Get to know the West Highland White Terrier
All you need to know about the breed
One of the most popular breeds of terrier, West Highland Whites have bags of personality. Sociable, friendly and smart, they definitely have a mind of their own. This can make training a Westie a little more challenging, but with patience – and a few healthy treats – they’ll get there.
Generally, though, these diminutive dogs adapt well to most domestic set-ups. Growing to a maximum height of around 28cm (11 inches), Westies will do fine in an apartment situation, as long as they have a decent amount of exercise every day. Just one thing to bear in mind is that they can occasionally react with a snap if feeling threatened, so it’s best to keep them supervised with small children.
Originating in the Scottish Highlands, where they were bred to hunt rats and foxes, West Highland White Terriers still retain something of that instinct today. As such, they are the first to chase other animals or humans, and always enjoy a good game in the garden. Westies also thrive on exploring, digging and sniffing things out – whether you’d like them to or not.
Surprisingly strong for their small size, West Highland White Terriers are made of pretty stern stuff. A fairly healthy and robust breed of dog, they have a good lifespan too. In fact, Westies can easily live well into their teens.
Their distinctive white double-coat is actually quite coarse, to protect them from the elements, and they move faster than you might think. Their dark brown eyes are usually bright and alert, and their pricked ears are constantly listening out for the slightest sound.
Quite protective when they are on their own territory, the West Highland White Terrier is also quick to bark at any approaching strangers. This means they make a good guard dog – though are less suited to environments where noise might be an issue. Other than that, however, these lively little terriers will make a terrific addition to any household.
2 facts about West Highland White Terriers
Things to look out for
From specific breed traits to a general health overview, here are some interesting facts about your West Highland White Terrier
One thing that can be a problem is their sensitive skin
West Highland White Terriers belong to the group of dogs that can be prone to ‘allergic dermatitis’ – or, to put it more simply, allergies. An overreaction of the immune system, these often result in itching that the dog will try to relieve by licking, scratching, biting or rubbing. This behaviour can cause more skin lesions and open the gate to other infectious agents such as yeasts or bacteria. Triggers can include specific foods, environmental allergens and even fleas. Fortunately, there is plenty that can be done and – together with your vet – you can find a routine to make your Westie more comfortable. This can range from special socks to various therapeutic options to tailored diets.
Like other small-breed dogs, they can also suffer from dental problems
As a result, your West Highland White Terrier should have their teeth brushed as often as possible – and ideally daily. In addition, they should also have regular dental check-ups with your vet. Once again, diet can play a big part in the health of their teeth too. For instance, the right-shaped kibble will encourage them to chew and therefore slow down the formation of dental plaque. A formula containing calcium chelators will also help to reduce tartar formation. For more on the best nutrition for your West Highland White Terrier, see our ‘Healthy Diet, Healthier Dog’ section.
Another thing to watch out for: a condition called 'Westie's jaw'
One of the genetic disorders to which the breed can be prone is something called craniomandibular osteopathy (CMO). More commonly known as ‘Westie’s jaw’, this disorder of the skull causes a swelling and thickening of the jaw bones. This can result in difficulty chewing and swallowing, as well as drooling, and can be quite painful – although the discomfort may diminish at skeletal maturity (10 to 12 months of age). It’s best to keep an eye out for any signs and consult your vet if needed to alleviate symptoms. Also, it is recommended not to breed from affected animals, so check with the breeder before acquiring a puppy. Both parents should be clear of the condition.
Caring for your West Highland White Terrier
Grooming, training and exercise tips