I'm really curious as to what your opinion is on West Highland White Terriers? I've always wanted one, and I know terriers tend to be healthier than other breeds, but what should I be aware of issues this breed has?
I’m fairly sure all the vetblrs reading this question know what I’m going to say, because it’s very common knowledge about this popular breed, but first the disclaimer:
These posts are about the breed from a veterinary viewpoint as seen in
clinical practice, i.e. the problems we are faced with. It’s not the
be-all and end-all of the breed and is not to make a judgement about
whether the breed is right for you. If you are asking for an opinion
about these animals in a veterinary setting, that is what you will get.
It’s not going to be all sunshine and cupcakes, and is not intended as a
personal insult against your favorite breed. This is general advice for
what is common, often with a scientific consensus but sometimes based
on personal experiences, and is not a guarantee of what your dog is
going to encounter in their life.
The West Highland White Terrier, Westie or WHWT for short, is a dynamic and charismatic little breed. Despite being a small breed they’re not fragile, and are reasonably well constructed on the inside.
They are moderately prone to avascular necrosis of the femoral head, which can present as a unilateral lameness. Fortunately for dogs this small simply removing the femoral head may be just as effective a treatment as a total hip replacement, and markedly cheaper. We do see a few for multiple cruciate ligament tears, but this is usually in their middle or senior years and usually secondary to doing something like leaping off the verandah after a bird.
Dry Eye (keratoconjunctivitis sica) is reasonably common in these dogs, which is a little surprising as their eye shape is fairly sensible. It’s caused by a lack of tear film production in one or both eyes. Usually this is immune mediated and needs lifelong medication to prevent recurrent corneal ulcers.
Atopy, Allergic Dermatitis, Malasezia Dermatitis and other related skin disorders are what the breed is most well known for in veterinary circles. So much so that the WHWT is the dog most likely to feature on any info pamphlets handed out to vet clinics about new skin products or treatments.
You ever see these pure white dogs with bronze/brown staining n their feet, belly, groin? That’s because they’re so itchy, they lick and chew themselves so often, that they have stained their skin and fur with their own saliva. That takes an awful lot of licking.
If the cause of the dog’s itch is an infection, and yeast infections are very common in this breed, then controlling the infection should control the itch, but it’s not that simple and rarely that simple) if the dog also has an allergic component. Dogs can be allergic to anything in their environment, including the yeast infection on their skin.
This is one of the reasons dogs with chronic skin disease, like the WHWT, can be so frustrating to treat. Almost every dog of this breed I’ve encountered has had some sort of skin issue.
As these dogs get older, they do seem to be a little more prone to pancreatitis, hepatitis and diabetes mellitus. I have to wonder whether these conditions are associated in any way with the prednisolone most of these dogs live on for several months each year. It will be interesting to see if the frequency of these conditions change with the advent of new, different anti-allergy medication.
Oh, and recently the West highland White Terrier was suggested to be the breed seen most often for esophageal foreign body obstruction. That means it’s being seen in veterinary practice as the breed most likely to attempt to swallow something whole, and getting it stuck in its esophagus. Whether this is a breed predisposition or not, I can’t disagree with the hypothesis because a full half of dogs I’ve seen with objects stuck in their esophagus have been WHWTs, distinctly more than any other breed.
Whether this is a testament to the breed’s stubbornness despite its small size could be debated.
This is not an exhaustive list, but it is what I see most commonly in practice.