West Highland White Terrier (Westie)

Virginia LaMon, DVM
By Virginia LaMon, DVM on Sep. 27, 2023
white westie dog standing on rocks in front of water

In This Article

General Care

The West Highland White Terrier, commonly called the Westie, is a fun, friendly, and confident breed that will entertain his owners for hours. This distinctive little white terrier stands 10–11 inches in height and typically weighs 15–20 pounds.

Originally bred in Scotland to hunt rodents, today these tiny terriers are happy being loyal family pets—but that doesn’t mean they’re content to lounge around the house all day.

Caring for a Westie

The Westie dog is energetic and always ready to play or cuddle with his family. This affectionate breed is generally patient and gentle with young children, though supervision and early socialization with kids is crucial (as with any breed).

Because of his background as a rodent hunter, the Westie often has a strong prey drive and will chase nearly any small animal he sees if he’s not on a leash. This can make living with smaller animals—such as rabbits or hamsters—tricky, though Westies can get along with cats when properly introduced.

If this smart dog is not mentally stimulated enough, he can be an excessive barker in an attempt to entertain himself. But with patience and positive reinforcement, the West Highland White Terrier can be a well-mannered and adaptable family dog.

Westie Health Issues

The West Highland White Terrier is a hardy breed and generally healthy, with an average life expectancy of 13–15 years. They are, however, prone to a handful of medical conditions pet parents should be aware of.

Bladder Cancer

Transitional cell carcinoma (TCC) is the most common urinary tract cancer in dogs. When this tumor occurs in the bladder, urethra, or prostate, symptoms often include blood in the urine; straining to urinate; or pain when urinating. West Highland White Terriers (along with Beagles, Scottish Terriers, and Shetland Sheepdogs) are prone to developing this type of cancer.

TCC can be diagnosed with a biopsy (removing a small piece) of the tumor to examine microscopically or via a urine test called the CADET BRAF Mutation Detection Assay. Treatment typically involves the use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and chemotherapy. Surgery is rarely recommended.

Dental Disease

Dental disease is one of the most common conditions seen in dogs as they age, especially in small breeds such as the West Highland White Terrier. This occurs when bacterial tartar and plaque lead to inflammation of the tissues around the teeth and, eventually, to tooth and bone decay. The best way to prevent dental disease is with daily tooth brushing with a dog-specific toothpaste.

Routine dental cleanings are recommended to evaluate the mouth; remove plaque and tartar; polish teeth to prevent future buildup; and treat or extract teeth that are significantly unhealthy. As with humans, dental disease can be a painful condition and may even affect internal organ health.

Dry Eye

Keratoconjunctivitis sicca (KCS), commonly called dry eye, occurs when a dog does not make enough tears. The lack of lubrication causes the surface of the eye and the inside of the eyelid to rub against each other, leading to inflammation. A thick mucus may also develop instead of normal tears.

Most dogs with dry eye will have painful, red eyes, which leads to squinting or rubbing the eye. Ulcers on the cornea are common with dry eye and require immediate treatment. Dry eye is treated with topical eye medication.

Lion Jaw

Craniomandibular osteopathy (CMO), also known as lion jaw, is a disease in which normal bone is replaced by abnormal bone along the inner and outer surfaces of the jaw and skull. This disease, which is inherited in Westies, occurs in dogs between the ages of 3 and 8 months.

CMO is extremely painful, and leads to swelling of the jaw and difficulty eating. The abnormal growth typically stops around 1 year of age, and the swelling may regress.

Patellar Luxation

In dogs with patellar luxation, the kneecap slips out of its proper groove. This causes discomfort and can lead to arthritis. Many dogs will skip or bunny-hop on three legs when the kneecap is out of place.

In some cases, the knee returns to proper alignment on its own. In other cases, joint supplements and/or anti-inflammatory medications are required. In severe cases, surgery may be needed

What To Feed a Westie

Feeding your dog a commercial kibble or wet food approved by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) is a good way to ensure your Westie receives a complete and balanced diet.

Westie puppies should be fed a diet formulated specifically for puppies or designated for “all life stages.” For full-grown West Highland White Terriers, your veterinarian may recommend dental-focused diets to help prevent dental disease.

How To Feed a Westie

Adult Westies should be fed a measured amount twice a day. Westie puppies should be fed at least three meals a day to prevent low blood-sugar levels. Avoid overfeeding or free-feeding your dog, as this can lead to obesity.

How Much Should You Feed a Westie?

Just like humans, the recommended caloric intake required varies between individuals and is based on size, metabolism, and activity level. The best way to determine how much to feed your dog is to talk with your veterinarian, who can calculate your dog’s caloric needs. 

Additionally, the labels on your dog food will provide valuable feeding information.

Nutritional Tips for Westies

The Westie may benefit from the addition of omega-3 fatty acids (DHA/EPA) into their diets. Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in skin and joint supplements, fish oil, and even in some specially formulated dog foods.

These fatty acids act as natural anti-inflammatories that help support the skin, coat, kidneys, joints, and heart. Be sure to discuss recommended supplements with your veterinarian first, and never give your West Highland White Terrier supplements without your vet’s knowledge.

Behavior and Training Tips for Westies

Westie Personality and Temperament

The West Highland White Terrier is confident, smart, playful, and energetic—but not hyper. They make wonderful family pets and, with appropriate socialization, most Westies are good with young children who’ve been taught how to properly interact with pets.

While many Westies like to be lap dogs, the West Highland White Terrier Club of America says that they might prefer to be near their people instead of in a lap. Remember that every dog is an individual with their own unique personality.

Westie Behavior

Westies often have a strong prey drive due to their history as hunting dogs. This means they need to be on leash or inside a fenced space whenever they’re outside, and they may chase other pets, including cats.

They may also bark to excess or dig up your yard if they do not get enough exercise or mental stimulation. Make sure your Westie gets at least 30 minutes of focused exercise per day, even if it’s just a scent walk or chasing a ball. It’s important for these little terriers to get lots of attention from their family, whether that’s going on a walk or playing in the backyard.

Westie Training

West Highland White Terriers, like all dogs, should begin obedience training and socialization at an early age. This includes being introduced to children and other pets in a supervised setting.

Because they are such an intelligent breed, your Westie may get bored with standard training. Positive reinforcement and training games will help keep him interested. If you keep training fun, your Westie will love pleasing you.

Fun Activities for Westies

Westie Grooming Guide

The West Highland White Terrier has a bright-white double coat that requires routine grooming. Pet parents will need to keep up with trimming, bathing, and brushing their Westie’s coat.

Grooming also isn’t limited to a Westie’s fur: Keeping nails trimmed and teeth brushed is also an important part of pet parenthood. 

Skin Care

Westies should be bathed about every four weeks. For most Westies, a gentle shampoo and conditioner is best. In some cases, a whitening shampoo may be useful. If redness, bumps, or itchiness is noted, contact your vet.

Coat Care

A Westie pup should be brushed weekly to maintain a shiny, healthy coat. Professional grooming is recommended every four to six weeks to shape and clip the coat. 

Eye Care

No special eye-related grooming is necessary for this breed. However, if squinting, redness, or eye discharge is noted, contact your veterinarian. These can be signs of more serious eye conditions, including ulcers or dry eye.

Ear Care

Cleaning your dog’s ears every week or two helps prevent ear infections. Redness, odor, or debris in the ears are signs an infection may be present. If you notice any of these symptoms, contact your veterinarian.

Considerations for Pet Parents

With early socialization, ample mental stimulation, and regular exercise, Westie dogs will be playful family pets. Before bringing home a Westie puppy, ask yourself a few questions:

  1. Do you have a fenced yard for your dog to play in, or are you willing to take your dog out on a leash multiple times a day?

  2. Do you have time to exercise a dog every day, whether on a walk, a hike, or simply engaging in playtime?

  3. Are you willing to budget for mentally stimulating interactive toys for your dog so they don’t become bored?

  4. Will you dedicate time to socializing and crate training your new puppy or dog?

  5. Do you have the patience to work through any problematic behaviors—like digging and excessive barking—that Westies may engage in?

  6. Can you keep up with a Westie’s grooming needs, including daily tooth brushing and weekly brushing?

Westie FAQs

Is the Westie a low-maintenance dog?

Westies require regular weekly brushing and consistent professional grooming appointments (every four to six weeks) to have their white coat trimmed. They also need to be well-exercised and mentally stimulated, and they will grow bored and destructive if left to their own devices for too long.

Do Westies bark a lot?

Westies do tend to bark due to their background as rodent hunters. Keeping their mind and body occupied will help limit excessive barking from boredom.

How much does a Westie cost?

Purchasing a puppy from a Westie breeder can cost $900–$2,500. Dogs of certain lineage may cost more. Dogs and puppies can also be found in shelters, and at West Highland White Terrier rescues.

Featured Image: Adobe/pololia

Virginia LaMon, DVM


Virginia LaMon, DVM


Dr. Virginia LaMon graduated from Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine in 2013. She completed her clinical year at Auburn...

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