West Highland White Terrier or Westie

PetMD Editorial
By PetMD Editorial on Jun. 24, 2009

The West Highland Terrier, or "Westie", is known for its friendly, strong-willed personality and a remarkably bright white coat. It’s a real terrier with tons of courage, confidence, determination and loyalty packed into a tiny body.

Physical Characteristics

The short-coupled, small, and compact body of the Westie allows it to fit into narrow passages like the dens of foxes. In such places, it is impossible for the dog to turn as well, though its short legs allow it to move. The dog’s sharp teeth and strong jaws help it attack foxes in closed areas. The tough double coat of the Westie breed, particularly the straight and hard outer coat around the head, can protect it from its opponent’s teeth, while its long tail helps it to be easily pulled from holes.

Personality and Temperament

The West Highland White Terrier loves a daily run in a safe place or an on-leash walk and is fond of playing indoors. This independent dog with a stubborn streak has a tendency to dig and be vocal. The happy and inquisitive West Highland White Terrier is always busy and involved in something. At the same time, it is among the friendliest and most affectionate of terriers, but can be demanding. It does not behave in an amicable way with small animals.


The Westie should be allowed to sleep inside in everything except very mild weather. The wire coat of this terrier needs occasional combing every week, plus shaping once every three months. Clipping is preferred for shaping pets and stripping is meant for show dogs. It is not easy to keep the color of the coat white in all areas.

Even though the Westie breed loves the outdoors, it can also become a proper indoor dog if it is given regular exercise outside. A moderate or short on-leash walk or a good game outdoors every day can meet the dog’s exercise needs.


The Westie dog breed, which has an average lifespan of 12 to 14 years, may be prone to minor health problems like Keratoconjunctivitis Sicca (KCS), copper toxicosis, patellar luxation, and cataract, and major problems such as Legg-Perthes Disease, Craniomandibular Osteopathy (CMO), globoid cell leukodystrophy, and skin disease. Deafness is also seen in the breed occasionally. To identify some of these issues, a veterinarian may recommend hip, knee, and eye tests for the dog.

History and Background

The West Highland White Terrier, as well as other Scottish terriers, share similar roots and the former is a very good hunter of fox, vermin, and badger. There was a time when the Skye, Cairn, Scottish, and Westie Terriers were regarded as one breed that had some diversity. Selective breeding using qualities like coat color or type may have developed distinct varieties, which could have been maintained in isolation in different areas of the Scottish mainland and some western islands.

In 1907, the West Highland White Terrier was popular for the first time as the Poltalloch Terrier living with Col. E.D. Malcolm, who had bred short-legged white terriers in the past. Over the years, different names like Cairn, Roseneath, Poltalloch, Little Skye, and White Scottish have been given to this breed.

In 1908, the American Kennel Club registered the breed for the first time as the Roseneath Terrier, but in 1909, the name was altered to West Highland White Terrier. The Westie dog breed has established itself as a popular house dog and a competitive show dog ever since.

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