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15 Westie Health Issues to Look Out For (Vet Answer)

Written by: Dr. Marti Dudley DVM (Veterinarian)

Last Updated on April 5, 2024 by Dogster Team

west highland white terrier dog standing on grass

15 Westie Health Issues to Look Out For (Vet Answer)


Dr. Marti Dudley Photo


Dr. Marti Dudley

DVM (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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West Highland White Terriers, or Westies, as they are affectionately called, are small-breed dogs, ranging between 15–20 pounds when fully grown. Originally bred in Scotland, Westies are an attractive breed due to their playful, energetic personalities. Although the Westie’s popularity has declined, they continue to be a well-recognized breed due to their unique appearance. West Highland White Terriers are prone to certain medical conditions. Continue reading below to learn more about the conditions that impact Westies.


The 15 West Highland White Terrier Health Issues

1. Skin Infections

It is estimated that 66% of Westies will develop skin infections by 3 years of age.1 Skin infections can be caused by environmental allergies or potentially food allergies. Signs of allergies vary; however, they can include hair loss, intense itchiness, skin infections, and ear infections.

Allergies can be managed in a variety of ways, from dietary changes to immunomodulators. Often, a multimodal approach yields the best results. Westies can also develop a skin disorder called epidermal dysplasia, which causes thickened, scaling skin, and intense itchiness. Yeast infections are a common sequela to epidermal dysplasia. There is no cure for this skin disorder; however, supportive care can offer improvements to affected Westies.

Professional groomer handstripping a West Highland Terrier
Image Credit: Fishermanittiologico, Shutterstock

2. Pulmonary Fibrosis

Westies can develop lung fibrosis, or scarring of the lungs, that can lead to labored breathing, wheezing, and excessive coughing. Pulmonary fibrosis is most often seen in West Highland White Terriers over any other breed. This condition cannot be definitively diagnosed through imagining alone. The definitive way of diagnosing a patient with pulmonary fibrosis is through a biopsy of the lung.  There is not a cure for this condition, but steroids and bronchodilators can help improve clinical signs.

3. Luxating Patellas

Unfortunately, Westies are prone to luxating patellas, a condition in which the kneecap falls in and out of place. When this occurs, patients may be temporarily unable to put their leg down and bear weight. As this repeatedly occurs, arthritis can form secondary to abnormal movement of the knee cap. Surgical correction and appropriate pain control are available for dogs who experience discomfort.

West Highland White Terrier waits in the vet's room to be examined
Image Credit: Itxu, Shutterstock

4. Hip Dysplasia

Hip dysplasia is another orthopedic issue to be mindful of as a Westie owner. As puppies, dogs with hip dysplasia have poorly formed hip joints which leads to laxity, instability, discomfort, and muscle wasting in the hind limbs. Sometimes, discomfort in these dogs is not noted until later in life. Supportive care is often used for these dogs; however, surgery may be pursued in severe cases.

5. Legg-Calve-Perthes

This painful condition impacts the hip joint of young puppies through the destruction of the femoral head of the femur. The exact cause is unknown, but the destruction of the femoral head is due to decreased blood flow to the bone. Puppies suffering from this condition may require a Femoral Head Osteotomy (FHO) where the femoral head is surgically removed, or a total hip replacement.

West high white terrier waiting for examination at the vet clinic
Image Credit: Atip Kantajai,Shutterstock

6. White Shaker Syndrome

White Shaker Syndrome is a condition that is still not well understood but tends to occur most often in white, small-breed dogs in early adulthood. Signs of shaker syndrome include tremors, which can be limited to the head or can affect the whole body. Dogs with Shaker syndrome can have improvement of their clinical signs using steroids, which leads veterinarians to believe that this is a type of autoimmune disease. Overall prognosis for Shaker syndrome is good.

7. Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Dogs with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) often experience diarrhea, vomiting, reduced appetite and weight loss. This occurs due to an inflammatory response in the intestines which can be triggered by a food allergy, parasites, and bacteria. Ongoing inflammation of the intestinal tract leads to poor digestion and absorption of nutrients. IBD is often treated with diet changes, antibiotics, and steroids.

Scruffy dirty west highland white terrier westie dog on grooming table with scissors
Image Credit: corners74, Shutterstock

8. Chronic Liver Disease

Westies can develop liver disease, or hepatopathy that can eventually lead to liver failure due to ongoing inflammation of the liver. Some Westies with chronic liver disease have elevated copper levels in their liver, which can contribute to liver failure. Signs of liver disease vary but can include depression, weight loss, jaundice appearance, and fluid accumulation in the abdomen.

9. Craniomandibular osteopathy

In craniomandibular osteopathy (CMO), dogs experience a non-cancerous growth of bone, which most often occurs in the lower jaw. This condition impacts young puppies, typically before 7 months of age. Radiographs are used to help diagnose this condition. Due to the discomfort associated with CMO, dogs are often placed on anti-inflammatory medications that must slowly be tapered over time. Fortunately, the prognosis is good for young puppies with this condition.

West Highland White Terrier sitting in the grass
Image Credit: Justgreatphotography, Shutterstock

10. Keratoconjunctivitis sicca

Keratoconjunctivitis sicca (KCS) is commonly referred to as dry eye and often impacts Westies. Dry eye is when the amount or quality of tears is poor, usually due to an immune-mediated process. Dry eye results in a thick tear film that doesn’t distribute well across the cornea and results in the drying of the cornea.

Dogs with KCS will often have thick, yellow-green discharge present and are more prone to corneal ulcerations. Chronic dryness of the eye can lead to vision changes. Fortunately, there are medications that can help combat this process.

11. Transitional Cell Carcinomas

All dogs can experience bladder cancer; however, Westies tend to be more prone to the development of transitional cell carcinomas than other breeds. This is the most common bladder cancer, and it impacts the cells lining the bladder, prostate, and urethra. Dogs affected with TTC experience signs of straining to urinate, blood in the urine, and recurrent urinary tract infections. Even with treatment, the prognosis for dogs with TCC is poor.

west highland white terrier lying at home dog sad
Image Credit: Roman Gorielov, Shutterstock

12. Diabetes Mellitus

Diabetes mellitus is a condition that most people are familiar with. West Highland White Terriers appear to be more predisposed to the development of this endocrine disorder than others. Dogs with diabetes mellitus have high circulating glucose levels which leads to increased water intake, increased urination, cataract formation, weight loss, and urinary tract infections.

Dogs with diabetes mellitus must receive insulin to combat high circulating levels of glucose. Insulin is administered through a subcutaneous injection. Dogs diagnosed with diabetes mellitus must be closely monitored for changes in their condition and require lifelong treatment.

13. Hyperadrenocorticism

Westies can develop hyperadrenocorticism (Cushing’s disease) in which the adrenal gland is overactive and results in an increased amount of circulating steroids. Dogs with Cushing’s disease can experience weight gain, a pot-bellied appearance, and an increase in water intake and urination. There are medications designed to combat the physical effects of hyperadrenocorticism.

West highland white terrier dog sad
Image Credit: AndrisL, Shutterstock

14. Hypoadrenocorticism

Dogs with hypoadrenocorticism (Addison’s disease) face a different problem, as their adrenal glands produce too little steroid and associated hormones. Dogs with Addison’s disease can have a variety of clinical signs that can wax and wane including diarrhea, lethargy, and weakness. Some dogs with undiagnosed Addison’s disease may present in shock. Fortunately, there are treatment options available to dogs with hypoadrenocorticism that allow them to live happy lives.

15. Polycystic Kidney Disease

Westies are more likely to develop polycystic kidney disease compared to other dog breeds. Dogs with this disease develop cysts on their kidneys at a young age. As the dog matures, the cysts replace normal functioning kidney tissue. As a result, dogs with polycystic kidney disease will develop signs associated with kidney disease and failure which include increased water intake, increased urination, hesitant appetite, and weight loss. Unfortunately, this condition cannot be cured, but dogs with kidney disease can be supported through special diets, fluid therapy, and symptomatic care.

West Highland White Terrier standing on rock
Image Credit: Morten Hjerpsted, Pixabay


In Summary

The West Highland White Terrier is an attractive breed with a personality as unique as their physical attributes. Westies will need routine medical care, with special attention needed to identify early signs of the above disease processes. As with any breed, there are pros and cons to the Westie breed, and special consideration should be given prior to adoption.

Featured Image Credit: Nixx Photography, Shutterstock

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