the alpha in the relationship. Fortunately, this can be overcome through socialization and training which will lead to a happier life for both the dog and the humans in their life.
West Highland Terrier Health Concerns Final Thoughts
If you are thinking about adopting a West Highland White Terrier, I hope the above health issues don’t scare you away. It is better to learn about potential health concerns in West Highland Terriers now, than to be surprised by them later.
In general, Westies are healthy dogs. However, every dog breed has certain health conditions that they are more prone to than other breeds.
If you are currently a Westie owner and are concerned that your dog may have one of the conditions above, be sure to let your veterinarian know.