Choosing a West Highland White Terrier

Choosing a West Highland White Terrier

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The West Highland white terrier, also referred to as the “Westie,” is a popular dog, especially with families and children. This rough and tumble dog loves nothing better than to play active games with their human companions.

History and Origin

In the mountains of western Scotland, crossbred Scotch terrier dogs were used to hunt badger, fox and otters. These dogs were also used to rid home of mice and rats. Initially, these terriers were interbred in an attempt to produce a good overall hunter. As time went on, it was decided that certain breeds should be developed, each with different specialties and different appearances.

Through selective breeding, the Scotch terrier eventually developed into various breeds: the cairn terrier, Dandie Dinmont terrier, Scottish terrier, Skye terrier and West Highland white terrier. Actually, up until 1917, crossbreeding between these various breeds continued to occur. When the kennel clubs refused to accept these crossbred dogs, pure bloodlines of each breed were established.

The West Highland white terrier was thought to have been developed in Poltalloch, Scotland, and has been known by various names. The first record of a dog being called a West Highland white terrier was in early 1900.

Initially, the Westie can in a variety of colors. Problem arose when hunters would mistake their dog for quarry. After a few tragedies, it was decided that all Westie be white, to prevent future mistakes.

The West Highland white terrier was first shown in the United States in 1906 under the name of Roseneath terriers. The breed was accepted into the terrier group of the AKC in 1908 but was not given their official name until 1909.


The Westie is a compact, spunky little dog. The head is domed and the muzzle moderate in size. The ears are erect and pointed. All West Highland white terriers are typically white, but some lemon color may be present around the face and ears.

The hair coat of the Westie is double with a soft warm undercoat and a hard straight and wiry outercoat.


The adult West Highland white terrier stands about 11 inches at the shoulder and weighs around 13 to 15 pounds.


The Westie is typically an intelligent, well-behaved dog with good manners. The breed is fun loving and very playful. Many find the Westie to be a perpetual puppy. Even though they may have a playful side, Westies can be quiet, self-assured and determined.

Home and Family Relations

The Westie is an excellent dog for older children. They tend not to be tolerant of children’s accidental mistreatments. They are generally not recommended for households with children under the age of ten. As with all other dogs, supervision is necessary anytime a dog is playing with very young children. Small and sturdy, the breed loves spending time with human companions and is willing to play any game. They can do well in an apartment as well as in the rugged countryside


The Westie learns quickly and excels in hunting and chasing. They also do well in obedience and agility.

Special Concerns

The white coat of the Westie may take a little extra time to keep clean. The hair needs grooming to prevent mats and tangles but should not be clipped. The hair is kept in good condition by stripping and plucking old hairs.

As a terrier, the Westie may develop a bad habit of digging. If left alone for prolonged periods of time, the West Highland white terrier may develop behavior problems.


Common Diseases and Disorders

In general, the West Highland white terrier is a healthy dog with few medical concerns. However, the following diseases or disorders have been reported:

  • Pulmonary fibrosis(PF) is the presence of increased fibrous (scar) tissue in the lungs as a consequence of lung tissue injury.
  • Craniomandibular osteopathy (CMO) – is an inflammation of the jawbones. This disease is temporary and occurs in juveniles. It is commonly referred to as Lion’s jaw. Affected dogs will not eat because opening the mouth causes severe pain.
  • Malassezia Dermatitis – is a yeast infection of the skin caused by Malassezia pachydermatitis.
  • Atopy is an itchy skin disease of animals that is caused by an allergy to substances in the environment.
  • Food Allergy affected pets develop skin allergies due to a variety of food ingredients.
  • Chronic hepatitis is a chronic and progressive inflammation of the liver of dogs that leads eventually to the replacement of normal liver tissue with scar tissue.
  • Aseptic necrosis of the femoral head is a progressive deterioration and collapse of the femoral head, cause is unknown
  • Cutaneous histiocytoma – is a benign tumor of the skin that can affect young dogs.
  • Cataracts cause a loss of the normal transparency of the lens of the eye. The problem can occur in one or both eyes and can lead to blindness.
  • Keratoconjunctivitis sicca (KCS) is a disorder of the eye that results when tear production is decreased.
  • Diabetes is a disease of the pancreas related to insufficient amounts of insulin production.
  • Patellar luxation is a disorder affecting the kneecap.
  • Hip dysplasia is a malformation of the hip joint that results in pain, lameness and arthritis.
  • Dilated cardiomyopathy is a heart condition that results in a large, thin walled heart muscle.
  • Congenital deafness can be present at birth.
  • white shaker disease is a disease that causes generalized muscle tremors of unknown cause.In addition, although these occur infrequently, the following disorders have also been reported:


  • Ventricular septal defect (VSD) a congenital defect of the ventricular septum of the heart.
  • Tetralogy of Fallot is a congenital condition that includes 4 heart abnormalities: pulmonic stenosis, ventricular septal defect, dextrapositioned aorta and right ventricular hypertrophy.

    Life Span

    The lifespan of the West Highland white terrier is 14 to 16 years.

    We realize that each dog is unique and may display other characteristics. This profile provides generally accepted breed information only.

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