Given their compressed and appealing physiques; their winsome and fun-loving behavior; and their dauntless and affectionate temperaments, it is hard to believe that West Highland Terriers were originally bred to hunt rats. Well, maybe not so hard. At work and play “Westies” are bundles of energy, slowing down only when their tanks run dry. Less than a foot high and rarely exceeding 20 pounds in weight, the attentive Westie makes up for its miniature stature with sharp alertness and surprising courage. Little slows these snow-white fur-balls down…though allergies might. Yet, westie allergies are not as inevitable as popular perceptions might indicate.
Do All Westies Develop Allergies? I have to be honest: the fact is that most Westies will develop some allergies as they age. No, not 100 percent of them will, but enough to make the probability high among the breed. Like people, these dogs can develop sensitivity to allergens like pollen, dust mites and mold. Other allergic stimulants are flea saliva, wheat, corn and nylon carpeting.
Often, the allergic reaction will manifest itself on the skin, a condition known as atopic dermatitis. Other responses occur in the digestive tract. The diversity of allergies is matched by as many treatment options. Antibiotics, antihistamines, topical ointments and dietary regimes–or a combination of them–are all employed to arrest allergic reactions. As I will explain, westie allergy remedies and therapies can range from completely effective to providing only marginal relief. Most Westies, however, live out the span of their years (13 to 15) with little discomfort once diagnosed and treated.
When Skin Is Irritated
So many substances that cause congestion and hay fever in humans have a different effect on Westies: their skin becomes very itchy. Constant licking of the paws, rubbing of the face and scratching of the ears are tell-tale signs that my Westie is having a allergic reaction. Atopic dermatitis lands on the belly, the feet or anywhere there are skin folds. This condition affects about 25 percent of all Westies, according to the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare in the United Kingdom. The itchiness can be either localized or more widespread over the body. For some dogs the irritation is mild while for others it is maddeningly severe.
Who wants to see their beloved Westie in such distress? Fortunately, there are some mitigating realities. For one thing, since pollen is a major culprit, this misery is often seasonal (small comfort to a Westie in the throes of it) and passes when the atmospheric levels diminish. Furthermore, since atopic dermatitis is likely genetic in origin, breeders–when at all possible–are looking to eliminate carriers from their population, lessening the overall share of Westies with this ailment. More significantly, the combination of consistent bathing, antifungal medicine and antibiotics can substantially suppress the itchiness associated with atopic dermatitis. Specially formulated shampoos help to restore healthy skin that has been damaged by excessive scratching.
Other allergic skin reactions include malassezia dermatitis, a serious yeast response that also brings on itch and skin coarsening akin to atopy. Some Westies fail to generate the necessary antibodies that normally fight this condition off. In such cases, the antifungal agents and frequent baths also provide relief. Sometimes, though not always, a malassezia vaccine proves to be helpful. Urticaria (commonly known as hives) can occur after contact with certain foods, medicines, insects or even excessive sun exposure. It recedes when such irritants are wliminated. In the mean time, veterinarians may prescribe antihistamines. Angioedema–a similar affliction–is treated likewise.
Older Westies are especially prone to food allergies. Immune responses are triggered by a variety of edibles: chicken, turkey, pork, eggs, dairy, peanuts and wheat, to name a few. Veterinarians and other scientists believe the protein content of these substances is what the dogs react to. Important to distinguish are allergies from intolerances. While symptoms might look similar, allergic reactions are immune responses whereas signs of food intolerance originate from digestive processing problems. Among the allergic reactions are diarrhea, vomiting and loss of appetite.
Avoiding Food Allergy Incidents
The fact that such allergies can arise mid-to-later in life suggest that diets will have to evolve as the Westie ages. Many dog food suppliers carry brands that are tailored to older dogs for just that reason. If fresh ingredients are preferred, owners may have to engage in some trial and error to determine an optimal dietary regime. In general, meat allergies occur more often than do grain allergies. Among grains, the high-carbohydrate, low-protein varieties are the least risky. Potato starch is a go-to nutrient when a Westie exhibits numerous allergies. In the end, however, no food is beyond suspicion.
Treating Digestive Disorders from Allergy
Treating food-based allergic reactions in Westies ranges from simple to complicated. Among the more elementary instructions is to have lots of clean, fresh water available. Especially for older West Highland Terriers, diarrhea can induce dehydration quickly, so water is absolutely essential. If the diarrhea is accompanied by vomiting, removing food altogether for about 12 hours is advised. Should symptoms continue for a day or more, call the vet — sooner if red streaks appear in the stool. This indicates bleeding in the gastrointestinal tract. Included among veterinary treatments is intravenous electrolyte supplementation and other medications that can condense the stool.
Related Questions and Answers
Q: What other health problems to Westies tend to suffer from?
A: This breed may develop keratoconjunctivitis sicca, or dry eye in the course of life, as well as cataracts. Globoid cell leukodystrophy is a degenerative disorder that strikes more than a few West Highland Terriers. Like all dogs, Westies can go deaf in the later years.
Q: Are there some breeds that are healthier than others?
A: Mutts and hybrid breeds (e.g. the Labradoodle) tend to be hardier and more robust in terms of health. In terms of pure breeds, the German Short-haired Pointer, the Siberian Husky, the Border Collie, the Fox Hound and the Chihuahua have reputations for requiring the least medical attention.