The Breed History
Breed records dating back to the 1700s in Ireland (counties Kerry and Cork) may not reflect the earliest days of the breed. They are closely related to Irish terriers and contributed to the development of the Kerry Blue terrier. Wheatens were first brought to America in 1946, and first registered in the AKC studbook in 1973.
Breeding for Function
These dogs were widely used for hunting small game and vermin, herding, and as a guard dog for the home and livestock. Today, they are primarily companion dogs.
Height at Withers: female 17-18" (43-45.5 cm), male 18-19" (45.5-48 cm).
Weight: females 30-35 lb (13.5-16 kg), males 35-40 lb (16-18 kg).
Coat: As the name suggests, the coat is very soft and is wheaten in coloration. On some dogs, the ears and muzzle have blue-gray shading. The hairs of the coat are silky and slightly wavy. The color and texture does not fully set until 1 1/2 to 2 years of age. From sexual maturity on, the coat is lighter wheaten. Puppies are often dark wheaten and some puppies have black tips. This is a silky shiny single coat.
Longevity: 13-15 years
Points of Conformation: They are a square, medium-sized terrier with moderate bone and muscling. They move with smooth ground covering strides. They are to move with tails held erect. The head has a moderately long rectangular conformation, the muzzle is block and there is a defined stop. The nose is large and both lip margins and nose are pigmented black. Eyes are almond shaped and medium in size, brown, the palpebral margins are pigmented black and the eyes are fairly wide set. Hair falls over the eyes to a significant extent. Ears are triangular and fold to hang parallel to the head. The neck is medium in length, muscular and not throaty. The topline is level, and the back short. The thorax is deep and ribs are well sprung. The tails are usually docked, and are set high. Legs straight boned and feet are compact and round in shape with black nails. Dewclaws are removed in North America. Rear dewclaws are penalized.
Recognized Behavior Issues and Traits
Reported breed characteristics include: Intelligent, responsive, a merry disposition, and loving. They are considered more even-tempered and obedient than some of the other terrier breeds. Grooming needs are high. The Wheaten needs moderate exercise. They are energetic, but less so than some of the terriers. Good with children, good alarm barkers. Some suggest this dog is better for older children (not toddlers) because of the high energy level. If off leash, they should be in a fenced enclosure. It is recommended that obedience training be started early, and some dogs are headstrong. They like to jump vertically in place, they can also tend to be leash pullers. If bored, the Wheaten Terrier may dig or chew. Considered good with other dogs and cats if raised together, but as a terrier, they may chase small pets. They tend to keep their puppy-like exuberance well into middle age (5-7 yrs).
Normal Physiologic Variations
Elbow Dysplasia: Polygenically inherited trait causing elbow arthritis. OFA reports 9.2% affected.
Hip Dysplasia: Polygenically inherited trait causing degenerative joint disease and hip arthritis. OFA reports 4.8% affected.
Patella Luxation: Polygenically inherited laxity of patellar ligaments, causing luxation, lameness, and later degenerative joint disease. Treat surgically if causing clinical signs. OFA reports 4.0% affected.
Protein-Losing Nephropathy (PLN): Inherited disease causing protein loss through the kidneys. General clinical signs include vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss, and pleural and peritoneal effusions. Laboratory findings include hypoalbuminemia, proteinuria, hypercholesterolemia, and azotemia. Renal lesions typically showed chronic glomerulonephritis and glomerulosclerosis, and less commonly end-stage renal disease. Average age of diagnosis is 6.3 years. Food hypersensitivity may play a role in the disorder. This disease can present concurrently with PLE, and may share a genetic basis. Estimated to affect 10-15% of the breed. Reported at a frequency of 2.7% in the 2000 General Health Survey on Soft Coated Wheaten Terriers. Unknown mode of inheritance. Fecal perinuclear antineutrophilic cytoplasmic antibody (PANCA) can be used as a phenotypic screening test.
Allergies: Food Allergy was identified in 7.0% of dogs, and Inhalant allergies were identified in 5.7% in the 2000 General Health Survey on Soft Coated Wheaten terriers. Dorn reports a 1.34x odds ratio for allergic dermatitis versus other breeds.
Persistent Pupillary Membranes: Strands of fetal remnant connecting; iris to iris, cornea, lens, or involving sheets of tissue. The later three forms can impair vision, and dogs affected with these forms should not be bred. Identified in 3.96% of Soft-coated Wheaten terriers CERF-examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005.
Dental Issues: The 2000 General Health Survey on Soft Coated Wheaten terriers reports 3.9% with missing teeth, and 2.1% with undershot bites.
Protein-Losing Enteropathy (PLE): Inherited disease causing protein loss through the intestines. General clinical signs include vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss, and pleural and peritoneal effusions. Laboratory findings include panhypoproteinemia and hypocholesterolemia. Intestinal lesions include inflammatory bowel disease, dilated lymphatics, and lipogranulomatous lymphangitis. Average age of diagnosis is 4.7 years. Food hypersensitivity may play a role in the disorder. This disease can present concurrently with PLN, and may share a genetic basis. Reported at a frequency of 2.6% in the 2000 General Health Survey on Soft Coated Wheaten terriers. Unknown mode of inheritance. Perinuclear antineutrophilic cytoplasmic antibody (pANCA) can be used as a pre-clinical phenotypic screening test.
Cataracts: Anterior cortex punctate cataracts predominate in the breed. Identified in 2.40% of Soft-coated Wheaten terriers CERF examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005. CERF does not recommend breeding any Soft-coated Wheaten terrier with a cataract.
Renal Dysplasia (RD): Affected Soft Coated Wheaten terriers present between 4.5 to 30 weeks of age with polyuria, polydipsia, isosthenuria, azotemia, and small kidneys. Proteinuria is not a hallmark of the disease. Affected dogs die of progressive renal failure by three years of age. Histopathologic changes include immature (fetal) glomeruli, persistent fetal mesenchyme, and tubular dilatation. There is no sex predilection. Some researchers postulate an autosomal recessive mode of inheritance. A genetic test for a dominant susceptibility gene is available. (Affected dogs all have one copy of the gene, but most dogs with the gene will not develop kidney failure.)
Hypothyroidism: Inherited autoimmune thyroiditis. 1.7% positive for thyroid autoantibodies based on testing at Michigan State University. (Ave. for all breeds is 7.5%). Reported at a frequency of 2.5% in the 2000 General Health Survey on Soft Coated Wheaten Terriers.
Distichiasis: Abnormally placed eyelashes that irritate the cornea and conjunctiva. Can cause secondary corneal ulceration. Identified in 1.20% of Soft-coated Wheaten terriers CERF-examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005.
Hypoadrenocorticism (Addison's Disease): Typical presentation of lethargy, poor appetite, vomiting, weakness, and dehydration can occur from 4 months to several years of age. Cited as a breed at significantly higher risk. Treatment with DOCA injections or oral fludrocortisone. Unknown mode of inheritance.
Persistent Hyaloid Artery (PHA): A congenital defect resulting from abnormalities in the development and regression of the hyaloid artery. Identified in 1.09% of Soft-coated Wheaten terriers CERF-examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005.
Ectopic Ureter: Congenital disorder where the ureters do not enter the urinary bladder, but instead deposit urine in the urethra or vestibule. Causes urinary incontinence, especially in females. Reported at an increased incidence in the breed. Undetermined mode of inheritance.
XX-Sex Reversal: Sry-negative XX-sex reversal causes external make characteristics of a prepuce and an enlarged clitoris, in genetically female dogs. A uterus is usually present. Reported as a rare disorder in the breed. Presumed autosomal recessive mode of inheritance.
Anterior Crossbite, Brachygnathism, Cutaneous Asthenia, Microphthalmia, Optic Nerve Hypoplasia, Prognathism, Progressive Retinal Atrophy, and von Willebrand's Disease are reported.
Isolated Case Studies
Multiple Ocular Anomalies: Two related litters of wheaten terriers had various combinations abnormalities including; lens luxation, persistent pupillary membranes, distichiasis, persistent right aortic arch, hydronephrosis, atypical coloboma of the posterior segment, choroid hypoplasia, scleral thinning, posterior cortical cataract, anterior iris adhesion to the cornea, microphthalmia, strabismus, limbic corneal edema, abnormal scleral outgrowth, and dermoid.
Pilomatricoma: Reported case studies of pilomatricona have been published in the breed. These are usually subcutaneous calcifying tumors of the skin, usually over the shoulders or extremeties. Surgical removal is usually curative, although one case report was on a malignant form in the pelvis that had spread to the lungs.
Segmental Aplasia of the Caudal Vena Cava: A two year-old wheaten terrier with lethargy, exercise intolerance, and ascites was diagnosed with segmental aplasia of the caudal vena cava with azygos continuation, complicated by thrombus formation.
Ichthyosiform Dermatosis: A wheaten terrier had patches of thick, scaly skin from birth. By three months of age, the scaling was generalized and was accompanied by a greasy exudation which matted the haircoat. Microscopically, the skin had patchy areas of ortho- and parakeratotic hyperkeratosis, follicular keratosis, superficial perivascular dermatitis, and variable hypergranulosis.
Tests of Genotype: Direct test for a renal dysplasia susceptibility gene is available from Dogenes (www.dogenes.com).
Tests of Phenotype: CHIC Certification: Required testing includes CERF eye examination and hip radiograph. (See CHIC website; www. caninehealthinfo.org).
Recommend patella examination, elbow radiographs, thyroid profile including autoantibodies, cardiac examination, and annual screening for PLE/PLN (urine protein:creatinine ratios, fecal alpha1-protease inhibitor concentrations and serum globulin, albumin and creatinine levels). An open registry and DNA bank for Soft Coated Wheaten Terriers exists at the University of Pennsylvania Veterinary School.
- Breed name synonyms: Wheaten.
- Registries: AKC, UKC, CKC, KCGB (Kennel Club of Great Britain), ANKC (Australian National Kennel Club), NKC (National Kennel Club).
- AKC rank (year 2008): 60 (1,481 dogs registered)
- Internet resources: Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier Club of America: www.scwtca.org
Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier Association of Canada: www.scwtac.com
Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier Club of Great Britain: www.wheaten.org.uk
Wheaten Health Initiative: www.wheatenhealthinitiative.com
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