West Highland White Terrier Information: Health

West Highland White Terrier Information: Health

The West Highland White Terrier is subject to a number of hereditary disorders but can lead a very long life if healthy. Learn more about keeping your Westie healthy here.

The West Highland White Terrier, also known more simply as the Westy, has its origins in Scotland, with official recognition of the breed in the early 20th century. The breed is prone to an abnormality of the jaw known as “Westie jaw” as well as a breed specific skin disease called hyperplastic dermatosis. A disease the West Highland White Terrier shares with Beagles and Pomeranians is globoid cell leukodystrophy. The healthy Westie has a long life expectancy of 12 to 14 years.

Primary Health Conditions of the West Highland White Terrier

Because the West Highland White Terrier so frequently bears the condition craniomandibular osteropathy, the disease has been dubbed “Westie Jaw.” In this condition, the jaw bones thicken such that eating can become difficult. It usually presents before the dog is a year old and can be treated with anti-inflammatory drugs. Another serious albeit uncommon disease affecting Westies is hyperplastic dermatosis, a skin condition that causes hair loss, scratching, and severe skin irritation. Treatment is possible via topical and oral medication. The West Highland White Terrier is also prone to a hereditary condition called globoid cell leukodystrophy, in which the dog cannot produce an important enzyme, causing tremors and weakness. The condition has no cure other than not breeding affected dogs.

Secondary Health Conditions of the West Highland White Terrier

The West Highland White Terrier can be susceptible to Legg-Perthes disease, although to a lesser degree than many breeds. In this condition, the head of the femur is malformed, causing discomfort and gait problems. Surgery can correct the problem. Among small dogs, the Westie is less prone to luxating patella, or slippage of the kneecap, than other small dogs, but it can occur in this breed. Surgery can help relieve the dog of pain or discomfort as can keeping the dog’s weight in check.

West Highland White Terrier Exercise and Walking Needs

The West Highland White Terrier has moderate exercise needs, with short daily walks and a chance to run and play usually sufficient for this dog. The Westie has a strong prey instinct, meaning that they love to chase balls, toys, or other animals. This instinct should be kept in mind by owners who take the dog outside so as to avoid the dog running into dangerous situations.

West Highland White Terrier Nutritional Needs

As an enthusiastic eater, coaxing the West Highland White Terrier to eat should not be a problem. The breed is not particularly prone to weight issues, but food portions should be matched to the dog’s age and activity level to ensure that obesity does not develop. As with any dog, feeding the Westie a high quality food well balanced in protein, carbohydrates, and nutrients will help to ensure health and a long life.

What Do I Feed a West Highland White Terrier?

West Highland White Terriers are small, white dogs originally bred in Scotland for hunting, but today, they mostly earn their keep as loyal little companions. Members of this breed suffer more frequently than most other breeds from a sensitive stomach, food allergies and diabetes, and feeding choices can help with these issues. Some Westies may do best on a hypoallergenic food, especially one that contains hydrolyzed protein. To keep your dog healthy and to help or prevent some health conditions that may affect Westies, make sure you feed this small, active dog high-quality food in the appropriate amounts.

Determining Weight

The amount of dry dog food you feed your West Highland White Terrier is based on the dog's weight and the calorie content of the food. Typically, an adult Westie weighs between 16 and 20 pounds. Feed the correct amount of food to your dog according to the manufacturer's directions listed on the food packaging by weight. Weigh your Westie using a baby or pet scale, or you can have your veterinarian weigh your dog.

Calories Required

Active Westies, such as those that compete in agility competitions, need more calories per day. Active dogs who are the approximate size of the Westie require about 700 kilocalories of food each day, while inactive dogs of the same size need about 450 kilocalories. Some dog food manufacturers print calories-per-unit-measure information near the ingredients list on the packaging. For others, you may have to call a helpline number printed on the packaging to ask for the information.

Dry Food

Small adult dogs of Westie size require approximately 4 to 6 ounces of dry dog food daily. This varies according to the ingredients in the food, so check the specific brand of food you plan to feed your Westie. Additionally, make sure your Westie's diet is divided into at least two meals a day, as smaller meals help digestion.

Canned Dog Food

Feed your Westie the correct portion of canned food, based on the dog's weight, following the manufacturer's directions. Typically, about one to two cans of wet food per day, divided into two or more meals, is appropriate for a small breed like the Westie; actual amounts depend on the brand. When feeding canned dog food, leave the food with the dog for no more than 20 minutes, then refrigerate any leftovers to prevent spoilage.

Portion Size

Whether you are feeding canned or dry food, divide the manufacturer's recommended daily amounts for your dog into two to three meals, given at least a few hours apart. This prevents an overloading of your Westie's digestive system. Dividing the food is also important because, with their sensitive stomachs, this breed may vomit on an empty stomach.


Feed your Westie a nutritionally balanced food that contains ingredients approved by the Association of American Feed Control Officials to ensure it is nutritionally balanced for your dog. The first listed ingredient of a high-quality dog food should be a meat protein such as fish, chicken, beef, or lamb. By-products and grain fillers like corn and wheat shouldn't be a primary ingredient as these are not easily digestible and can cause stomach upset to breeds with sensitive stomachs like the Westie. Premium pet foods contain fewer of these hard-to-digest ingredients. Choose foods based on your dog's age; for dogs over 7 years old, you can purchase age-specific foods that contain fewer calories and more fiber. If you want to prevent staining of the white fur around the Westie's mouth, avoid foods that contain food coloring.

Skin Issues

Westies can suffer from atopic dermatitis and allergies, according to the Westie Foundation of America. Some dog food manufacturers offer special foods to help address food allergies. Consult your veterinarian about food choices that may help your allergy-prone Westie. Fatty acid supplements, such as those that contain evening primrose and fish oil, can help soothe dry, itchy skin. Consult your veterinarian before adding supplements to your dog's normal ration. Follow the manufacturers' recommendations on specific amounts to use.

Other Health Concerns

Some Westies are susceptible to liver disease due to an inherited inability to excrete copper, leading to copper toxicosis. If your Westie suffers from this disease, your veterinarian may recommend a low-copper diet and zinc supplements to help absorb excess copper. Westies are also prone to diabetes, so it is important to monitor your dog's weight to ensure the dog doesn't become overweight. Don't overfeed your dog, and go easy on those treats. Consult your veterinarian if you can't easily feel your dog's ribs, as this is a sign that your Westie is overweight. To address the obesity issue, cut your dog's feed a bit and increase the exercise program, or switch your older, more sedentary Westie to a lower-calorie formula or one that contains more fiber.


Westies have powerful jaws. They should not be given rawhide or pig ears to chew, because such objects can splinter into smaller pieces that can get lodged in the dog's intestine.

Frequently Asked Questions

What do West Highland terriers eat?

West Highland Terriers, also known as Westies, have specific dietary needs to ensure their general health and well-being. As small, energetic dogs, their diet should consist of high-quality, balanced meals tailored to their size and activity. A nutritious diet for a West Highland Terrier consists of a combination of commercial dog food, fresh ingredients, and occasional treats. It is crucial to choose a dog food brand that meets the nutritional requirements for small breeds and is appropriate for their age, whether it's puppy, adult, or senior formula. Check for products that list a high-quality animal protein source, such as chicken or lamb, as the first ingredient. Additionally, dog food should contain essential nutrients like carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, and minerals. Westies have a tendency to develop allergies, so it may be beneficial to opt for a limited-ingredient or hypoallergenic dog food that avoids common allergens like wheat, soy, and artificial additives. You can include fresh ingredients in their diet. Lean proteins can be included as a protein-rich addition to their meals, such as boiled chicken, turkey, or fish. Steamed or lightly cooked vegetables like carrots, peas, and green beans are good sources of vitamins and fiber. You can also serve some fruits, such as apples or blueberries, in moderation as a healthy treat. However, foods that are harmful to dogs, such as chocolate, grapes, raisins, onions, and garlic, should never be given to Westies. 

How much does a West Highland terrier eat?

The food quantity a West Highland Terrier eats can vary depending on several factors, including age, weight, activity level, metabolism, and overall health. Adult Westies typically eat between half and one and a half cups of premium dog food per day, split into two portions. Nevertheless, it is crucial to consult with a veterinarian to determine the appropriate portion size for your specific dog, as individual needs may be different. Puppies should be fed more often and with food that has been specially prepared for their growth and development. In order to avoid underfeeding or overfeeding, it's crucial to adhere to the feeding recommendations offered by the dog food manufacturer. Keep in mind that Westies have a likelihood of gaining weight, so it's essential to check their physical condition and modify portion sizes properly to maintain a healthy weight.

Are Westies picky eaters?

Yes, Westies are picky eaters. As a result, selecting dog food with an appetizing smell and taste can help entice them to eat. High-quality dog food brands often focus on palatability, creating formulas that are appealing to dogs' senses. Look for dog foods that use real meat as the primary ingredient, as this can provide a strong aroma and flavor that dogs find enticing. Additionally, dog food options with different flavors, such as chicken, lamb, or fish, can cater to individual preferences. Wet or canned dog food can also be more aromatic and flavorful compared to dry kibble, making it a good option for picky eaters. Mixing a small amount of wet food with dry kibble can help enhance the overall taste and encourage consumption. Some dog food brands even offer specific formulas tailored for picky eaters, with added flavors or ingredients to make the food more appealing.

What are Westies allergic to?

Westies, like many other dog breeds, can be prone to allergies. Some common allergens that Westies may react to include certain foods, environmental factors, and flea bites. Food allergies in Westies can manifest as itching, skin irritation, gastrointestinal issues, or ear infections. Common food allergens for dogs, including Westies, can include ingredients such as corn, soy, and dairy products. Environmental allergies, also known as atopy, can be caused by pollen, dust mites, mold spores, or certain grasses. These allergies typically result in symptoms like itching, redness, paw licking, and recurrent ear infections. Flea allergies are another concern for Westies, as their sensitive skin can react strongly to flea saliva. Even a single flea bite can trigger an allergic reaction, leading to intense itching and discomfort. However, not all Westies will develop allergies, but if you notice persistent signs of itching, redness, or discomfort, it is advisable to consult a veterinarian for proper diagnosis and treatment.

Can Westies eat human food?

Yes, small amounts of certain human foods can be safe for Westies to consume. However, it is essential to be cautious and aware of potential risks and harmful foods that can be toxic to dogs. In moderation, cooked lean meats (without flavor or spices), such as chicken or turkey, plain cooked vegetables like carrots or green beans, and small amounts of plain, unsalted cooked rice or pasta are all generally safe for Westies. Bananas, apples, and other fruits can also be occasionally provided as treats. However, foods that are harmful to dogs, such as chocolate, grapes, raisins, onions, garlic, caffeine, alcohol, and foods heavy in fat or seasoning, must not be given to Westies.

This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian. Always seek the advice of your veterinarian or other qualified professional with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard or delay seeking professional advice due to what you may have read on our website.

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Weight Control Globoid Cell Leukodystrophy Legg-Perthes disease West Highland White Terrier

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