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Guide to West Highland White Terriers

Time to read: 8 mins

Key Stats

Life expectancy: 12-16 years

Height: 23- 30 cm

Weight: 6- 10 kg

About West Highland White Terriers

West Highland White Terriers or as they are affectionately known, Westies hail from Scotland. Although they are small in size, they have large personalities. They were originally bred for hunting purposes but have since become great household pets. 


What to consider when owning a West Highland White Terrier

They are small in size and can live in houses and apartments, provided they get their required exercise. 

Ease of training

Westies are fairly easy to train. They are very intelligent and quick learners. They respond well to positive reinforcement and consistency, if these are present, your Westie should learn a bunch of new tricks in no time.



Where possible, it would be best to adopt rather than shopping, however if that’s the intention then West Highland Terrier puppies can cost anywhere up to £1,500 depending on their lineage.

On top of the purchase price you’ll also need to consider initial costs of things such as vaccinations and neutering, as well as ongoing costs of food, preventative healthcare and more such as


Although they have been described as tireless, Westies are small and they do not need more than 1 hour of exercise a day. Like most other terriers, Westies will never say no to a walk.


Westies coats are easy to groom. Like most breeds, they require regular brushing to get rid of excess dirt and hair. They are not known to shed so you will not find many of their white hairs around your house. Westies will need to be trimmed around their ears, eyes and paws. Their coats do stay fairly clean and they should only be washed when it is necessary. Due to their fur being white it may need to be wiped down fairly regularly to keep them looking pristine. 

West Highland Terrier health concerns

Like all pedigree dogs they do have a few breed specific conditions you should be aware of.


1. Congenital heart disorders  

In common with other breeds, West Highland White Terriers can be born with rare genetic heart defects that may not be apparent at birth.

These can include: 

PDA (Patent ductus arteriosus) or ‘hole in the heart’. A vet may hear a heart murmur during routine check-ups. Surgery is needed to prevent heart failure. 

PSS (Porto-systemic shunt). Part of the circulatory system doesn’t develop normally, affecting the liver, digestion and normal growth. Puppies can fail to thrive, although sometimes this condition is only picked up at 1-2 years old. An affected puppy or dog may not want to eat, could vomit, have fits or collapse. Surgery can correct the problem successfully.   


2. Bones 

‘Westie jaw’ (craniomandibular osteopathy) is an inherited problem where the lower jaw grows excessively and becomes thicker and wider than normal. This growth happens in cycles. It usually begins during the first twelve months of life and then recedes, but it can leave permanent damage. The excess bone can affect the hinge movement of the jaw and in severe cases, the joint fuses so that the jaw cannot move at all. In the worst cases the dog will not be able to eat and will need a permanent feeding tube or euthanasia. Unfortunately, there is no genetic test for this condition, so it is strongly advised that any dogs from a genetic line where this has occurred should not be used for breeding purposes. 


3. Luxating Patella 

If the ligament holding the kneecap in place is not in normal alignment it can cause the kneecap to snap in and out of place. Dogs may sometimes ‘leave out’ one of their back legs when walking or running or even not use that leg at all. Some dogs find this painful, plus it can put a strain on other parts of the knee and cause arthritis. Surgery can help to correct the problem. Maintaining a healthy body weight and using food supplements for joint health can help. 


4. Legg-Perthes Disease 

This causes the ball of the hip to break down because of a defective blood supplyDogs will be lame on their hind leg(s). Surgery to reshape the ball of the joint can allow dogs to walk well again within 4-6 weeks of surgery.  

5. Breathing Problems 

‘Westie lung’ or idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis is a serious and progressive disease that mainly affects older Westies. Although the full range of causes in dogs isn’t clear, it has similarities to a human disease caused by exposure to cigarette smoke and living with a human who smokes will make it more likely to develop in dogs. Affected dogs will tire easily, may not be able to manage stairs or run around and will show difficulty breathing. A vet may initially notice changes in lung sounds when listening through a stethoscope. The heart will become progressively enlarged, leading to other major health issues that will need to be managed along with lifelong support for the breathing problem.  


6. Dental

The adult teeth in a small dog’s mouth can also be overcrowded, creating optimum conditions for other problems such as inflamed gums. This is caused by a build-up of food, plaque and minerals along the gum-line that combine to form a hard-brown deposit called tartar. Tartar undermines the gum and causes a gum disease called gingivitis. This can lead to pain and tooth loss. With time, pockets form around the teeth where bacteria can grow and cause periodontal disease. This isn’t just a problem for the mouth though– these bacteria can spread around the body causing organ damage, including a fatal infection of the heart known as pericarditis. Luckily, regular lifelong tooth brushing with descaling treatments where needed can help to avoid this. 


7. Endocrine Disorders  

Cushing’s syndrome (hyperadrenocorticism) is caused by the body producing too many natural steroid hormones. It can be difficult to detect as it develops slowly but signs to look out for include; drinking and/ or urinating more than normal, increased appetite, potbelly, thinning skin that bruises easily and hair loss. Once diagnosed, the dog will need lifelong medication and regular check-ups with blood testing to maintain a good quality of life.

In some ways the opposite of Cushing’s Syndrome that can affect Westies is more commonly, known as Addison’s disease (hypoadrenocorticism) another endocrine disorder. This is another lifelong condition but in this case the body does not produce enough natural steroid hormones. Again, it can be hard to diagnose due to waxing and waning symptoms that can include loss of appetite and energy, a change in hair and coat, lethargy, diarrhoea, vomiting, weight loss, weak or irregular pulse, increased thirst and dehydration. Dogs with uncontrolled Addison’s may be unable to deal with stressful situations and they can go into a clinical crisis that can be fatal. Luckily, with the correct diagnosis and treatment, they can live long happy lives. 


8. Ears

In common with other breeds with naturally curly coats and hairy ears, Westies can be prone to ear infections. Otitis externa is the most common type, with a yeasty smelling yellow-brown discharge and itchy inflamed ear canals. Your vet practice can advise on safe ear cleaning techniques and treatment for any infections that arise. The hair within the ear may need to be kept short to prevent a build-up of wax and debris. 


9. Eyes 

Dry eye (Keratoconjunctivitis Sicca) is a very painful condition that prevents a dog from producing tears that would normally keep the surface of the eye clean, comfortable and protected. Although some dogs with the syndrome can produce some tears, many cannot, and if it’s left untreated it will get worse over time. The most common cause is autoimmune, when the body mistakenly attacks and destroys its own tear glands, but it can also be a side effect of some medication or due to faulty nerves or other diseases. You might notice your Westie’s eyes are dry, sticky, lack shine or look cloudy. They might keep their eyes closed, blink more than usual, have frequent eye infections or even ulcers that can cause severe problems. Dogs with the condition will need replacement ‘false tears’ placing in the eyes several times a day alongside other prescription drops or medications. Severe cases may need specialist surgery.  


10. Neurological  

A rare neurological disease associated with Westies is steroid- responsive tremor/generalised tremor syndrome. This is sometimes known as ‘Little white shaker syndrome’ because of the types of breeds affected by it. A Westie of 1-2 years of age may develop general head and body tremors that can get worse with excitement or exercise. Signs can be mild or severe, with most dogs having no other neurological signs. The cause isn’t known, so diagnosis depends on excluding other causes and treatment may involve lifelong medications that can control the syndrome well. 

11. Skin Allergies 

Westies can be prone to dry, flaky or itchy skin conditions caused by mites, food or environmental allergies. Your vet can advise on the right anti-parasite treatments and shampoos to use, and they can help find out the cause and prescribe medication if you think your Westie has allergic skin disease. These conditions can be painful and aggravating, especially if they go on for a long time, and can lead to infected ‘hot spots’ too, so if they don’t clear up in a few days then you should speak to a vet. Severe or acute allergic reactions can show up as raised bumps, spots, rashes or hives on the skin. You should contact your vet if you see this on your dog. If you see blood or pus coming from the skin then always contact a vet asap.  


If you have any concerns about your Westie’s health do not hesitate to get in touch with our Careline. They will be able to answer any questions that you may have.

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Pet insurance for West Highland Terriers

Westies, like most pure-bred dogs, have their accompanying health issues. You never know what might happen as they get older. Find out how we can cover your pet from accidents as well as illnesses they may suffer from.

It’s normally best to insure your Westie from a young age, before any conditions become an issue. Insuring your Westie from a young age will tend to be cheaper. Although you can get insurance for older dogs too.

See how we can help you by getting a quote today.

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