West Highland Terrier


Your West Highland White Terrier

Caring for Your Faithful Companion

West Highland White Terriers: What a Unique Breed!

Your dog is special! She’s your best friend, companion, and a source of unconditional love. Chances are that you chose her because you like Westies and you expected her to have certain traits that would fit your lifestyle:

  • Small and travels well
  • Vigilant watchdog with a ready bark
  • Always on the go, with a keen eye for adventure
  • Intelligent and easy to train
  • Compact – does well in small living quarters

However, no dog is perfect! You may have also noticed these characteristics:

  • Needs regular exercise to prevent chewing, digging, and other problems stemming from boredom
  • Can be snappy around children if not socialized properly
  • Coat requires regular grooming
  • Likes to dig
  • Needs frequent attention from her family

Is it all worth it? Of course! She’sfull of personality, and you love her for it! A true friend, the West Highland Terrier gets along with all. With socialization she enjoys children, other dogs and most strangers. Her easy going nature and small size makes her the perfect travel companion.

The West Highland White Terrier was developed in Poltalloch, Scotland, and was known as the Dog of Argyleshire. Westies were bred to control vermin and to hunt fox or otter. Today they are enjoyed as companion dogs. They are fantastic performers in conformation, agility, obedience, and earth dog trials. WHWTs are active, alert, intelligent, courageous, and fun-loving. They tend to bark and dig, especially if bored. Westies should be socialized early to other pets and childern, as they may nip when irritated. West Highland White Terriers have an average life span of 15 years.

Your West Highland White Terrier’s Health

We know that because you care so much about your dog, you want to take good care of her. That is why we have summarized the health concerns we will be discussing with you over the life of your Westie. By knowing about health concerns specific to West Highland White Terriers, we can tailor a preventive health plan to watch for and hopefully prevent some predictable risks.

Many diseases and health conditions are genetic, meaning they are related to your pet’s breed. There is a general consensus among canine genetic researchers and veterinary practitioners that the conditions we’ve described herein have a significant rate of incidence and/or impact in this breed.That does not mean your dog will have these problems; it just means that she is more at risk than other dogs. We will describe the most common issues seen inWest Highland White Terriersto give you an idea of what may come up in her future. Of course, we can’t cover every possibility here, so always check with us if you notice any unusual signs or symptoms.

This guide contains general health information important to all canines as well as the most important genetic predispositions for West Highland White Terriers. This information helps you and us together plan for your pet’s unique medical needs. At the end of the booklet, we have also included a description of what you can do at home to keep your Westie looking and feeling her best. You will know what to watch for, and we will all feel better knowing that we’re taking the best possible care of your pal.

General Health Information for your West Highland White Terrier

Brushing your dog’s teeth daily will prevent periodontal disease.

Brushing your dog’s teeth daily will prevent periodontal disease.

Dental Disease

Dental disease is the most common chronic problem in pets, affecting 80% of all dogs by age two. And unfortunately, your West Highland White Terrier is more likely than other dogs to have problems with her teeth. It starts with tartar build-up on the teeth and progresses to infection of the gums and roots of the teeth. If we don’t prevent or treat dental disease, your buddy will lose her teeth and be in danger of damaging her kidneys, liver, heart, and joints. In fact, your Westie’s life span may be cut short by one to three years! We’ll clean your dog’s teeth regularly and let you know what you can do at home to keep those pearly whites clean.


West Highland White Terriers are susceptible to bacterial and viral infections—the same ones that all dogs can get—such as parvo, rabies, and distemper. Many of these infections are preventable through vaccination, which we will recommend based on the diseases we see in our area, herage, and other factors.


Obesity can be a significant health problem in West Highland White Terriers. It is a serious disease that may causeor worsen joint problems, metabolic and digestive disorders, back pain and heart disease. Though it’s tempting to give your pal food when she looks at you with those soulful eyes, you can “love her to death” with leftover people food and doggie treats. Instead, give her a hug, brush her fur or teeth, play a game with her, or perhaps take her for a walk. She’ll feel better, and so will you!

Roundworm egg as seen under the microscope.

Roundworm egg as seen under the microscope.


All kinds of worms and bugs can invade your Westie’s body, inside and out. Everything from fleas and ticks to ear mites can infest herskin and ears. Hookworms, roundworms, heartworms, and whipworms can get into hersystem in a number of ways: drinking unclean water, walking on contaminated soil, or being bitten by an infected mosquito. Some of these parasites can be transmitted to you or a family member and are a serious concern for everyone. For your canine friend, these parasites can cause pain, discomfort, and even death, so it’s important that we test for them on a regular basis. We’ll also recommend preventive medication as necessary to keep herhealthy.

Spay or Neuter

One of the best things you can do for your Westie is to have her spayed (neutered for males). In females, this means we surgically remove the ovaries and usually the uterus, and in males, it means we surgically remove the testicles. Spaying or neutering decreases the likelihood of certain types of cancers and eliminates the possibility of your pet becoming pregnant or fathering unwanted puppies. Performing this surgery also gives us a chance, while your pet is under anesthesia, to identify and address some of the diseases your dog is likely to develop. For example, if your pet needs hip X-rays or a puppy tooth extracted, this would be a good time. This is convenient for you and easy for your friend. Routine blood testing prior to surgery also helps us to identify and take precautions for common problems that increase anesthetic or surgical risk. Don’t worry; we’ll discuss the specific problems we will be looking for when the time arrives.

Genetic Predispositions for West Highland White Terriers

The adrenal glands are situated along the vena cava (the large vein in the abdominal cavity) near each kidney. These small glands release many important hormones in the body.

The adrenal glands are situated along the vena cava (the large vein in the abdominal cavity) near each kidney. These small glands release many important hormones in the body.

Hypoadrenocorticism (Addison’s )

Addison’s Disease is an endocrine system disorder that occurs when the adrenal glands fail to produce enough hormones to keep the body functioning normally. Left untreated, hypoadrenocorticism can be fatal, and symptoms often mimic many other diseases. Fortunately, we can run a specialized timed blood test to check for this condition. Though any dog can acquire this disease, Westies seem to get it more frequently. We’ll be watching for clinical signs at every exam, and will periodically check his electrolyte levels to screen for this problem.


Diabetes mellitus is a fairly common disease in dogs. Any breed can be affected, but Westies have an above average incidence. Dogs with diabetes are unable to regulate the metabolism of sugars and require daily insulin injections. It is a serious condition and one that is important to diagnose and treat as early as possible. Symptoms include increased eating, drinking, and urination, along with weight loss. If he shows signs, we will conduct lab tests to determine if he has this condition and discuss treatment options with you. Treatment requires a serious commitment of time and resources. Well regulated diabetic dogs today have the same life expectancy as other canines.

Pyruvate Kinase Deficiency

This is a genetic disease that causes the red blood cells to be abnormal. Affected Westies will be anemic, with pale gums, exercise intolerance, and liver and spleen enlargement. Sadly, there is no cure and most dogs with this disease die by four years of age. There is a DNA test available to identify the disease in young puppies or for those pet parents interested in breeding.

Eye Problems

Not many things have as dramatic an impact on your dog’s quality of life as the proper functioning of his eyes. Unfortunately, West Highland White Terriers can inherit or develop a number of different eye conditions, some of which may cause blindness if not treated right away, and most of which can be extremely painful! We will evaluate his eyes at every examination to look for any signs of concern.

Glaucoma, an eye condition that affects West Highland White Terriers and people too, is an extremely painful disease that rapidly leads to blindness if left untreated. Symptoms include squinting, watery eyes, bluing of the cornea (the clear front part of the eye), and redness in the whites of the eyes. Pain is rarely noticed by pet owners though it is frequently there and can be severe. People who have certain types of glaucoma often report it feels like being stabbed in the eye with an ice pick! Yikes! In advanced cases, the eye may look enlarged or swollen like it’s bulging. We’ll perform his annual glaucoma screening to diagnose and start treatment as early as possible. Glaucoma is a medical emergency. If you see symptoms, don’t wait to call us, go to an emergency clinic!



Cataracts are a common cause of blindness in older Westies. We’ll watch for the lenses of his eyes to become more opaque—meaning they look cloudy instead of clear—when we examine him. Many dogs adjust well to losing their vision and get along just fine. Surgery to remove cataracts and restore sight may also be an option.

Dry eye, also known as keratoconjunctivitis sicca or KCS, is common in West Highland White Terriers. The tear glands no longer produce enough tears to keep the eye moist, which results in sore, itchy eyes and infections. Ouch! Symptoms include a thick discharge, squinting, pawing at the eye, or a dull, dry appearance of the eye. This is a painful condition; please call us immediately if you notice any of these signs. We’ll conduct a tear test when we examine him. If he has this disease, we’ll prescribe ointment that you’ll need to apply for the rest of your dog’s life.


In humans, an allergy to pollen, mold, or dust makes people sneeze and their eyes itch. In dogs, rather than sneeze, allergies make their skin itchy. We call this skin allergy “atopy”, and Westies often have it. Commonly, the feet, belly, folds of the skin, and ears are most affected. Symptoms typically start between the ages of one and three and can get worse every year. Licking the paws, rubbing the face, and frequent ear infections are the most common signs. The good news is that there are many treatment options available for this condition.

Heart Disease

West Highland White Terriers are prone to multiple types of heart disease, which can occur both early and later in life. We’ll listen for heart murmurs and abnormal heart rhythms when we examine your pet. When indicated, we’ll perform an annual heart health check, which may include X-rays, an ECG, or an echocardiogram, depending on your dog’s risk factors. Early detection of heart disease often allows us to treat with medication that usually prolongs your pet’s life for many years. Veterinary dental care and weight control go a long way in preventing heart disease.

Illustration of degenerative valves in the heart. Over time, some dogs will develop heart failure.

Illustration of degenerative valves in the heart. Over time, some dogs will develop heart failure.

Heart failure is a leading cause of death among West Highland White Terriers in their golden years. Most heart disease in dogs is caused by weakening of a valve . A heart valve slowly becomes deformed so that it no longer closes tightly. Blood then leaks back around this valve and strains the heart. Pets with heart valve disease (sometimes called mitral valve disease) have a heart murmur. If your dog has a heart murmur or outward signs suggesting heart problems, we’ll perform testing to determine the severity of the disease. The same tests will need to be repeated at least every year to monitor the condition. If heart valve disease is diagnosed early, we may be able to prescribe medications that could prolong his life for many years. Veterinary dental care and fatty acid supplementation can help prevent heart disease and weight control can help diminish symptoms.

Sometimes the sinus node, which is the part of the electrical system that signals the heart to beat, doesn’t work properly. If your Westie has this condition, called sick sinus syndrome, he will have a very low heart rate and may faint with exercise. Mild cases can be treated with medication. If his symptoms are more severe, he may need more advanced care. We’ll perform a test of the electrical activity of the heart (ECG screen) each year as well as before he undergoes anesthesia to provide the best care for your friend.

Bone and Joint Problems

A number of different musculoskeletal problems have been reported in West Highland White Terriers. While it may seem overwhelming, each condition can be diagnosed and treated to prevent undue pain and suffering. With diligent observation at home and knowledge about the diseases that may affect your friend’s bones, joints, or muscles you will be able to take great care of him throughout his life.

Both hips and elbows are at risk for dysplasia, an inherited disease that causes the joints to develop improperly and results in arthritis. Stiffness in your Westie’s elbows or hips may become a problem for him, especially as he matures. You may notice that he begins to show lameness in his legs or has difficulty getting up from lying down. We can treat the arthritis—the sooner the better—to minimize discomfort and pain. We’ll take X-rays of your dog’s bones to identify issues as early as possible. Surgery is sometimes a good option in severe and life-limiting cases. Keep in mind that overweight dogs may develop arthritis years earlier than those of normal weight, causing undue pain and suffering!

Young West Highland White Terriers may be prone to a painful degenerative hip condition called Legg-Calve-Perthes Disease. The exact cause of this condition is still not completely understood, but it is thought to be a problem with blood supply to the hip, which causes the femoral head (the top of the thigh bone) to become brittle and easily fracture. Ouch! Usually occurring between six and nine months of age, it causes pain and lameness in one or both rear legs, and often requires surgery.

Normal Knee

Normal Knee

Illustration of patellar luxation. Notice how the knee cap has moved out of the groove it normally resides in.

Illustration of patellar luxation. Notice how the knee cap has moved out of the groove it normally resides in.

Sometimes your Westie’s kneecap (patella) may slip out of place (called patellar luxation). You might notice that he runs along and suddenly picks up a back leg and skips or hops for a few strides. Then he kicks his leg out sideways to pop the kneecap back in place, and he’s fine again. If the problem is mild and involves only one leg, your friend may not require much treatment beyond arthritis medication. When symptoms are severe, surgery may be needed to realign the kneecap to keep it from popping out of place.

Liver Disorder

Some West Highland White Terriers can develop a liver disorder called Copper Hepatopathy. This disease causes toxic levels of copper to build up in his liver, leading to its failure if not treated early. Affected dogs usually show symptoms of jaundice (yellow eyes, gums and skin) by about two to four years of age. He should have liver testing done starting early in life to screen for any abnormalities.

Your Westie is more likely than other dogs to have a liver disorder called portosystemic shunt (PSS). Some of the blood supply that should go to the liver goes around it instead, depriving the liver of the blood flow it needs to grow and function properly. If your friend has PSS, his liver cannot remove toxins from his bloodstream effectively. To check for this problem, we’ll conduct a liver function test in addition to a standard pre-anesthetic panel every time he undergoes anesthesia. If he develops symptoms such as stunted growth or seizures, we’ll test his blood and possibly conduct an ultrasound scan of his liver. Surgery may be needed, but in some cases, we can treat with a special diet and medication.

Abnormal lymphocytes, as seen under the microscope, confirming a diagnosis of lymphoma.

Abnormal lymphocytes, as seen under the microscope, confirming a diagnosis of lymphoma.


Lymphoma or lymphosarcoma is a type of cancer that afflicts West Highland White Terriers more than other breeds. This disease makes the body form abnormal lymphocytes, which are a type of white blood cell. Because white blood cells can be found throughout the body, this cancer can show up almost anywhere. Lymphoma is a very treatable form of cancer, with an excellent success rate in dogs receiving chemotherapy. Treatment can be costly, however, and is a lifelong commitment. Luckily, lymphoma is one of the few types of cancer that can often be found with a blood test, so we may recommend a complete blood count twice yearly. Watch for swollen glands (ask us, we’ll show you where to look), weight loss, or labored breathing at home and be sure to call us if you notice any unusual symptoms.

This photo shows a puppy with a retained upper canine tooth. Note how the adult tooth has erupted in front of the puppy tooth.

This photo shows a puppy with a retained upper canine tooth. Note how the adult tooth has erupted in front of the puppy tooth.

Retained Puppy Teeth

Dogs normally begin to lose their primary (“puppy”) teeth at around 4 months of age. When the primary teeth don’t fall out as the adult teeth come in, infection or damage to the adult teeth may develop. Retained teeth are common in small breeds like Westies. The retained puppy teeth trap food and hair between the normal adult tooth and the primary tooth. Painful gums, bad breath and adult tooth loss can result if untreated. We’ll monitor his growing teeth and recommend removal of the puppy teeth if they are present alongside his adult teeth.

Bladder or Kidney Stones

There are a few different types of stones that can form in the kidney or in the bladder, and West Highland White Terriers are more likely to develop them than other breeds. We’ll periodically test his urine for telltale signs indicating the presence of kidney and bladder stones; they are painful! If your buddy has blood in his urine, can’t urinate, or is straining to urinate, it is a medical emergency. Call us immediately!

Taking Care of Your West Highland White Terrier at Home

Much of what you can do to keep your dog happy and healthy is common sense, just like it is for people. Watch her diet, make sure she gets plenty of exercise, regularly brush her teeth and coat, and call us or a pet emergency hospital when something seems unusual (see “What to Watch For” below). Be sure to adhere to the schedule of examinations and vaccinations that we recommend for her. This is when we’ll give her the necessary “check-ups” and test for diseases and conditions that are common in Westies. Another very important step in caring for your pet is signing up for pet health insurance. There will certainly be medical tests and procedures she will need throughout her life and pet health insurance will help you cover those costs.

Routine Care, Diet, and Exercise

Build her routine care into your schedule to help your Westie live longer, stay healthier, and be happier during her lifetime. We cannot overemphasize the importance of a proper diet and exercise routine.

  • Supervise your pet as you would a toddler. Keep doors closed, pick up after yourself, and block off rooms as necessary. This will keep her out of trouble and away from objects she shouldn’t put in her mouth.
  • Brush her coat as needed, at least weekly. Hand stripping is also required.
  • West Highland White Terriers often have serious problems with their teeth, so you’ll need to brush them at least three times a week!
  • Clean her ears weekly, even as a puppy. Don’t worry—we’ll show you how!
  • She makes a great travel companion due to her small size.
  • She tends to bark and dig, especially if bored.
  • Keep your dog’s diet consistent and don’t give her people food.
  • Feed a high-quality diet appropriate for her age.
  • Exercise your dog regularly, but don’t overdo it at first.

What to Watch For

Any abnormal symptom could be a sign of serious disease, or it could just be a minor or temporary problem. The important thing is to be able to tell when to seek veterinary help, and how urgently. Many diseases cause dogs to have a characteristic combination of symptoms, which together can be a clear signal that your West Highland White Terrier needs help.

Office calls

Give us a call for an appointment if you notice any of these types of signs:

  • Change in appetite or water consumption
  • Tartar build-up, bad breath, red gums, or broken teeth
  • Itchy skin (scratching, chewing, or licking), hair loss
  • Lethargy, mental dullness, or excessive sleeping
  • Fearfulness, aggression, or other behavioral changes
  • Lumps or bumps – regardless of size


Seek medical care immediately if you notice any of these types of signs:

  • Scratching or shaking the head, tender ears, or ear discharge
  • Inability or straining to urinate; discolored urine
  • Cloudiness, redness, itching, or any other abnormality involving the eyes
  • General listlessness, droopy facial expression, vomiting, diarrhea
  • Increased hunger and thirst, weight loss
  • Weakness, pale gums
  • Coughing, exercise intolerance, rapid breathing at rest
  • Depression, poor appetite, yellowing of the eyes
  • Swollen lymph nodes or glands, unexplained weight loss
  • Leg stiffness, reluctance to rise, sit, use stairs, run, jump, or “bunny hopping”

Partners in Health Care

DNA testing is a rapidly advancing field with new tests constantly emerging to help in the diagnosis of inherited diseases before they can become a problem for your friend. For the most up-to-date information on DNA and other screening tests available for your pal, visit www.Genesis4Pets.com.

Your Westie counts on you to take good care of her, and we look forward to working with you to ensure that she lives a long and healthy life. Our goal is to provide the best health care possible: health care that’s based on her breed, lifestyle, and age. Please contact us when you have questions or concerns.


  • Ackerman L. The Genetic Connection: A Guide to Health Problems in Purebred Dogs. Second edition. AAHA Press; 2011.
  • Bell JS, Cavanagh KE, Tilley LP, Smith FW. Veterinary medical guide to dog and cat breeds. Jackson, Wyoming. Teton New Media; 2012.
  • Gough A, Thomas A. Breed Predispositions to Disease in Dogs and Cats. 2nd Edition. Wiley-Blackwell; 2010.
  • Crook A, Dawson S, Cote E, MacDonald S, Berry J. Canine Inherited Disorders Database [Internet]. University of Prince Edward Island. 2011. [cited 2013 Apr 11]. Available from: http://ic.upei.ca/cidd/breed/west-highland-white-terrier
  • Breed Specific Health Concerns [Internet]. American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation, Inc. [cited 2013 Apr 11]. Available from: http://www.akcchf.org/canine-health/breed-specific-concerns/?breed=west-highland-white-terrier

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