Cookies on VetMed Resource

Like most websites we use cookies. This is to ensure that we give you the best experience possible.


Continuing to use  means you agree to our use of cookies. If you would like to, you can learn more about the cookies we use.

VetMed Resource

Veterinary information to support practice, based on evidence and continuing education

Sign up to receive our Veterinary & Animal Sciences e-newsletter, book alerts and offers direct to your inbox.

News Article

Common disorders of West Highland White Terriers characterized

Dental disease, ear disease, overgrown nails, allergic skin disorder and obesity identified as common health issues within the breed

A study reporting on the health of West Highland White Terriers (Westies) under primary veterinary care in the UK is published in Canine Genetics and Epidemiology.

The study population included all available dogs under primary veterinary care at clinics participating in the Royal Veterinary College’s VetCompass™ programme. The study characterised the demography of 6605 dogs and the longevity and common disorders of 2058 Westies.

The breed comprised only 0.43% of puppies born in 2015 compared to 1.69% of puppies born in 2004. The average age of the Westies studied was a relatively elderly 7.8 years, suggesting an ageing population with fewer new puppies entering the population compared to other breed studies carried out by VetCompass™.

The most common disorders were identified as periodontal disease (15.7% of Westies), otitis externa (10.6%), overgrown nails (7.2%), allergic skin disorder (6.5%) and obesity (6.1%). Lower respiratory tract disease and cancer were the most common cause of death, with each accounting for 10.2% of deaths in the breed. Spinal cord disorders were the next biggest killer at 7.8%.

Other findings include:

  • Male Westies are more likely to be diagnosed with otitis externa and aggression than female Westies.
  • Female Westies are more likely to develop periodontal disease.
  • The average bodyweight of the Westie is 9.6 kg, with males tending to be heavier with an average weight of 10.1 kg compared to the 9.0 kg average of females.
  • The average lifespan of the breed is 13.4 years with males outliving females at 13.8 years compared to the latter’s 12.9 years.


Camilla Pegram, Veterinary Epidemiologist and VetCompass™ researcher at the Royal Veterinary College, said:

“The most common disorders of Westies shown in this study are also common in the wider UK dog population. However, the breed does seem predisposed to lower respiratory tract disease which was a common cause of death in the Westie. Owners should be aware of this as their Westie ages. What is particularly interesting is the level of skin disorders, which although relatively high, are still lower than might have been predicted a decade ago. It is possible that the reduction in Westie ownership has relieved the pressure on breeders to breed from less healthy individuals to meet demand and therefore contributed to improved skin health within the breed. Paradoxically, reducing popularity may have led to better health in the Westies that are now being born.”

Article: O'Neill, D. G., Ballantyne, Z. F., Hendricks, A., Church, D. B., Brodbelt, D. C., Pegram, C. (2019). West Highland White Terriers under primary veterinary care in the UK in 2016: demography, mortality and disorders. Canine Genetics and Epidemiology 6, Article number: 7, doi: 10.1186/s40575-019-0075-2

Article details

  • Date
  • 04 September 2019
  • Source
  • Royal Veterinary College
  • Subject(s)
  • Dogs, Cats, and other Companion Animals