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Finding a West Highland White Terrier

Whether you want to go with a breeder or get your dog from a shelter or rescue, here are some things to keep in mind.

The History of West Highland White Terriers

The short-legged terriers of Scotland are now recognized as the Scottish, Skye, Cairn, Dandie Dinmont, and West Highland White Terriers. They all undoubtedly descend from the same roots — and were all once valued for their small-game hunting skills.

Originally, their coats came in a bevy of colors, including black, red, and cream. Colonel Edward Donald Malcolm of Poltalloch, Argyllshire, Scotland, is generally credited with breeding the white dogs true. The story goes that, in 1860, one of his reddish dogs was mistaken for a fox and shot. Malcolm decided, on the spot, to breed only for white dogs that could be readily identified in the field.

Today, the West Highland White Terrier ranks 34th among the breeds registered by the American Kennel Club, down from 30th in 2000. ‹ Previous:

What You Need to Know About West Highland White Terrier Health

Westies are prone to a host of health problems. A few will be discussed here. According to a 2007 survey conducted by the West Highland White Terrier Club of America (WHWTCA), the following conditions commonly affect Westies: atopic dermatitis (inhalant allergies affecting the skin), luxating patellae (knee caps that pop out of normal position), aggression, Legg-Calvé-Perthes disease (a disease involving the hip joint), dry eye, Addison’s disease, white shaker dog syndrome, pulmonary fibrosis, juvenile cataracts, and craniomandibular osteopathy (a disease that causes bony deformity of the jaw in puppies).

There are currently no screening tests for some of these conditions, including craniomandibular osteopathy; allergies and other serious skin conditions; Legg-Calve-Perthes disease; and copper hepatopathy, a defect of the liver that allows elevated levels of copper to build up in the system.

Westies can also develop idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, or Westie lung disease. This condition is believed to be genetic, but its true cause is unknown. In affected dogs, the air sacs and connective tissues of the lungs become inflamed and scarred, which causes serious, progressive breathing problems.

Westies with white shaker dog syndrome tend to develop signs between six months and three years of age. Dogs with this condition can begin trembling uncontrollably, especially when they try to move or get up. In some cases, long term medication is required.

Westies are also at increased risk of developing transitional cell carcinoma (TCC) of the urinary bladder.

Not all of these conditions are detectable in a growing puppy, and it can be hard to predict whether an animal will be free of these maladies, which is why you must find a reputable breeder who is committed to breeding the healthiest animals possible. They should be able to produce independent certification that the parents of the dog (and grandparents, etc.) have been screened for genetic defects and deemed healthy for breeding. That’s where health registries come in.

The WHWTCA participates in a program operated by the Canine Health Information Center (CHIC). Before a Westie can be listed in the CHIC database, the WHWTCA requires that they receive a clearance from the Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF), a patella evaluation from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA), and a hip evaluation. Eye exams are recommended annually until the dog is at least eight years old, so check that the puppy’s parents’ results are from the past year. Anyone can search the OFA and CHIC websites to see if a puppy’s parents are listed.

A top breeder will also have documentation proving that a puppy’s parents have been tested for a brain and spinal column disease known as globoid cell leukodystrophy through the Jefferson Medical College Department of Neurology, and pyruvate kinase deficiency through the University of Pennsylvania. This enzyme disorder causes a potentially fatal form of anemia. ‹ Previous: