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12 Common Westie Health Issues: Our Vet Discusses What To Watch For

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By Dr. Chantal Villeneuve

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Written by

Dr. Chantal Villeneuve

MS BVetMed (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Westies have some health issues that are so common in the breed that their owners need to be aware of them, like allergies, dermatitis, ear infections, and IBD are extremely common in Westies. While every breed can have these problems, and every dog owner should be aware of them, Westies seem to suffer from them a lot.

This article will discuss some of the very common diseases in Westies as well as some less common diseases that occasionally pop up in the genetic breeding pool.

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The 12 Westie Health Issues

1. Dermatitis

Itchy, chronically inflamed skin is probably one of the most common health problems Westies struggle with. Inflamed skin is often caused by allergies (skin allergies), but it can also be a primary problem with no known triggers (atopic dermatitis).

The signs of dermatitis can occur anywhere on the skin, but particularly in skin allergies, they occur on the feet and belly. See if your dog exhibits the following signs:

  • Constant itchy and licking
  • Red skin
  • Hot skin
  • Saliva staining the fur brown

The signs of skin allergies can be relieved by eliminating exposure to the allergens, in theory. However, veterinary assistance is often needed to relieve the allergic attack and identify the mysterious triggers.

Dogs can be allergic to food or environmental allergens, such as chicken, beef, lamb, pollen, grass, and dust mites. Finding a skincare routine that helps reinforce the integrity of the skin barrier also helps Westies fight dermatitis. And so, while their coat may be low maintenance, their skin and ears often are high maintenance.


2. Ear Infections

Ear infections are a common recurring problem in Westies. One reason is that ear infections are exacerbated by dermatitis and skin allergies. Unfortunately, where there is one, there is often another.

Using a dog-safe ear solution to clean out their ears can help reduce the rate of ear infections. However, using just water or a dry cotton tip does not work and defeats the purpose. Cleaning ears correctly helps; cleaning them incorrectly can make the ear infection worse.

Cocker Westie
Image credit: Pxhere

If your Westie gets an ear infection, even though you are cleaning out their ears, they will need medication prescribed by a veterinarian to fix it. Here are some of the common signs that your Westie has an ear infection:

  • Red, inflamed ears
  • Itchy or painful ears
  • Shaking their head
  • Dirty, discharging ears

3. Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) can occur with Westies. They often have sensitive stomachs that need special, easy-to-digest diets. Eating too many treats, having a diet too high in fat or protein, and consuming human food often upset their stomachs and can lead to chronic problems like IBD. If your Westie experiences the following signs, they could have IBD:

  • Recurring diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Soft, irregular poop
  • Inappetence

The best treatment for IBD is finding high-quality dog food and sticking with it. A dog with a sensitive stomach cannot tolerate changing food too fast or too frequently. Hypersensitivities can be difficult to pinpoint, however, and take patience, persistence, and veterinary consultation. Some dogs may even need medication to help control IBD.


4. Diabetes

Westies can struggle with diabetes, also called diabetes mellitus. This is a hormonal disease that results in abnormal glucose regulation—hyperglycemia (very high blood sugar). Watch out for these signs:

  • Drinking too much
  • Peeing too much
  • Weight loss
  • Constantly hunger

In Westies, there is often insufficient insulin produced by the pancreas, which causes hyperglycemia. In other words, resistance to insulin is usually not the problem, but not enough insulin is.

Daily treatments with insulin injections and a change in diet to a low carbohydrate food are the treatment. That lasts their entire life and requires regular check-ins at the vet’s office.

While diabetes is a chronic condition, it can cause a medical emergency called diabetic ketoacidosis. In this case, veterinary intervention is needed immediately.

Westies Smile
Image Credit: Pixabay

5. Addison’s Disease

Addison’s disease is a chronic, hormonal disease in which the body does not make enough hormones to regulate electrolytes and metabolism. Westies are more likely to get this disease than some other breeds. The good news is that it is treatable with daily medication and veterinary involvement.

A Westie with Addison’s will have various vague signs of illness that can look like other diseases—easily confusing owners and veterinarians. See the list of clinical signs below, as they look very similar to the signs of every other chronic disease in the dog world, especially since they often wax and wane.

  • Lethargy
  • Weakness
  • Dehydration
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Weight loss

However, while Addison’s is a chronic disease, Westies can have what is called an “Addisonian crisis”, where the disease has waxed too far, and they are very sick. This is a veterinary emergency.


6. Dry Eye

In this disease, the immune system attacks the glands that produce tears. As a result, the eyes do not stay moist enough and dry out. The dry eye then causes multiple problems that range from pain and irritation to infection and injury to the eyeball itself.

westiepoo wearing sweater
Image Credit: Lakers, Shutterstock

Often called dry eye, the scientific name is keratoconjunctivitis sicca. Treatment will usually be life-long and involves eye drops that control the immune system and artificial tears. Beware of these signs:

  • Discharge from the eye
  • Red eyes
  • Swollen eyes
  • Sores or scars on the surface of the eye

7. Kidney Disease

Kidney disease can be genetically inherited in Westies, specifically polycystic kidney disease. In this specific disease, cysts form in the kidneys impairing their function.

In kidney disease, the blood is not filtered through the kidney correctly, causing waste to accumulate in the bloodstream and electrolyte abnormalities. As the disease progresses, more damage is caused to the parts of the kidney that do work as they strain to keep up with the extra burden of compensating. Look out for this signs:

  • Drinking too much
  • Peeing too much
  • Weight loss
  • Inappetence

8. Liver Disease

While more common in other breeds’ genetic lines, copper-associated liver disease is one of the main causes of liver disease in Westies. With that, it often progresses differently and possibly less severely in Westies compared to other breeds (such as the Bedlington Terrier, where this disease is severe and infamous).

Westies Side
Image Credit: Pixabay

In copper-associated liver disease, the liver fails to filter out copper, which then causes chronic inflammation and scarring in the liver itself as copper accumulates in the body. The disease can appear as an acute, crisis, or as a chronic, debilitating disease. Signs of liver disease are as follows:

  • Inappetence
  • Vomiting
  • Jaundice (yellowing skin or eyes)
  • Abdominal pain

9. Westie Lung Disease

In this disease, the lungs become abnormally ‘scarred’ with a special scar tissue called pulmonary fibrosis. As the disease progresses, more and more pulmonary fibrosis accumulates in the lungs, making breathing more and more difficult.

The lungs cannot take in as much air when pulmonary fibrosis is present because it makes it difficult for them to expand and get enough oxygen into the body.

In a normal healthy body, this pulmonary fibrosis occurs because of injury, trauma, or inflammation in the lung. In Westie lung disease, however, the cause of pulmonary fibrosis is unknown, called idiopathic. While allergens may cause the disease, the complete cause is still unknown (idiopathic). Westies with this issue will include the following:

  • Breathing too fast or too hard
  • Struggling to breath
  • Coughing
  • Not being able to exercise as much

10. White-Shaker Syndrome

A neurological disease that affects Westies and other dogs with white coats, White-Shaker Disease Syndrome causes distinct tremors and shaking. The tremors may get worse when the Westie is excited or stressed or they may be constant.

Westies Swim
Image Credit: Sue Thatcher, Shutterstock

Other than the tremors, there are few other clinical signs:

  • Head and limbs can shake
  • Trembling eye movement
  • Head tilt

Unfortunately, not much is known about the cause of this disease since little research has been done on it. However, inflammation in the cerebellum (which controls fine motor movements) is associated with it. White-Shaker syndrome can usually be treated at the vet’s.

Other diseases with more insidious neurological causes and complications can also cause signs similar to White-Shaker Disease Syndrome. So, it is important to have a vet rule out other causes. For example, Krabbe Disease is a rare disease in Westies caused by genetic metabolic storage abnormalities. And it is fatal.


11. Craniomandibular Osteopathy

This is one of those weird and strange genetic diseases that is uncommon but does occasionally pop up in Westies. It is a problem with the jaw and the surrounding structures. It causes inflammation, thickening, and pain in the lower jaw, making it difficult for the Westie to open their mouth. Look for the following signs:

  • Pain when opening mouth
  • Fever
  • Pain when eating / inappetence

12. Bladder Cancer

While cancer can pop up anywhere in a Westie, and bladder cancer can occur in any breed, it does seem to be particularly more common in Westies.

Westie eating cucumber
Image By: Tim photo video, Shutterstock

Called transitional cell carcinoma, this type of cancer is particularly malignant, meaning it spreads through the body easily and ultimately results in death, especially if not treated. While cancer can be caused by many different things, genetics does play a part in the development of this type in Westies. Look for the following signs before contacting your vet:

  • Painful urination
  • Abnormal peeing patterns
  • Dribbling urine
  • Incontinence
  • Blood in the urine

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Conclusion

Taking care of a Westie can be a little high maintenance, as you might expect. Keep their skin nice and healthy with a regular maintenance routine and convince them that a little self-care is essential for every Westie’s mental and physical health.

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Featured Image Credit: xkacha, Pixabay

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