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The West Highland White Terrier

A West Highland White Terrier lays in green grass

Claudia Bensimoun author of The West Highland White Terrier

As one of the cutest dog breeds, the West Highland White Terrier, also known as the Poltalloch Terrier, or Westie, originated from Scotland.

It is thought that this breed was bred on the Poltalloch estate of the Malcolm family, and the Roseneath estate of the Duke of Argyll. The West Highland White Terrier was bred to hunt foxes together with a working pack of terriers.

This breed had several different names which included Poltalloch, White Scottish, Roseneath, Little Skye, and Cairn, and was first registered in 1908 with the AKC as the Roseneath Terrier. This was changed in 1909 to the West Highland Terrier. 


Today, the Westie is a popular companion dog. That said, this breed was bred to hunt foxes and catch rodents. During the early 20th century, the Westie was bred with the Cairn Terrier. The color difference in both breeds is what distinguishes them today. This breed was also known as “earth dogs,” because they were so good at catching and dispensing rats. The West Highland Terrier today is one of the most competitive terriers in the show ring and ranks high in popularity because of its happy and curious temperament.

Physical Description

The Westie is a small, compact, and hardy dog breed. This breed was bred to be able to fit in between narrow passageways between rocks to hunt foxes. With a well-balanced body that is slightly taller than it is long, the Westie has a broad skull and blunt muzzle. This breed has medium-sized, brown, almond-shaped eyes, with a black nose; and small, erect ears. 

The head is round. The tail is short and carrot-shaped and is carried upwards. The feet are round. The Westie has a double coat that has a hard, straight outer coat, and is rougher around the face, making the Westie’s head appear round. There is profuse hair on the head. This breed has a soft and fluffy undercoat. The coat color is white. This friendly and spunky dog breed has lots of self-esteem and is enjoyable to be around. 


  • Males:11 inches
  • Females: 10 inches


  • 15-20 pounds

 Life Expectancy

  • 12-17 years 


The Westie is a spunky, fun-loving dog that is friendly and outgoing with a huge personality. This breed is also courageous, and independent, and always seems to be busy. The Westie thrives on companionship and being with their loved ones.

The Westie is a digger, and very capable of escaping from under fencing. It’s best to always supervise Westie’s when out in the backyard. This is a friendly dog breed that always seems to be busy. That said, this small dog breed may not be friendly around other small pets.

This breed should never be left alone outside. Westie’s are even-tempered. That said, depending on the particular dog, some Westie’s may not be child- friendly. A Westie does well in a family environment with older children. This breed thrives on being close to his pet parent and being taken everywhere including pet vacays, dog beaches, and dog parks.

Activity Level:


Special Needs 

Westies need plenty of regular exercise. This is an energetic breed that enjoys a good long walk. This breed does well with terrier- experienced pet parents. The Westie is great with apartment living, and on farms. They need firm, positive training starting early, as well as plenty of socialization.

This breed does well on-leash, as well as off-leash, but needs to be supervised carefully. The Westie is an intelligent breed that is very active. They excel in a variety of fun canine sports like rally, obedience, and agility, and enjoy plenty of playtime at home. Although independent and stubborn, the Westie loves to dig and escape.

Possible Health Concerns

The Westie is an active and healthy dog breed that may be susceptible to the following:

  • Copper Toxicosis:This is when there is an abnormal level of copper accumulation in the dog’s liver.
  • Pancreatic Enzyme Deficiency:Also known as exocrine pancreatic insufficiency where the affected dog will starve to death, even though he’s eating. Consult with your veterinarian if your Westie is losing weight, but is constantly eating.
  • Pulmonary Fibrosis:This is common in the Westie, and is known as “Westie lung disease”
  • Inflammatory Bowel Disease:This is when the intestines are chronically inflamed and dogs will show symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea and weight loss.
  • Bladder Cancer: This is common in the Westie, and tends to occur around 8 years of age.
  • CMO:Craniomandibular Osteopathy, also known as “Westie Jaw” is a developmental disease that affects the jaw and skull.
  • White Shaker Syndrome:This is a neurological disease that is mainly seen in dogs with white coats. This can be seen in the Westies as young as 5 months to 3 years.
  • Globoid Cell Leukodystrophy:This is a genetic lysosomal storage disorder that causes neurological damage. It can be fatal during the first year of life and is caused by an autosomal deficiency. Symptoms begin to appear at around 4 weeks of age,


TheWestie needs regular exercise and off-leash trips to the dog park and beach. Although this breed is small, exercise is crucial for good health and mental stimulation. That said, the Westie enjoys going everywhere with his pet parent. This breed enjoys the outdoors and is fantastic around horses.

As both an indoor and outdoor dog breed, the Westie does well with regular short dog walks and playtime in the garden. The Westie has such an enjoyable personality that makes trying out a variety of dog sports fun.

Pet parents to the Westie should try out agility, terrier racing, earth dog, and Barn Hunt events. The Westie doesn’t hang around lazily at home but wants to do everything that you do. This breed is very sociable and needs to have a job. Remember to keep him busy with plenty ofdog toys!


High-quality dog food for the appropriate life stage is recommended for Westies. This breed can get rather obese with the wrong diet and too many treats. Pet parents should never underestimate the importance of a well-balanced diet for this small breed.  

Here are some tips when choosing a portion of high-quality dog food for your Westie:

  • Dog food formulas should contain no artificial flavors, colors or preservatives such as propylene glycol.
  • Diets should include whole foods instead of processed foods.
  • They should also use real meat instead of meat meal.
  • Organ meats are good.
  • Look out for by-products such as organ meats, which are fine, but no non-meat parts.
  • There should be a good source of calcium in the dog food formula.
  • The formulas should contain vegetables for fiber and nutrients such as flavonoids.
  • Diets need to be tested using AAFCO feeding trials, or by formulation to meet AAFCO nutrient profiles.
  • Formulas should contain antioxidants, Omega 3’s, healthy ingredients, and a balanced diet for the appropriate life stage.  

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The wire coat of a Westie has to be combed every day, with clipping every three months. The Westie that shows needs to have its coat stripped, and kept white.

Daily grooming for the Westie is important. Terrier hair needs to be well-maintained to prevent matting. Pet parents will often have their Westie clipped for convenience and neatness. It also makes for no-hassle grooming if you’re a busy pet parent or live out in the countryside. Bathing should be weekly, depending on how often your Westie has fun in the outdoors.

Regular nail clipping and twice-yearly visits to the dental veterinary hygienist is necessary to prevent gum disease in dogs. That said, your Westie needs regular dental care and ear cleaning. Doggie wipes work well for general mini touch-ups when your Westie gets dirty in-between bathing.

If you’re using a professional groomer, be sure to check references. Westies are a small dog breed that needs to be treated gently and enjoy lots of positive reinforcements like healthy dog treats. These can be used to reward your Westie when he behaves during a nail trim and positive dog training.

Adopting a Westie 

The Westie was bred to hunt rats, foxes, and badgers. Today, they are most popular as country or city companion dogs. Because they’re super hardy as a breed and have boundless energy, you’ll have to make sure that this breed is well-socialized and trained from puppyhood because they may be overbearing with children and other pets later in. 

This feisty and friendly dog breed needs time to adjust to new surroundings, and like all rescue dogs may be very nervous at first. It may take a few weeks for him to adapt. The Westie needs a lot of supervision and love in his new home. That said, this breed loves to dig under fences and escape. Be consistent when positively training your Westie at home. Go to dog training classes, and allow your Westie to socialize with other dogs. This dog breed needs to be kept busy because he has so much energy. 

The Westie makes for yet another terrific adoption! As always make sure that you’ve pet-proofed your home and garden before welcoming your rescue home. There will be many areas of your home and garden that your new Westie will have access to, and this cheerful and feisty breed sure knows how to escape in a matter of minutes!

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Meet The Author 

Claudia Bensimoun author of The West Highland White Terrier

Claudia Bensimoun

Claudia Bensimoun is a freelance journalist and author, and specializes in veterinary content, and eBooks. She's a long-time feature writer for Animal Wellness magazine, Fido Friendly magazine, and the United States Dog Agility Association. In addition, Bensimoun has written for numerous pet websites, magazines, newspapers and online publications. Her interests include wildlife conservation, animal welfare, disaster/humanitarian relief, veterinary research, and veganism.

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