What Do Westies Usually Die From? [Study Reveals Top 3 Causes of Death]

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In the world of terriers, the West Highland White Terrier, affectionately known as the “Westie,” holds a special place. Their energetic nature and amiable personality have made them popular across the globe.

While Westies typically have a long lifespan, the simple truth is that we, as Westie owners, are likely to outlive our canine companions.

A significant study conducted in 2016 and published in the Canine Genetics and Epidemiology journal in 2019 provides invaluable insights into the health and mortality of Westies.

Conducted in the UK, this study shed light on the most common causes of death in Westies: lower respiratory tract disorders, cancer, and spinal cord disorders.

Each ailment presents a significant risk, with lower respiratory tract disorders and cancer accounting for 10.2% each of death causes, and spinal cord disorders making up 7.8%.

In this article, we will delve deeper into these issues, providing an in-depth analysis of each one and offering guidance on how to ensure your Westie lives a long and healthy life.

Stay with us as we navigate through these essential insights, equipping you with the knowledge you need to give your Westie the best possible care.

The Top 3 Causes of Death for West Highland Terriers

Top 3 Causes of Death for West Highland Terriers

Unveiling the main culprits behind the mortality of Westies can be a daunting task. However, the comprehensive 2016 UK study provides a clear picture. The primary causes of death were identified as lower respiratory tract disorders, cancer, and spinal cord disorders.

Lower respiratory tract disorders and cancer each accounted for 10.2% of deaths. The term “lower respiratory tract disorders” encompasses a range of conditions, with the most prevalent being Pulmonary fibrosis, often known as “Westie lung disease”.

Cancer, termed in the veterinary world as ‘neoplastic diseases’, is also a significant concern. While different types of cancers can occur, certain ones are more common in Westies, a topic we’ll dive deeper into later.

Spinal cord disorders follow closely behind, making up 7.8% of the death causes. These conditions can significantly impair mobility and overall quality of life.

Awareness of these primary health risks enables us to take proactive measures, striving for early detection, and when possible, prevention.

In the sections that follow, we’ll delve deeper into each of these causes, helping you become a well-informed Westie owner, armed with the knowledge to take the best possible care of your Westie.

Respiratory Tract Disorders

Lower respiratory tract disorders hold a prominent place in the health concerns of West Highland White Terriers. The most common among these is pulmonary fibrosis, a condition so associated with this breed that it has been colloquially termed “Westie Lung Disease.”

Pulmonary fibrosis is a disease of the lungs where the tissues become thickened and scarred over time, reducing the lungs’ ability to function effectively. It can lead to breathing difficulties, reduced oxygen supply to the body, and in severe cases, heart failure.

Symptoms of pulmonary fibrosis can vary in severity and may include a persistent cough, difficulty breathing (especially during exercise), and lethargy. In some cases, a bluish discoloration of the skin or gums may occur, indicating a lack of oxygen in the blood.

If you notice any of these symptoms in your Westie, it’s important to consult a veterinarian promptly.

While there’s no known cure for pulmonary fibrosis, treatment focuses on managing symptoms and improving quality of life. Therapies may include medications to aid breathing, supplemental oxygen, and supportive care to help your Westie stay comfortable.

Regular check-ups with your veterinarian can help detect early signs of this disease, enhancing the efficacy of management strategies and potentially prolonging your dog’s life.


Cancer, or neoplastic diseases, represents a significant health challenge for Westies, accounting for 10.2% of deaths according to the 2016 study.

While the specific types of cancer weren’t singled out in this research, other studies and clinical experiences have identified lymphoma and bladder cancer as top cancer risks for this breed.

Lymphoma is a type of cancer that affects the lymphatic system, a part of the dog’s immune system. Symptoms can include swelling in the lymph nodes, loss of appetite, lethargy, and weight loss.

It’s important to consult a veterinarian promptly if you observe these signs, as early detection and treatment can significantly improve the prognosis.

Bladder cancer, specifically transitional cell carcinoma, is another common cancer type in Westies. Symptoms often mimic those of a urinary tract infection and may include frequent urination, blood in urine, and straining to urinate.

While cancer can be a daunting diagnosis, advancements in veterinary oncology have provided numerous treatment options, from surgery and chemotherapy to radiation therapy. The choice of treatment depends on the type and stage of the cancer and your dog’s overall health.

Maintaining regular vet check-ups, a balanced diet, and a healthy lifestyle can play a critical role in early cancer detection and prevention. It’s essential to consult with your veterinarian for personalized advice based on your Westie’s health history and lifestyle.

Spinal Cord Disorders

Spinal cord disorders are another significant cause of mortality in Westies, accounting for 7.8% of deaths. These conditions can dramatically affect a dog’s mobility and quality of life, making them a critical concern for Westie owners.

While the 2016 study did not specify the particular spinal cord disorders affecting Westies, we can draw on general canine health knowledge to understand the types of conditions that might be involved.

Dog Wheelchair Life lists several common spinal cord diseases in dogs, including Fibrocartilaginous Embolism (FCE stroke), Spinal tumors, Wobbler Syndrome, Hemivertebrae, and Spina Bifida.

Fibrocartilaginous Embolism (FCE) stroke is a condition where a piece of the vertebral disc material breaks off and blocks blood flow to the spinal cord. It often presents as sudden paralysis or weakness in one or more limbs.

Spinal tumors can be either benign or malignant, but both can cause significant damage by compressing the spinal cord and nerves.

Wobbler Syndrome, Hemivertebrae, and Spina Bifida are all congenital conditions that can cause various symptoms, from mild discomfort to severe mobility impairment.

While these conditions are not specific to Westies, they provide an idea of the types of spinal disorders that can potentially affect any dog breed. If your Westie shows signs of back pain, limb weakness, or changes in gait, it’s crucial to seek veterinary care promptly.

Treatment options for spinal cord disorders depend on the specific disease, the severity of symptoms, and the overall health of your dog. They can range from medications and physical therapy to surgical interventions.

Regular vet check-ups can aid in early detection of these disorders, enhancing the efficacy of treatments and improving your dog’s quality of life.


West Highland White Terrier

Being aware of the potential health issues faced by West Highland White Terriers is a vital part of responsible pet ownership. As we’ve learned from the 2016 UK study, the primary causes of mortality in Westies are lower respiratory tract disorders, cancer, and spinal cord disorders.

It’s important for us as Westie owners to be vigilant for signs of these diseases, particularly pulmonary fibrosis – also known as Westie Lung Disease.

While this knowledge might seem overwhelming, it’s essential to remember that being forewarned is being forearmed.

It’s through this proactive approach that we can enhance the lives of our Westies, offering them a chance at longevity and quality living.

Kevin William

Kevin grew up with a female West Highland White Terrier named Murphy who was always by his side. Kevin currently lives in New York state with his family including a Labrabull (Labrador Retriever Pit Bull) named Lily.

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