Physical Characteristics

With a height at the withers of around 28 cm, the Westie is a solidly built little dog exuding an allure of strength and liveliness. Its double coat is always white. The outer coat, about 5 cm, is hard and stiff. The undercoat is short, soft and tight. Its legs are muscular, with the feet slightly smaller at the rear. Its tail is long (13 to 15 cm) and covered with hair. It is straight and carried straight up.

The Fédération Cynologique Internationale classifies it among the small terriers. (Group 3 – Section 2) (1)

Origins and history

The origin of all Scottish terriers is probably common and is lost in the twists and turns of Scottish history and legends. One thing is certain that these small, short-legged dogs were originally used by shepherds, but also by farmers to control backyard pests, such as rats or foxes. It wasn’t until the XNUMXth century that the different terrier breeds began to really stand out. Legend has it that the West Highland White Terrier breed was the result of a hunting accident. A certain Colonel Edward Donald Malcolm of Poltalloch, would have gone one day to hunt foxes with some of these Scottish terriers. At the time, they could have dresses of many colors, including red or fiery red. It is said that one of the dogs was accidentally shot after being mistaken for a fox. And to prevent such an accident from happening again, Colonel Malcolm de Poltalloch decided to only cross white dogs.

The breed was officially recognized in 1907 by the English Kennel Club and named West Highland White Terrier after its unique coat color and region of origin. (2)

Character and behavior

The West Highlands White Terrier is a hardy, active and energetic little dog. The breed standard describes him as a dog with a good dose of self-esteem with a rascal air …

It is a courageous and independent animal, but very affectionate. (2)

Common pathologies and diseases of the West Highlands White Terrier

This rustic little Scottish Highland dog is in good health and according to the Kennel Club UK Purebred Dog Health Survey 2014, the average life expectancy of a West Highlands White Terrier is around 11 years old. Also according to this study, the leading cause of death for Westies was old age, followed by kidney failure. (3)

Like other Anglo-Saxon terriers, the Westie is particularly prone to craniomandibular osteopathy. (4, 5)

Also known as the “lion’s jaw”, craniomandibular osteopathy is an abnormal bone proliferation that affects the flat bones of the skull. In particular, the mandible and the temporomandibular joint (lower jaw) are affected. This causes chewing disorders and pain when opening the jaw.

The pathology appears around the age of 5 to 8 months and the first signs are hyperthermia, deformation of the mandible and chewing disorders. The animal may also have eating disorders due to pain and difficulty chewing.

These first clinical signs are an indication for the diagnosis. This is done by an x-ray and a histological examination.

It is a serious pathology that can lead to death from anorexia. Fortunately, the course of the disease ceases spontaneously at the end of growth. In some cases, surgery may also be necessary and the prognosis is variable depending on the extent of the bone damage. (4, 5)

Atopic dermatitis

Atopic dermatitis is a common skin disease in dogs and particularly in West Highland white terriers. It is a hereditary tendency to synthesize in too great numbers a type of antibody called Immunoglobulin E (Ig E), upon contact with an allergen through the respiratory or skin route.

The first signs usually appear in young animals, between 6 months and 3 years old. These are mainly itching, erythema (redness) and lesions due to scratching. These signs are mainly localized between the fingers, in the ears, stomach, perineum and around the eyes.

Diagnosis is made primarily through history analysis and is guided by breed predisposition.

Correct response to corticosteroids is one of the criteria for diagnosis and is also the first line of treatment. However, long-term side effects discourage their prolonged use and desensitization is recommended. (4, 5)

Globoid cell leukodystrophy

Globoid cell leukodystrophy or Krabbe disease is a deficiency of the β-galactocerebrosidase enzyme which causes progressive degeneration of the central and peripheral nervous system. This disease is caused by a mutation in the gene encoding

Clinical signs appear between 2 and 7 months. These are usually tremors, paralysis, and coordination disturbances (ataxia).

Diagnosis is primarily based on measuring the activity of the enzyme in leukocytes. Lesions of the central nervous system are also characteristic and can be observed by histology.

The prognosis is very poor, as the animals usually die within a few months. (4) (5)

Small white dog tremor encephalitis

Small White Dog Tremor Encephalitis is a rare condition mostly described, as the name suggests, in small breed white dogs. It manifests itself by discreet tremors of the head which can go up to significant tremors of the whole body, see locomotor disorders.

The diagnosis is made mainly by a complete neurological examination and the analysis of a cerebrospinal fluid puncture.

The prognosis is good and symptoms go away quickly after treatment with steroids. (6, 7)

See the pathologies common to all dog breeds.


Living conditions and advice

It is necessary to pay special attention to brushing and grooming the dog to properly maintain its coat and monitor the possible appearance of allergic dermatitis.

As their name suggests, these dogs were trained to pursue their prey in the burrows on their own. The resulting great independence can therefore be a challenge for dressage, but it is compensated by their great intelligence. Patience should therefore give good results for this dog.

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