Westie Characteristics

by Jon Mohrman
    Westies are cuddly-looking little hunters.

    Westies are cuddly-looking little hunters.

    Chris Amaral/Digital Vision/Getty Images

    "Westie" is the nickname for the West Highland white terrier. Dogs of this Scottish breed were originally used as hunters. Their small stature facilitated scurrying down fox dens and maneuvering back out. Their thick outercoat offered protection against fox bites, while their strong jaws allowed them to launch effective attacks. More than two centuries later, Westies are beloved, loving family dogs, though their hunter's instincts still kick in if a mouse goes scurrying across the room.

    Westies have all-white double coats. The undercoat is soft, furry and dense, while the outercoat is significantly stiffer and tougher. The breed is small, compact and sturdy. Adult Westies usually stand 10 to 11 inches tall at the shoulders and weigh between 15 and 22 pounds. Their teeth are relatively large for their heads, and their muzzles are fairly blunt and taper to their black noses. West Highland white terriers also have deep, wide-set, dark brown eyes and erect ears. The legs and tail -- which usually reaches about 5 to 6 inches long -- appear slightly short in relation to the body.

    This breed retains its original hunter's nature, with Westies being quick to go after rodents, birds and other prey animals. For this reason, they don't often get along with other pets, especially those of comparable or smaller size. They're highly active and outgoing, and usually friendly and people-oriented, especially for terriers. However, they can be a bit stubborn and insist on their independence. West Highland white terriers have affectionate moods, but aren't too keen on relaxing in your lap. These dogs keep busy and can be fairly vocal. Westies are easy to train, but only when they're feeling so inclined. They are highly adaptable, and so can thrive in a variety of home environments.

    The average Westie lifespan is 12 to 14 years. They are genetically susceptible to a good deal of health problems, such as atopic dermatitis and other skin conditions; luxating patellae, a problem with the knee caps; Legg-Calvé-Perthes disease, which affects the hip joints; Addison’s disease, the name given to adrenal gland insufficiency; dry eye and cataracts; chronic hernias; liver disease; fibrosis in the lungs; the tremor disorder white shaker dog syndrome; craniomandibular osteopathy, a condition causing jaw deformities; and globoid cell leukodystrophy, also known as Krabbe disease, an often fatal degenerative disease affecting the nervous system. If you have a Westie, ask your vet about regular health screenings and preventive care.

    Westies are particularly light shedders with low-maintenance coats. The tough outercoat does a good job repelling dirt. However, the undercoat should be combed regularly -- even daily for adults -- to prevent mats and tangles. These dogs get quite shaggy, so they do require occasional haircuts. A professional groomer can keep your West Highland white terrier looking her best, and he can tend to other tasks like bi-weekly nail trimmings. Brush your Westie's teeth every day, or as close to it as possible, with a veterinarian-recommended toothbrush and canine toothpaste to keep her doggy breath fresh and to reduce the risk of periodontal disease.

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    About the Author

    Jon Mohrman has been a writer and editor for more than seven years. He specializes in food, travel and health topics. He attended the University of Pittsburgh for English literature and San Francisco State University for creative writing.

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