There's a reason the Westie's bright white coat is part of the official breed name of the West Highland white terrier. It's his crowning glory, distinguishing him from many other small terriers native to the British Isles. Unfortunately, genetic issues can turn this crowning glory into an itchy, inflamed mess. Skin and coat problems usually appear between the ages of 6 months to 3 years. Westies with skin issues shouldn't be bred.
Underlying skin problems cause Westies to lose their hair, so instead of a happy little terrier with a bright white coat, you could be dealing with a balding small dog with smelly, crusty skin. "Skin problems constitute the single largest health concern with Westies and probably no other health issue contributes more to the breed's abandonment or surrender to rescue," according to Westie Rescue of Northern California. While all breeds are susceptible to atopic dermatitis, this allergic reaction hits Westies especially hard. Through skin testing, your vet can narrow down what's causing your dog's scratching and hair loss. Common culprits include food, flea and environmental allergies, such as pollen or molds.
Possibly nothing wreaks as much havoc on a Westie's coat as the yeast infection known as Malassezia dermatitis. It occurs as a secondary infection, usually because the Westie is suffering from atopic dermatitis. Symptoms include constant itching, hair loss and crusty, foul-smelling lesions. Within a short time, your little white dog's skin looks like it belongs on an elephant.
For best results, take your Westie to a veterinary dermatologist. The initial allergy must be identified and treated in addition to treating the Malassezia dermatitis. For a yeast infection, your vet might prescribe yeast-killing shampoos, along with oral medication. You'll need to bathe your dog frequently for a few weeks to eliminate the yeast infection. Your vet also might prescribe antibiotics to fight skin infections.
Your Westie's skin and coat will require some type of management for the rest of his life. If you're lucky, dietary changes eliminate the food allergies, monthly oral or topical flea control gets rid of biting insects and veterinarian-prescribed antihistamines curb the pollen reaction. Your vet also can recommend supplements to aid in keeping your Westie's coat and skin healthy. Unfortunately, not all Westies regrow their coats, even with careful management.
- Westie Foundation of America: Atopic Dermatitis, a Common Skin Disease of West Highland White Terriers -- A Seminar
- Westie Rescue of Northern California: Tip #6 -- Skin Problems
- Westie Med: Malassezia Dermatitis (Yeast Infection of the Skin)
- Veterinary Partner: Malassezia Dermatitis (Yeast Infection of the Skin)
- Westie and Scottie Rescue Houston: Skin Problems
- Chris Amaral/Digital Vision/Getty Images