How to Care for a West Highland White Terrier

Westies are active dogs that need daily exercise.
westie au galop image by patrick Normand from

The West Highland white terrier is an active, intelligent and friendly little dog, standing about 11 inches tall. More commonly known as Westies, this breed has the confidence and strength to perform in agility trials or obedience competitions, according to the American Kennel Club. Their coat is bright white with a thick undercoat and coarse topcoat that requires daily grooming. With proper feeding, grooming, training, exercise and veterinary visits, Westies are loyal, confident family dogs.

Step 1

Provide nutritionally balanced food and fresh water to your Westie daily. Most commercially prepared dog foods, whether canned or dry, provide the daily nutrients your Westie requires. If you choose to prepare homemade dog food, provide the necessary daily calorie and nutrient requirements for West Highland white terriers. Your Westie’s food should contain amino acids provided by protein that give your dog energy. Add fatty acids to your Westie’s diet with oils, animal fat and plant foods that keep his white coat and skin healthy and help cell growth. An adult Westie needs 10 percent of his diet calories from protein and up to 4.5 percent from fiber. Up to 50 percent of your dog’s diet can be carbohydrates from legumes and plants, but the National Academy of Sciences recommends avoiding wheat products that do not provide energy or nutrition to your Westie’s diet. Active, adult Westies weighing up to 20 pounds need about 800 calories per day, according to the NAS.

Step 2

Brush and comb your West Highland white terrier daily to keep his coat clean and free from mats. As you brush your Westie, check for signs of dermatitis symptoms including skin inflammation, swelling and painful irritation that causes your dog to scratch and lick his skin. West Highland white terriers are susceptible to dermatitis. Regular bathing with medicated shampoo can help prevent or deter dermatitis, according to "The Westie Health E-Book." Most Westies only need bathing every two to three months. Bathing too often can lead to dry, flaky skin. Brushing your Westie's coarse outer coat removes most of the dirt and keeps him clean. You can use dry, white chalk or powder to absorb dirt and help keep the coat white between baths.

Trim the fur below your Westie’s eyes to prevent matting and stains caused by tearing. Cleaning around your dog’s eyes and the fur below the eyes with hydrogen peroxide every day helps remove the reddish-brown tear stains. Oral antibiotics like tylosin can help stop the tears from staining the white fur, according to You can also use a tear-stain remover sold at most pet stores to clean the stains on the fur below the eyes and on the beard.

Step 3

Exercise your Westie each day to keep his muscular hindquarters and legs in condition. Daily walks and game play help satisfy your dog’s need for exercise. Because of their small size, Westies should not run free without your supervision to prevent injury. Originally bred as vermin hunters, their innate courage can be dangerous when facing larger dogs or other animals. Westies will not run away but stand and fight, no matter what size the opponent.

Step 4

Enroll your Westie in obedience training. This breed is strong-willed, according to the AKC, so obedience training helps any behavior problems that could result from their leadership qualities and help you learn how to handle your dog. Teaching socialization skills also helps your Westie accept other people and animals without becoming aggressive or stressed when out in public.

Step 5

Visit the veterinarian for yearly checkups and ask your vet about health conditions that affect West Highland white terriers. Knowing the medical conditions that Westies are prone to helps you determine when to bring your dog to the veterinarian and what symptoms should concern you. Four of the most common medical conditions affecting Westies are skin irritation caused by atopic dermatitis, breathing problems from pulmonary fibrosis, liver disease from copper toxicosis and bone deterioration from Legg-Calve-Perthes, according to "The Westie Health E-Book."


  • Find a reputable breeder when choosing a West Highland white terrier puppy to help prevent acquiring a dog with congenital defects that can lead to heartbreak later. Reputable breeders do not breed dogs that display defects that can lead to health problems in adult dogs.


  • If your Westie develops dermatitis, check his environment for allergens like dust, pollen and insects that could cause the skin irritation. Food allergies can also cause skin inflammation. Ask your vet to perform an allergy skin test to determine specific allergens that you can remove from your dog's environment or food.

Items You Will Need

  • Dog food
  • Water
  • Grooming brush
  • Grooming comb
  • Veterinarian



About the Author

Karen Curley has more than 18 years experience in health and nutrition, specializing in healthy food choices for families. She received USDA certification in food components, nutrient sources, food groups and infant/child nutrition, and holds a B.A. in English from the University of Massachusetts. Curley is also an avid gardener, home renovator, Collie breeder, dog groomer and dog trainer.

Photo Credits

  • westie au galop image by patrick Normand from