West Highland White Terrier - breed information and advice

Fun-loving, cheerful and active, the West Highland White Terrier is inquisitive, independent and makes a good family pet and playmate for those with younger children. Commonly known as a ‘Westie’, this is one of the most popular of the terrier breeds.

Breed information


Size: Small

Coat: Medium in length, Westies have a course outer coat and a softer one underneath. Weekly grooming is usually enough.

Exercise: One hour to 90 minutes a day is about right for adult dogs

Life span: 10+ years

Breed group: The word terrier comes from ‘terra’, meaning ‘earth’, as these dogs were bred to control vermin, pursuing them below ground. They tend to be fun but feisty, and love to chase!

Click on the hotspots illnesses seen in a West Highland White Terrier


Like all dogs, Westies are susceptible to various forms of skin problems, often involving the skin within the ear. The ear canal can become irritated by objects such as grass seeds, or by parasites, allergies or infections. This can lead to a condition called otitis, which simply means ‘inflammation of the ear canal’. It causes an intense itch, leading the dog to shake its head, flap its ears and scratch them using its back paws. If the otitis is due to an allergy, treatment is required for the lifetime of the dog.


We paid £2,077 to treat Buster the Westie for otitis in 2016

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Eye conditions

Eye disorders are very common in dogs. Dry eye, for example, occurs when a dog isn’t producing sufficient tears. Another common, painful eye irritation is corneal ulceration, which happens when the surface of the cornea is grazed as a result of scratches from other animals or vegetation, or because of foreign material in the eye, chemicals, heat or smoke, or infection. ‘Cherry eye’ occurs when the tear production gland pops out from inside the lower eyelid. Although this isn’t a painful condition, it looks unsightly and will interfere with tear production if it is left untreated. Overall, treatment depends on the type and severity of eye problem (cherry eye, for example, requires surgery). Some treatments may be required for life to keep the dog’s vision in good health.


We paid £1,371 to treat Alfie the Westie for eye disorders in 2016

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Skin conditions

The skin is the largest organ of a dog’s body and a number of disorders can affect it. Like other dogs, Westies can suffer from allergies that lead to dermatitis (skin inflammation). Allergies can be caused by many different items, including things that are inhaled (such as pollen or dust mites), items that are eaten (for example, wheat), items that the dog comes into contact with (for example, washing powders), or bites from parasites such as fleas. Another skin problem, pyoderma (meaning ‘infection of the skin’) is usually caused by bacteria, fungi (‘ringworm’) or yeasts. Skin disorders can be managed using various treatments, usually required long-term, which means the dog can get on with enjoying life.


In our experience, West Highland White Terriers are most likely to need treatment for a skin problem

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Breathing problems

A dogʼs respiratory system runs from the nose to the air sacs in the lungs. Any part of this system can become diseased. Pneumonia, for example, means ʻinflammation of the lungsʼ, and is caused by infections or parasites such as lungworm. Westies can also suffer from emphysema (a persistent inflammation and dilation of the smaller airways) or tracheal collapse, a common cause of airway obstruction in small breeds. The trachea (or windpipe) is a tube made up of sturdy rings of cartilage through which air is transported to and from the lungs when the dog breathes. Sometimes the tracheal rings begin to collapse, and air is squeezed through, resulting in a characteristic honking cough. Treatment may include surgery if the dogʼs breathing is severely compromised.


We paid £2,976 to treat Lilly the West Highland White Terrier for a respiratory system disorder in 2016

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A dog’s pancreas produces insulin, which is required to regulate body sugar and fat metabolism. Diabetes occurs when the pancreas fails to produce enough insulin. Certain conditions make dogs more likely to develop diabetes, such as being overweight, inflammation of the pancreas, and drugs that interfere with insulin (such as prescribed steroids and hormones). Also, some breeds are more prone to the illness than others, including Westies. Diabetes can be managed successfully in the long term with an injection of insulin once or twice a day, along with regulated feeding routines.


Diabetes is the fith most common illness we see in West Highland White Terriers

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