Westie lung disease, also known as pulmonary fibrosis, causes inflammation, thickening, and scarring of the lung tissue. As you can imagine, this can cause a dog to have trouble breathing because the lungs become rigid, and lose their elasticity. This results in a decreased ability to take in oxygen and results in lower blood oxygen levels. The exact cause of Westie lung disease is unknown, meaning that it is idiopathic, but veterinarians do know that West Highland Terriers are prone to this disease and that it predisposes them to other respiratory issues such as bronchitis and pneumonia.
What Is Westie Lung Disease?
Westie Lung Disease, or Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis, is a progressive condition that develops slowly throughout one to two years. As the lung tissue becomes less elastic and scar tissue develops, the lungs cannot expand normally, so there is a reduced transfer of oxygen into the bloodstream. Owners may wonder how many lungs does a dog has, and the answer is two (just like humans). As the lungs work to compensate, this also affects the heart, which also needs to work harder to pump oxygen throughout the body.
Research of Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis in both dogs and humans has pointed to genetic factors and can be exacerbated by irritants such as dust, cigarette smoke, bacteria, or other microscopic organisms.
How Common Is Westie Lung Disease?
A genetic component is believed to be the primary cause of Westie Lung disease in dogs, and West Highland Terriers are affected more than any other breed. This disease usually affects middle-aged to older dogs, and although current genetic studies have not identified a specific gene for lung disease, ongoing research suggests that there is a relationship between Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis, allergies, and immune response. If the veterinarian determines that a Westie suffers from allergies, certain remedies may be prescribed to alleviate symptoms.
What Are The Symptoms Of Westie Lung Disease?
Symptoms of Westie Lung disease start slowly and gradually progress, and the signs and symptoms can mimic those of COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) in dogs. Symptoms include:
Crackling in the lungs. The earliest symptom is a crackling in the lungs, and this becomes more apparent as the disease progresses. This most often can only be heard via a veterinarian stethoscope.
Exercise intolerance. Westies with this condition do not have the energy to run, play or go on long walks without becoming fatigued and out of breath.
Coughing. This is another symptom of the inability to get enough oxygen into the lungs.
Labored breathing. This will occur as a result of the inability to move oxygen efficiently, and the dog must breathe harder to get enough oxygen.
Lying on the side or back. Some owners have reported that their Westies diagnosed with lung disease wanted to prefer to lie on their sides or their backs, probably to take pressure off of the chest.
Wheezing. Like labored breathing, wheezing occurs to move oxygen. This sign may mimic signs of lung cancer symptoms in dogs.
Increased breathing rate. Because of lung scar tissue and the inability to fully expand, the breathing rate will increase, and often be shallow rather than big breaths.
Lethargy. Fatigue and lethargy are also a result of lower oxygen levels.
Open mouth breathing. This happens to take in more oxygen.
Cyanotic (blue) tongue or gums. This is a serious symptom, resulting in the body’s inability to move oxygen, causing hypoxia (a lack of sufficient oxygen to body tissues).
Dizziness and fainting (syncope). These symptoms constitute a medical emergency and occur because not enough oxygen is getting to the brain. This is a common symptom of late-stage pulmonary fibrosis.
How Is Westie Lung Disease Diagnosed?
Diagnostic tests are essential to rule out other chronic diseases such as bronchitis, asthma, or cardiac disease. A proper diagnosis is obtained by a veterinarian specializing in internal medicine or cardiology and entails a thoracic (chest) CT scan, X-rays, bronchoscopy, echocardiogram, or non-invasive tests such as blood gas analysis that can measure oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in the blood. To obtain a definite diagnosis, a veterinary internal specialist may suggest a lung biopsy, but this is an invasive procedure and entails general anesthesia or sedation.
How Is Westie Lung Disease Treated?
Westie lung disease is often treated with steroid therapy which reduces lung inflammation and the advancement of scarring. Veterinarians may also prescribe other medications such as bronchodilators to help improve lung aeration or blood pressure medications to control blood flow to the heart. Veterinarians also recommend modest exercise, such as shorter walks, and avoiding over physical exertion.
What Is The Prognosis For Westie Lung Disease?
Unfortunately, there is no cure for Westie Lung Disease, but treatment can help slow the progression. Sadly, the prognosis is poor, and as the disease progresses, is ultimately fatal. However, disease progression varies from dog to dog, and while others may live several months, others may more rapidly deteriorate.
What Is The Life Expectancy Of A Westie With Lung Disease?
The average life expectancies of Westies who are healthy range from 12-16 years. The mean survival time for Westie Lung Disease after diagnosis is between one and five years, but this can vary from one Westie to another depending upon the age of the dog when diagnosed. As mentioned above, signs and symptoms are seen primarily in middle-aged to older dogs ranging in age from 5-10 years.
Many dog owners know that any purebred dog comes with certain issues, whether they are skin issues, orthopedic issues, or GI (gastrointestinal) issues. West Highland Terriers are no exception to this rule and are susceptible to many Westie-specific illnesses. Unfortunately, Westie Lung Disease (Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis) constitutes one of these illnesses and is one of the more serious lung diseases in dogs.
Although there is no cure for this condition, and there are no natural cures for pulmonary fibrosis, owners should learn to recognize signs and symptoms and schedule regular exams and check-ups with their veterinarians once their Westies reach the age of six.