What Can I Expect From A Westie?

11 02 2009

adult-westieFor prospective and new parents of a West Highland Terrier, also know as a “Westie.”  Westies are one of those little breeds that makes you thankful they are small in size.  Those guys have a whole LOT of attitude in that LITTLE body!  Despite their small stature, they can make wonderful watch dogs.  A parent that wants to adopt a Westie better bring a strong will to the table.  The last thing anyone wants is for a Westie to be in control.

Typically, Westies are good with children, easy to train, and fairly accepting of strangers.  They are wonderful companions, and they love to travel.  Male Westies weigh in in the 15 to 22 pound range, while the females are smaller, barely moving the scales around 13 to 16 pounds.  😉

As with most smaller dogs, they have a life expectancy of 15 years or more.  They are equally comfortable living in both city and more rural settings, but they need and expect a daily walk from their family.  Their coats are soft with a dense undercoat, rough outer coat and they require pretty regular trips to the groomer.

They are descended from Cairn and Scottish Terriers, with a little Bedlington and Dandie Dinmont Terriers mixed in.  They were bred to hunt small animals such as rabbits, mice, and squirrels.  They were also used to hunt foxes and badgers, with young female Westies being the best hunters.

Westie owners have taken note that males often get lonely and seem to desire a second male companion (not that there is anything wrong with that).  Like all animals, Westies seem to be susceptible to certain health conditions.  Likely among these conditions are chronic skin problems, Perthe’s Disease (hip problems), hernias, liver disease and craniomandibular osterpathy (lion jaw).

Perthe’s Disease is a disease that produces a lameness of the hip joint in young small breed dogs.  It occurs when the blood supply does not fully reach the femur, especially in the ball portion of the hip’s ball and socket joint.  While deprived of the blood supply, the tissues begin to die and collapse, and they result in joint pain and even lameness.  This is exhibited when the dog begins to favor the leg and the muscles will begin to shrink from diminished use.  Typically, Perthe’s disease only involves one leg’s hip joint.  It can be corrected with surgery.

The skin problems are mostly hereditary, and veterinary dermatologists are currently researching a number of skin disorders that have a hereditary basis.  Westies also have a greater tendency to be affected negatively by inhalant allergies, including pollen, dust and molds.  They react to these allergies as would to fleas by rubbing their faces with their front feet, licking and developing rashes on their bellies and arm pits.

Westies are also prone to White Shaker Syndrome, which is a mild inflammation of the cerebellum region of the brain.  While affecting other small dogs, this disease heavily favors the Westies.  Usually it begins prior to the age of three.  Dogs suddenly develop a tremor that lasts throughout the day, and these tremors become worse when the dog is excited or under stress.  Affected dogs may begin to tilt their head to one side and may have seizures.  Oftentimes, vets will give Valium and steroids to help with White Shaker Syndrome.  This is the treatment given to prolong their lives.

Craniomandibular osterpathy, or lion jaw, is a hereditary disease, and any dog who suffers from it inherited it from BOTH of his parents.  Unfortunately, the only way to be made aware of the condition’s existence is for a puppy to be born with it, making it often that breeders are unaware of the condition.  Once it is discovered, neither parent should be used to breed again.  It is usually discovered when a puppy is between 3 to 6 months of age, it usually regresses their jaw functionality by 12 months.  The condition is extremely painful and may cause the puppy to feel tired, yelp when someone touches their head or while they are chewing or eating.

While their likely conditions and stubbornness may turn off many parents, Westies make great dogs for any family, with a lengthy life expectancy to boot.

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