The Breed History
The Scottish terrier group all likely arose from the same ancestors (this includes the Scotties, Dandie Dinmonts, Skye, and Cairn terriers). This breed arose in Poltalloch, Scotland perhaps in the times of King James I and may have been previously known as the Dog of Argyleshire. The family of Colonel Malcolm of Poltalloch is considered to have developed the main lineage up through the early 20th century. It may be that the earliest stock was primarily white Cairn in origin. AKC registration was first recorded in 1908.
Breeding for Function
These dogs were originally bred to be vermin, fox and otter hunters; bred for exceptional spunk, speed and intelligence. Sporty and agile, they can work a long day. They are now enjoying success in earthdog trials, obedience and agility. They are excellent companions.
Height at Withers: female 10" (25.5 cm), male 11" (28 cm)
Weight: females 13-16 lb (6-7 kg), males 15-22 lb (7-10 kg).
Coat: Their outer coat is harsh and dense and the undercoat is fine and wooly. They are all white, and the coat is about 2" in length. Longevity: 15 years.
Points of Conformation: The Westie is a compact, short coupled dog, and has well developed musculature. Deep in the chest, they are characterized by a straight topline. Dark brown eyes with dark palpebral margins, small erect ears with thick leather, heavy eyebrows, black nose and lips and a defined stop with blunt muzzle characterize their head. The tail is short and carried high, and incidentally, is tough enough so that the handler can pull the dog out of the burrow by the tail if needed.
Recognized Behavior Issues and Traits
These dogs are reported to be very alert, intelligent, devoted, independent and fun-loving. They thrive on close human contact. They are game to learn, courageous, and are fairly tolerant of strangers. They are high activity dogs. They like to dig and bark especially if bored, and are a good watchdog. As with any of the terrier type breeds, they can nip when irritated and need to be socialized early to other pets and children. Training should be gentle but firm and also start early. The coat should be periodically clipped or stripped to remove dead undercoat hairs.
Normal Physiologic Variations
Hip Dysplasia and Legg-Calve Perthes Disease: Polygenically inherited traits causing degenerative hip joint disease and arthritis. Reported 33.2x odds ratio for Legg-Calve-Perthes versus other breeds. OFA reports 12.4% affected. Legg-Calve Perthes is reported at a frequency of 1.2% in the 2005 WHTCA Health Survey.
Patella Luxation: Polygenically inherited laxity of patellar ligaments, causing luxation, lameness, and later degenerative joint disease. Treat surgically if causing clinical signs. OFA reports 3.8% affected. Reported at a frequency of 6.6% in the 2005 WHTCA Health Survey.
Elbow Dysplasia: Polygenically inherited trait causing elbow arthritis. Reported at a high frequency, however too few West Highland White Terriers have been screened by OFA to determine an accurate frequency.
Craniomandibular Osteopathy (CMO): Autosomal recessive, painful non-neoplastic proliferation of bone on the ramus of the mandible and/or the tympanic bulla. Affected dogs present between 3-10 months of age, with varying degrees of difficulty prehending and chewing food, secondary weight loss and atrophy of the temporal and masseter muscles. In most cases, affected dogs are normal after bony remodeling. Reported 1,313x odds ratio versus other breeds. Reported at a frequency of 0.9% in the 2005 WHTCA Health Survey. No genetic test is available.
Globoid Cell Leukodystrophy (Krabbe Disease): An autosomal recessive lysosomal storage disease causing severe neurological symptoms including seizures, hypotonia, blindness, and death in young affected dogs. Reported at a frequency of 0.6% in the 2005 WHTCA Health Survey. A genetic test is available.
Pyruvate Kinase Deficiency (PK): A rare, autosomal recessive disease of red blood cells causing exercise intolerance with a persistent, severe, and highly regenerative anemia, splenomegaly, and progressive osteosclerosis. A genetic test is available.
Atopic Dermatitis (Allergies): Presents with pruritis (itching) and pyotraumatic dermatitis (hot spots). Reported increased risk versus other breeds in multiple studies. Food allergy was identified in 24% of West Highland White Terriers, and Inhalant allergies were identified in 20% in one study. Reported at a frequency of 31.1% in the 2005 WHTCA Health Survey.
Chronic Interstitial Lung Disease: Progressive respiratory failure, Pulmonary Fibrosis/Bronchiectasis, and Pulmonary Hypertension in West Highland White Terriers is an inherited disorder of aberrant collagen regulation. Affected dogs have chronic cough, dyspnea, and tachypnea over months to years. The mean survival time from onset of clinical signs is 17.9 months. Response to prednisolone, with or without bronchodilators, is variable. Reported at a frequency of 2.8% and an odds ratio of 4.45x versus other breeds. Reported at a frequency of 10.5% in the 2005 WHTCA Health Survey. Undetermined mode of inheritance.
Lymphoma/Lymphosarcoma: Malignant cancer of lymphoid tissue. Reported at a frequency of 9.1% in the 2005 WHTCA Health Survey.
Mitral Valvular Disease/Congestive Heart Failure: Mitral regurgitation that can eventually lead to congestive heart disease, cardiac arrhythmias (irregular heart beats) and cardiac failure. Diagnose with auscultation and echocardiography. Treat medically. Reported at a frequency of 9.1% in the 2005 WHTCA Health Survey.
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 8.75% of West Highland White Terriers CERF examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005.
Cataracts: A posterior Y suture cataract predominates, with an onset of less than 6 months of age. An autosomal recessive mode of inheritance is suggested. Identified in 8.75% of West Highland White Terriers CERF examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005. Juvenile cataracts are reported at a frequency of 1.8% in the 2005 WHTCA Health Survey. CERF does not recommend breeding any West Highland White Terrier with a cataract.
Diabetes Mellitus: Sugar diabetes. Research shows mutations in the CTLA4 promoter gene. Treat with insulin injections, diet, and glucose monitoring. Reported at a frequency of 8.7% in the 2005 WHTCA Health Survey.
Keratoconjunctivitis Sicca (KCS, Dry Eye): A familial incidence in the West Highland White has been demonstrated. One study showed one-third of all cases occurring in this breed, with the majority being females between 4 and 7 years of age. Conjunctival hyperaemia and mucus discharge are the primary clinical signs in this breed. Reported at a frequency of 8.4% in the 2005 WHTCA Health Survey. CERF does not recommend breeding any West Highland White Terrier with KCS.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD): Inflammatory GI disease resulting in vomiting, diarrhea, and weight loss. Affected dogs can usually be controlled with diet and/or medications. Reported at a frequency of 6.6% in the 2005 WHTCA Health Survey.2 Aggression: Reported at a frequency of 4.0% in the 2005 WHTCA Health Survey.
Bladder Cancer: Reported at a frequency of 4.0% in the 2005WHTCA Health Survey.
Copper Toxicosis: Inherited disorder causing up to 22x normal hepatic copper concentrations. The disorder can cause hepatitis, hepatic necrosis and cirrhosis. Zinc acetate is an effective and nontoxic treatment. Unknown mode of inheritance. Reported at a frequency of 4.0% in the 2005 WHTCA Health Survey.
Hyperadrenocorticism (Cushing's Disease): Caused by a functional adrenal or pituitary tumor. Clinical signs may include increased thirst and urination, symmetrical truncal alopecia, and abdominal distention. Reported at a frequency of 3.7% in the 2005 WHTCA Health Survey.
Hypothyroidism: Inherited autoimmune thyroiditis. 2.9% positive for thyroid autoantibodies based on testing at Michigan State University. (Ave. for all breeds is 7.5%).
Malassezia Pachydermatis Infection: West Highland white terriers are significantly overrepresented versus other breeds. Affected dogs present with pruritus, alopecia and lichenification. Skin biopsy specimens show Epidermal Dysplasia, which may be an inflammatory or hypersensitivity reaction to the Malassezia infection. One case reports control with interferon-gamma therapy.
Retinal Dysplasia: Retinal folds, geographic, and generalized retinal dysplasia with detachment are recognized in the breed. Can lead to blindness. Identified in 2.50% of West Highland White Terriers CERF examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005.14 Renal Dysplasia: Disorder of progressive renal failure in young dogs. Affected dogs are polyuric and polydipsic, uremic, and anemic. Unknown mode of inheritance. Reported at a frequency of 2.4% in the 2005 WHTCA Health Survey.
Hypoadrenocorticism (Addison's Disease): Immune mediated destruction of the adrenal gland. Typical presentation of lethargy, poor appetite, vomiting, weakness, and dehydration can occur from 4 months to several years of age. Treatment with DOCA injections or oral fludrocortisone. Unknown mode of inheritance. Reported at a frequency of 2.1% in the 2005 WHTCA Health Survey.
Progressive Retinal Atrophy: Degenerative disorder of the retinal causing progressive blindness. Presumed to be autosomal recessively inherited. No genetic test is available. CERF does not recommend breeding any West Highland White Terrier with PRA.
White Shaker Dog Syndrome: Affected dogs present between 6 months to 5 years of age, with diffuse, fine, whole body tremor, and can also show nystagmus, menace response abnormalities, proprioceptive deficits, and seizures. CSF usually is abnormal containing a mild lymphocytic pleocytosis. Protein concentration may be normal or mildly increased. Treat with tapering doses of corticosteroid. Unknown mode of inheritance. Reported at a frequency of 1.8% in the 2005 WHTCA Health Survey.
Sick Sinus Syndrome: Affected dogs present with episodic weakness and syncope. Electrocardiographic findings included sinus bradycardia, sinus arrest with or without escape complexes, disturbances of atrioventricular conduction, paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia, or some combination of these dysrhythmias. Reported at a frequency of 1.8% in the 2005 WHTCA Health Survey.
Portosystemic Shunt (PSS, Liver Shunt): Abnormal blood vessels connecting the systemic and portal blood flow. Can be intrahepatic extrahepatic or microvascular dysplasia. Causes stunting, abnormal behavior, possible seizures, and secondary ammonium urate urinary calculi. Diagnosis with paired fasted and feeding serum bile acid and/or ammonium levels, and abdominal ultrasound. Reported 6.0x odds ratio versus other breeds. Reported at a frequency of 1.5% in the 2005 WHTCA Health Survey. Undetermined mode of inheritance.
Cystic Calculi (Bladder Stones): West Highland White Terriers are found to have a predisposition to forming bladder stones. Mineral composition is not reported.
Superficial Necrolytic Dermatitis: A metabolic hepatopathy. Increased hepatic catabolism of amino acids is hypothesized to explain the hypoaminoacidaemia seen. Reported with at a higher frequency in the breed. In one report, the median age was 10 years, and 75% were male.
Deafness, Glaucoma, Ichthyosis, IgA Deficiency, Microphthalmia, Oligodontia, Prognathism, Pulmonic Stenosis, and Retained Deciduous Teeth are reported.
Isolated Case Studies
Polycystic Kidney and Liver Disease: Polycystic kidney and liver disease was present in four of six female and three of five male offspring born in two matings between the same pair of West Highland White Terriers. Clinical signs and serum biochemistry analysis consistent with liver failure was evident by 5 weeks of age. Affected pups were euthanized because of their disease. An autosomal recessive mode of inheritance is suggested.
Congenital Angiomatous Cardiac Cysts: Two unrelated male 16 week old West Highland White Terriers presented with acute respiratory distress and heart failure. Postmortum examination showed multiple ventricular cysts, primarily toward the apex, and valvular malformation.
Necrotizing Encephalitis: A 2 year old male West Highland White Terrier presented with seizures, depressed mentation, proprioceptive deficits and a decreased menace response. Post-mortum examination showed cerebral non-suppurative inflammation and large areas of cavitation, as well as anti-glomerular basement membrane positive glomerulonephritis.
L-2-Hydroxyglutaric Aciduria: A 5 year old male West Highland White Terrier presented with seizures, moderate four limb ataxia, impaired vision, dementia, and recent episodes of severe head tremor when stressed. MRI demonstrated bilaterally symmetrical polioencephalopathy. Biochemical testing showed L-2-hydroxyglutaric aciduria.
Ectrodactyly: A case of monomelic forelimb ectrodactyly (lobster-claw deformity) in a West Highland white terrier is reported. The dog was treated with a soft tissue reconstruction. This was the second report of ectrodactyly in this breed.
Tests of Genotype: Direct test for Globoid Leukodystrphy is available from the Jefferson Medical College (215-955-1666) and HealthGene.
Direct test for Pyruvate Kinase Deficiency is available from HealthGene, PennGen, and VetGen.
Tests of Phenotype: CHIC Certification: CERF eye examination (annually until at least age 8 years), hip radiographs, and patella evaluation. (See CHIC website; caninehealthinfo.org).
Recommend elbow radiographs, chest (lung) radiographs, thyroid profile including autoantibodies, and cardiac examination.
- Breed name synonyms: Roseneath Terrier (historical), Poltalloch Terrier (historical), Westie.
- Registries: AKC, UKC, CKC, KCGB (Kennel Club of Great Britain), ANKC (Australian National Kennel Club), NKC (National Kennel Club)
- AKC rank (year 2008): 34 (4,755 dogs registered)
- Internet resources: West Highland White Terrier Club of America: westieclubamerica.com
Canadian West Highland White Terrier Club: canadawestieclub.ca
The West Highland White Terrier Club of England: thewesthighlandwhiteterrierclubofengland.co.uk
Westie Health Foundation: westiefoundation.org
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