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West Highland White Terrier - History and Health

Source: PetWave, Updated on July 16, 2015
West Highland White Terrier


The Westie is grouped with and probably closely related to the other terriers of Scotland, including the Cairn, the Dandie Dinmont, the Scottish and the Skye. It was bred to be a working terrier, going to ground to combat rats, rabbit, badger and fox. Legend has it that Colonel Malcolm was hunting with his small brown terriers and accidentally shot his favorite, mistaking it for a fox. Malcolm apparently set about developing a small white dog that could perform all the functions of a working terrier but would never be accidentally mistaken for prey. He selected the lightest puppies from litters of Cairn Terriers and bred them without crossing with any traditionally tan dogs. Eventually, he created pure white terriers that bred true to type, temperament, function and color.

Originally known by several different names, the West Highland White Terrier became known by its present name in the very early part of the 20th century. It was first shown under its modern name in 1904 at the Scottish Kennel Club dog show in Edinburgh. The Kennel Club (England) officially recognized the present breed name several years later, around the time Westies were first shown at Crufts. An imported bitch named Sky Lady, born in 1906 in England, was the first dog to be officially registered as a “West Highland White Terrier.”

The first Westies probably came to America in or about 1905. The breed obtained American Kennel Club recognition as the Roseneath Terrier in 1908, as a member of the Terrier Group. The official breed name in the United States was changed to the West Highland White Terrier in May of 1909. By the end of the 20th century, the Westie was among the most popular of all dog breeds.

The Westie is adaptable, versatile and athletic, requiring little pampering and being quite adventurous. It retains its keen nose and boundless enthusiasm for “going to earth” to flush rodents and other small game, whether in a natural or a competitive field trial setting. Westies excel at tracking, agility, obedience and other performance disciplines, as well as in the conformation ring. They have been used as therapy and service dogs and are equally happy in urban or rural environments. These are delightful, active and independent little dogs that require time and dedication to make them excellent companions.


The average life span of the West Highland White Terrier is 12 to 14 years. Breed health concerns may include copper toxicosis, globoid cell leukodystrophy, Legg-Calve-Perthes disease, pulmonary fibrosis, pulmonic stenosis, generalized demodicosis, hepatitis, pyruvate kinase deficiency, congenital deafness, keratoconjunctivitis sicca (dry eye), corneal ulceration, cataracts, ectopic ureters, epidermal dysplasia (Armadillo Westie syndrome; Malassezia dermatitis) and white shaker dog syndrome.

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