Affectionately known as the Westie, the West Highland white terrier is a spunky little dog known for his playful and energetic demeanor. Like any purebred dog, Westies are prone to some specific health conditions, such as luxating patellae, dry eye and Addison’s disease. This little guy is vulnerable to a few common skin problems and one that’s unique to the Westie.
Diagnosing Skin Conditions
Typically, your Westie’s white double coat is pretty easy to care for. He doesn’t shed much, nor does his outer coat retain much dirt; however, he does require regular brushing to keep him tangle-free. If he’s developed one of the skin problems common to Westies, you might notice scratching, hair loss or greasy skin. If you see any signs that he’s uncomfortable or that his coat is compromised, it’s time for a visit to the vet. When checking a West Highland white terrier for skin problems, the vet will account for his breed and take skin scrapings, fungal and bacterial cultures, and perhaps a skin biopsy. Depending on his symptoms, the vet may also decide to take blood tests and fecal samples.
Yes, even your Westie can suffer from greasy skin and hair and dandruff, known as canine seborrhea. The West Highland white terrier is one of the breeds prone to this condition, usually as a result of allergies, dietary deficiencies, parasites, or autoimmune or endocrine disorders. His skin may emit a greasy substance that gathers under his belly and armpits, in his ears and elbows, and around his ankles. If it makes him itchy, the affected areas may bleed, lose hair or crust from scratching. If the vet determines the cause of your pup’s seborrhea, the primary condition will be treated with a variety of options including antibiotics, supplements and a change in diet. When seborrhea is idiopathic, treatment efforts emphasize controlling the condition with shampoos and conditioners to cleanse and soothe his skin.
The Westie is prone to atopic dermatitis, an inherited tendency to develop certain antibodies to inhaled or absorbed allergens. Late-summer/early-fall weed pollens trigger the condition in dogs between 1 year and 3 years old, often progressing to other seasonal pollens and triggers such as dust, wool and mites. The first sign of atopic dermatitis is seasonal itching around the ears and underneath the body, usually leading to sneezing, face rubbing and watery eyes. If it progresses, your Westie may experience hair loss, scabs, excoriations, and secondary bacterial skin infections, as well as darkened skin and ear infections. The most effective way to address dermatitis is to change his environment, but since that’s not always possible, the vet may prescribe antihistamines, corticosteroids or other supplements for relief.
Epidermal dysplasia usually occurs in the young dogs of a Westie family; the typical age is 6 to 12 months old, though puppies as young as 5 or 6 weeks can be affected. Hyperpigmentation is one typical sign of this skin disorder; others are itchy, red skin and greasiness on the belly, head and legs. Eventually the condition progresses to the point where the outer layer of skin flakes off in large scales. As Dr. Patty Khuly notes, epidermal dysplasia is currently described only in Westies, so your vet should consider this and confirm diagnosis with skin scrapings and biopsies. This unique condition is treatable but not curable, and the vet will likely prescribe topical and oral medications to include anti-fungals and antibiotics.