Westies are cute, cheerful, affectionate terriers in general very tough, no-nonsense healthy dogs; however, they can develop a number of skin conditions.
Westie owners need to be prepared to quickly notice and identify Westie skin problems and be able to either treat them at home or point them out to the veterinarian so the veterinarian can prescribe the appropriate treatment. Here, we present information about common skin conditions of Westies.
Skin Problems Westies Face with Treatment Advice
1. Dry Skin
The most common skin problem affecting Westies is dry skin. They often develop severe dandruff, may have red spots on their skin, and be very itchy and scratch and bite at themselves.
Although this condition is commonly referred to as dry skin, it is more properly referred to as a dandruff-related condition. The same conditions that cause dandruff in people can cause dandruff in Westies.
Dry skin is easily treated. The veterinarian will prescribe a special medicated shampoo to treat the condition and may suggest certain supplements to improve the dog’s general skin health.
Athough they are tough and hardy, Westies are very prone to developing allergies. Allergies can cause distressing symptoms for dogs, primarily itching, and when they scratch and chew at their itchy body parts, they can cause sores, skin irritation, and hair loss. The sores and irritation lead to more scratching and chewing, and a cycle of deteriorating skin health can develop.
It can often be tricky to determine the cause of a particular dog’s allergies. Environmental allergies tend to occur only at certain times of the year while food allergies tend to occur year-round. However, allergies to indoor dust, mold, and fleas can also occur year-round.
Food allergies are more likely to cause skin lesions over the dog’s entire body, recurrent ear infections, and may also cause vomiting or diarrhea. Environmental allergies are more likely to cause paw chewing and skin lesions on the belly. A veterinarian can run a skin sensitivity test to help determine what the dog is allergic to.
Popular Treatments for Dog Allergies
If the cause of the allergy is determined to be food, a diet change will resolve the problem. However, sometimes it can be difficult to determine the ingredient that is causing the allergy, and some trial-and-error may be necessary. It should be noted that food allergy symptoms may take up to a month to resolve after making a diet change.
The most common food allergens in order of commonness are:
Some dogs are allergic to multiple foods, and they may need to eat a special hypoallergenic prescription diet available only through a veterinarian.
Treatment of environmental allergies can be more difficult than food allergies. These allergens generally cannot be avoided and thus the dog’s symptoms have to be treated instead. Antihistamines are the mainstay of treatment; a veterinarian can suggest the best one and the proper dose.
In some severe cases, regular shots of the allergen can desensitize the dog to the allergen and after repeated doses the dog will become permanently cured of their allergy.
Allergies to fleas can usually be controlled by removing fleas from the dog and from the home environment. A veterinarian can prescribe topical or oral medication to keep fleas from re-infesting the dog.
Providing a daily dose of omega-3 fatty acids can also help reduce the symptoms of allergies. These are available in both liquid and capsule form as salmon oil, sardine oil, fish oil, or purified and concentrated omega-3 fatty acids.
3. Atopic Dermatitis
Atopic dermatitis is a common condition in Westies, estimated to affect around twenty-five percent of Westies. It usually first manifests in young dogs between the ages of six months and three years; it is very rare for an older dog to suddenly develop this condition.
Atopic dermatitis is characterized by incessant year-round itching. Anti-histamines and/or corticosteroids can help relieve the itching. It is unclear if this condition is related to allergies, or if it is a different condition altogether; some dogs can get both atopic dermatitis and seasonal allergies.
4. Hyperplastic Dermatosis
Hyerplastic dermatosis is a condition that has only ever been identified in Westies. It is not very common even in Westies, but can be a severe and debilitating gradually progressive condition.
The condition appears to be inherited in specific lines of Westies and therefore the breeder should be notified if your Westie develops the condition so the breeder can attempt to eliminate it from their breeding program. It seems to be inherited as a predisposition to the condition, but the condition needs to be triggered by allergies or a yeast infection before it begins to manifest.
Symptoms include reddening of the fur and scaly skin lesions. The skin is lumpy, scaly, bumpy, and very dry, and often hair loss occurs. It usually begins as mild symptoms that slowly progress to a very severe condition.
Treating any co-existing yeast infections (see below) or allergies can briefly interrupt the progression of the disease and make the dog more comfortable, but inevitably the disease progresses. Corticosteroids can sometimes delay the progression of the disease.
One research group treated an affected dog with injections of interferon gamma three times a week for two weeks, followed by a maintenance injection every two weeks thereafter. The dog started to improve during the third week of treatment and by two months its condition had dramatically improved.
The researchers speculated that some kind of inherited cytokine imbalance triggered by hypersensitivity to an unknown allergen had induced the dog’s condition, and the interferon gamma was able to correct the imbalance. It is likely that affected dogs will need to continue lifelong maintenance therapy to keep the condition under control.
5. Hot Spots and Yeast Infections
Hot spots and yeast infections of the skin are usually complications of any of the above skin conditions. They can be frustrating and very difficult to treat.
Hot spots are round, red spots found on the skin caused by bacterial infections of skin damaged by a scratching dog. They can be very painful to the dog; some dogs pull their fur out around the spot in frustration.
Hot spots should be seen by a veterinarian. The first step in treatment is clipping the fur away over and around the hot spot to allow topical treatments to be applied.
Topical treatment consists of applying a corticosteroid/antibiotic cream to the area daily. The dog needs to be prevented from biting, licking, or scratching at the hot spot and may need to wear a cone.
In severe cases, the dog many need to take oral antibiotics to help cure the infection and allow the skin to heal. Hot spots often take some time to heal even after the infection has been cleared up.
Infection of the skin by the yeast Malassezia is a common complication of skin conditions in the Westie. Symptoms include hair loss, intense itching, black oily crusty skin, an unpleasant odor, and ear infections. The condition usually progressively gets worse.
Malassezia yeast is found on the skin of most dogs, but in most dogs it does not cause any symptoms or infections. Westies appear to be susceptible to developing Malassezia yeast infections in response to any kind of trauma or damage to the skin, such as scratching because of allergies or a minor wound.
A veterinarian can attempt to diagnosis the condition under a microscope after taking a skin scraping. However, since Malassezia is normally found on the skin, this type of examination is not very conclusive.
Treatment first consists of twice a week bathing in special medicated shampoos. Often the dog appears to get worse before it gets better, but after regular bathing for several weeks, some dogs will start to improve.
For dogs that do not respond to bathing, oral medication can be used; most dogs will respond within two weeks and gradually improve over six weeks. However, because the medication can have toxic side effects and is very expensive, it is usually only used if the topical treatment fails to help the dog.
Although Westies are generally tough, healthy, easy to care for dogs, they are prone to skin conditions and disorders. We have listed the five most common such conditions in Westies along with tips as to how to recognize these conditions and treat them. If you have any questions or concerns, please ask about them in the comments.