Westie Skin Problems – Causes And How To Treat Them

Westie Skin Problems – Causes And How To Treat Them

West Highland Terriers, or “Westies” as they are affectionately referred to, are a wonderful, friendly, and happy-go-lucky breed. However, they are prone to certain skin problems. The most common skin issue among the West Highland Terrier breed is atopic dermatitis, an allergic skin disease that is a hypersensitivity or an immune over-reaction to a variety of substances in the environment. This condition is characterized by chronic scratching, chewing and rubbing which can cause skin damage, infection and inflammation.

But atopic dermatitis is not the only skin issue that Westies face, several other causes can make your best friend quite uncomfortable and itchy as well. We will take an in-depth look at skin problems that are common in Westies, as well as discuss some West Highland Terrier allergies.

Causes Of West Highland Terrier Skin Problems:

1. Atopic Dermatitis

As mentioned above, this is suspect number one when it comes to itchy and red skin in West Highland Terrier breeds. Atopic dermatitis is also known as atopy, atopic disease, atopic dermatitis syndrome, and canine atopic-like dermatitis. This condition possibly affects about 25% of all dogs and is a genetically-predisposed inflammatory and pruritic (itchy) allergic skin disease. Atopic dermatitis is perhaps the number one cause of West Highland Terrier’s health problems.

Westie Atopic Dermatitis

Because this is an allergic condition, it results from an exaggerated immune response to environmental allergens such as pollen, dust, or insects such as mites. Westies with this condition vary in “itchiness” from severe to mild, and they may be itchy all over the body, or just in one area. Studies show that atopic dermatitis has a genetic component, and this condition is estimated to affect at least 25% of West Highland Terriers. Owners can always consult their veterinarians regarding more detailed Westie breed information.

Symptoms of atopic dermatitis include chronic itching, year-round, and it’s unknown whether this condition is triggered by seasonal allergies. But we do know that Westies can suffer from both atopic dermatitis and seasonal allergies. Veterinarians often prescribe antihistamines and/or corticosteroids that can help relieve the itching, as well as allergen-specific immunotherapy (ASIT).

2. Epidermal Dysplasia

Itchy skin caused by allergies is a common issue in many terrier breeds, and about two-thirds of West Highland White Terriers have some sort of skin allergy or issue by age three. Another Westie skin malady includes an inherited condition called “epidermal dysplasia,” or “Westie Armadillo Syndrome.”

Westie Epidermal Dysplasia

This condition first presents in dogs between one and three years old and causes inflamed and red areas on the head, feet, and abdomen. It can be quite painful, and causes hair loss (alopecia) in the affected areas, setting the dog up for recurrent skin yeast infections. Treatment involves oral medications, and shampoos to ease the inflammation, but unfortunately, there is no cure for this condition.

3. Hyperplastic Dermatosis

Hyperplastic dermatosis is not very common in West Highland Terriers but can be a debilitating and gradually progressive skin condition. This particular skin issue has a genetic component in certain breeding lines of Westies and is often triggered by allergies or a yeast infection before signs and symptoms emerge.

Symptoms of hyperplastic dermatosis include red-staining of the fur of West Highland white terrier dogs and the formation of scaly skin lesions. The skin can become bumpy, scaly, and dry, accompanied by hair loss. This condition starts with mild symptoms, but can easily progress to a severe condition. In many cases, veterinarians will prescribe corticosteroids to relieve the inflammation and irritation.

4. Hot Spots

Hot spots are a secondary reaction to allergies or other skin issues, frequently caused by constant scratching and itching of the skin, resulting in a bacterial infection. Hot spots are typically round, moist, red areas on the skin, where the fur is missing and can be very painful. Hot spots should be treated by a veterinarian promptly, as the bacterial infection can spread rapidly. Treatment involves clipping and cleaning the areas, and the prescribing of antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, or topical treatments.

5. Yeast Infections

Yeast infections, caused by the yeast Malassezia, can cause itchy, smelly, and crusty skin, and often looks like a rash. These infections cause intense itchiness, and without treatment, the skin may thicken and give an “elephant-like” appearance to the skin. Also known as “yeast dermatitis,” it causes inflammation in areas such as the ears, skin folds, between paw pads, and in other areas of the body that tend to retain moisture. Treatment often involves shampoos, topical ointments, and anti-fungal medications.

6. Dry Skin

Many Westies suffer from dry skin as well and may develop severe dandruff, red spots, and they often scratch and bite at themselves to relieve the chronic itching. Dry skin is probably the number one cause of dandruff in West Highland Terriers and can be easily treated. Many veterinarians will prescribe medicated shampoos, as well as oral supplements to improve skin health.

Westie with dry skin

7. Environmental Allergies

Many dogs are prone to allergies, and Westies are no exception. Environmental allergies usually are caused by pollens, and typically only occur at certain times of the year. However, environmental allergies caused by indoor mold, dust, and fleas can occur year-round.

These allergies can cause itching, scratching, and chewing, resulting in skin irritation, lesions, and hair loss. In severe cases, the scratching and inflammation caused by environmental allergies can lead to skin trauma and secondary bacterial infections. Veterinarians may prescribe such Westie allergy remedies such as medicated shampoos, allergy shots as well as anti-inflammatories to manage the itching.

8. Food Allergies

Food allergies are a common cause of Westie allergies and skin issues as well as recurrent ear infections and could be a result of a Westie’s diet. Other symptoms include loose stools, flatulence, vomiting, and diarrhea. For those owners who suspect that a food allergy is the cause of their Westie’s skin issues, a diet trial may be in order. When the cause of an allergy is food, a diet change will most likely resolve the problem, and owners should be aware that it might take up to a month for symptoms to resolve.

Westie with food allergy

Owners can consult their veterinarians when conducting a diet trial and might want to keep in mind that the most common types of food allergens can be at the root of skin issues. The primary food allergens include, from most allergenic to least: Beef, dairy, wheat, egg, chicken, lamb, soy, pork, rabbit, and fish. It is recommended for owners to coordinate with their veterinarians when conducting a Westie diet trial.

9. Flea Allergies

Fleas can also cause allergies, and can be easily controlled by removing fleas from the dog and the home environment, and by the regular use of flea preventatives. Flea allergies are caused by an immune reaction to the flea’s saliva as it bites its host, and can cause skin irritation and itching. Veterinarians typically prescribe topical or oral medications to control flea infestations, omega-3 fatty acids, as well as topical or oral flea preventatives.

Westie with flea allergy


West Highland Terriers are delightful dogs and are generally hearty, healthy, and easy to care for, but they are prone to certain skin problems and disorders. Although some of the skin conditions listed above can cause severe discomfort for many Westies, the good news is that the majority of these conditions can be managed with certain medications, shampoos, and diet.

These conditions also do not adversely affect the life expectancy of Westies. If you have any questions about your West Highland Terrier and potential skin problems, consult your veterinarian. Your veterinarian is your best resource when tackling Westie skin problems.