West Highland white terriers--or Westies--are small, hardy dogs originating in Poltalloch, Scotland, in the 19th century. They are long-lived and happy, thrive in a loving family environment, and are good with children. As a breed, Westies are more prone than other breeds to skin and coat problems.
Dermatitis is a general term for inflammation of the skin. It is caused by a variety of factors within and outside the home. It generally presents as persistent itching and scratching, hot spots, bare patches and/or discolouration in the coat. Identifying the cause can be difficult, but is crucial in treating the underlying problem.
Westies are particularly prone to atopic dermatitis, which is an allergy to one or more substances in the environment (such as pollen or dust). Affected dogs tend to lick and scratch affected areas causing bald patches in the coat. This can cause secondary problems as skin is damaged and infection takes hold. Treatment is with medicated shampoo, alongside antihistamines and steroids.
Itchy skin or coat discolouration around muzzle and rear might be the result of food sensitivity. In vulnerable dogs, repeated exposure to ingredients such as wheat, soya and beef can set off an immune response. This results in skin inflammation and the telltale scratching/licking response. Treatment involves an elimination diet to find the cause, and the establishment of a diet that is tolerated by the dog.
If pus-filled sores are seen on the skin, then the problem might be pyoderma, an allergic response to a bacterial attack. Staphylococcus is often implicated, infection setting in where the skin has previously been scratched or damaged. Discolouration or bald patches in the coat might occur if treatment with antibiotics is not started quickly.
Regular use of flea treatment is important, as it only takes one flea bite to cause skin problems. It is a flea's saliva which provokes the immune response, resulting in inflammation and irritation. Treatment is with antihistamines, steroids and medicated shampoo.
The Westie Coat
Westies have a thick, furry undercoat and a harder outer coat. To groom correctly, you must comb through to the undercoat or it might become matted. This can lead to accumulation of dirt, discomfort for the dog and the possibility of infection. Regular visits to a competent groomer for clipping will keep the coat in good condition.
Westie owners can minimise risk of skin and coat problems by regular grooming (which will show any redness under the coat), frequent use of veterinary flea treatment, feeding of a high-quality natural diet, and prompt attention to the first signs of excessive licking or scratching.