Complete Guide To The West Highland White Terrier (Westie): Care, Grooming, Feeding and More

West Highland White Terriers are daring athletes and bundles of fun. Compact yet rugged, they’re scrappy little dogs with a bubbly personality, reliable temperament and steadfast charm.

I’m a veterinarian with over 20 years of experience. I also had the pleasure of working with a large Westie rescue for 3 years earlier in my career so I’ve seen and treated hundreds of Westies during my career. Below is a compilation of information I’ve gathered from my experience as well as in discussion with many Westie owners.

How Big Do West Highland White Terriers Get?

Westies have a confident posture emphasized by their deep chest, straight back and powerful hindquarters. Averaging 15 – 20 pounds with a height of 10 – 11 inches, they boast sparkling white coats with a coarse, wiry texture.

What Do Westies Look Like?

Their piercing brown eyes are dark and deep-set, and their ears are small, erect and responsive. Their carrot-shaped tail is naturally short and set high on the spine, so it’s ever-present and gives the Westie an engaged, enthusiastic expression. Though similar in appearance to Cairn and Scottish Terriers, they’re easy to distinguish because they come only in white.

What Is The Personality Of A Westie?

West Highland White Terriers are intelligent, agile and always entertaining. Bred to hunt, exercise is a must to keep them physically and mentally stimulated. But they’re fiercely independent and while they’ll enjoy playing with the kids, they excel at individual activities, shining at AKC Earthdog events — non-competitive games that test their individual hunting skills.

The Westie’s white coat gives the impression of fragility, but these are no-nonsense dogs with little need for pampering. They’re sociable and affectionate companions that thrive on human company, yet they’d rather be partners than lap-warmers. Always prepared to give chase, they’re safest in fenced-in yards or on a leash and benefit from early training.

What Are The Grooming Needs Of A Westie?

Westies have double coats that shed year-round and seasonally. Daily brushing with a slicker removes dead hair and helps keep your home neat. Many of my clients will take their Westie to a professional groomer every 6-8 weeks to keep them clean and maintain the specific look that they want.

Basic grooming is straightforward, but trimming near the face can be challenging. If you want your dog to have a traditional Westie look, see an experienced groomer for an AKC-approved show cut. Otherwise, a puppy-style trim is always cute, limiting leg, chest and body hair to two inches while preserving length near the head — it’s the best of both worlds.

A bath every three months is ideal unless they’re frequently soiled — overdoing it can cause dry skin and a dull coat. Westies are prone to stains around their eyes and mouths which regular bathing diminishes. But it can take a specially formulated whitening shampoo to restore the coat’s natural brilliance.

Westies are less vulnerable to infections than dogs with floppy ears because air can reach the canals, but occasional cleaning tames excess wax and unpleasant odors. If hair on their feet is long, check their nails weekly. Wet strands can wind around them and cause significant discomfort.

How Long Do West Highland White Terriers Live?

13-15 years based on information provided by the AKC

What Health Concerns Do West Highland White Terriers Have?

The following list is comprised both of my own experience as well as some of the most common concerns of the national breed club:

  • Atopic Dermatitis (allergies)
  • Dental Disease
  • Luxating Patella
  • Inflammatory Bowel Disease
  • Hip Dysplasia
  • Luxating Patella
  • Kidney Disease

This isn’t an all-compassing list. Rather, it’s what I typically find in many of my Westies as they age. Some dogs can be afflicted very young in life by some of these conditions.

What Kind Of Dog Food Is Best For West Highland White Terriers?

Westies require no special dietary considerations other than they tend to lean towards obesity as they get older (at least the dogs in my practice have). Because they’re already a small frame size, adding extra calories is easy by giving them high-calorie snacks and small bites of people food.

Before we start with the food lists, just know that grain-free dog foods are a myth. There’s zero science showing that they are helpful. In fact, there’s increasing evidence that it’s causing issues in certain breeds of dogs (so far not   i). Food allergies are the only reason to even consider a grain-free diet but only choose one with the help of your veterinarian.

Basic dog foods that I recommend include:

Over the Counter Weight Management Diets:

How Much Exercise Do West Highland White Terriers Need?

As puppies, Westies are quite energetic and curious. They need lots of walks and interaction in order to mature into the kind of dog that will settle well into your home.

As adults, most Westies will do well with one big walk during the day with a few additional indoor play sessions.

I find that many Westies enjoy shaking or tugging on toys as this is their natural instinct. Westies were bred to hunt and kill small rodents and still have that instinct to this day.

Where Can I Find West Highland White Terriers?

If you’re looking for a highly reputable breeder, go with the list provided by the West Highland White Terrier Club of America.

Check out the AKC list of breeders and available puppies.

Search for a local Breed club that can also help refer you to local breeders.

Thinking of a rescue? Here’s a list of recognized Westie Rescues.

Where To Find More Information About West Highland White Terriers

West Highland White Terrier Club of America is your best source.

The PDSA in the UK provides a great resource about Westies.

Interesting Facts About West Highland White Terriers

There are dozens of reasons to admire West Highland White Terriers, but these endearing facts will send you head over heels for this versatile and delightful breed.

• Westies Were Bred for a Noble Purpose

The British Isles suffered for centuries with rodents. Infestations ravaged much-needed grain stores and carried disease, including the plague. Bred to hunt rats, Westies are credited with providing a vital public health service, making quick work of vermin from mice to rats.

• They’re a Dog by Many Names

Westies are an older breed. Once known as the Poltalloch or Roseneath Terrier to reflect the Scottish estates on which they were bred, they were officially recognized by the AKC in 1908 and became officially known as the West Highland White Terrier the following year.

Their White Coat Protects Them

Colonel Edward Malcolm, leader of the Clan Malcolm, accidentally shot his favorite terrier thinking he was a fox. Acutely aware that brown dogs can easily be mistaken for prey, he committed from then forward to breeding the all-white Westie with a highly visible white coat.

Westies Have a Big Bark

Westies were bred to be loud so they could be heard in underground tunnels as they chased their prey. A burrow can run hundreds of feet from its entrance, so their insistent bark helped hunter find them near the exit.

• They Occasionally Get Stuck

More than one overly ambitious Westie has been lodged in a burrow smaller than their bodies. Their square build and short hindquarters are the perfect shape for chasing prey, but occasionally, they need rescue, stuck in a too-small tunnel.

• They’ve Melted Celebrity Hearts

Not to be outdone by toy breeds, Westies are good sports with many rich and famous owners. Actress Kate Beckinsale, actor Robert Pattinson, comedian Rob Schneider and the Walking Dead’s Christian Serratos have all had wonderful Westies.

• They’re Famous Mascots

Underrepresented in movies, West Highland White Terriers have had success with advertising gigs. The most famous Westie is Cesar, poster dog for Cesar brand dog food. Apparel maker Juicy Couture and the Black & White Scotch Whiskey company both use the dog’s charming likeness in their ads.

• Westies Can Get Sunburned

A Westie’s ears are delicate and prone to sun damage. But ingredients in human sunscreens can be toxic to canines, so apply a safe titanium dioxide formula made especially for dogs.