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Skin Problems with Westies

Veterinarians are consulted by dog owners for skin problems more than any other group of diseases. Dog’s skin is almost as sensitive as human skin and both suffer from almost the same ailments, though occurrence of acne in dog is rare. For this reason, veterinary dermatology has developed into a specialty practiced by many vets.

Since many skin problems have visual symptoms that are almost identical, it requires the skill of an experienced veterinary dermatologist to identify and cure many of the more severe skin disorders. Pet stores sell many treatments for skin problems but most of the treatments are directed at symptoms and not at the underlying problems.

If your dog is suffering from a skin disorder, you should seek professional assistance as quickly as possible. As with all diseases, the earlier a problem is identified and treated, the more likely is the cure.


Hereditary Skin Problems

Veterinary dermatologists are currently researching a number of skin disorders that are believed to have a hereditary basis. These hereditary diseases are transmitted by both parents, who appear normal but have a recessive gene for the disease; meaning that they carry, but are not affected by, the disease. These diseases pose serious problems to breeders because in some instances there are no methods to identify carriers.

Among the hereditary skin disorders, for which the mode of inheritance is known, are acrodermatitis, cutaneous asthenia, hematopoiesis, color dilution alopecia and nodular dermatofibrosis. Some of these disorders are limited to one or two breeds, while other affect a large number of breeds. In West Highland White terriers, epidermal dysplasia is most commonly found. Young puppies manifest dark-colored skin and are very itchy. The dark, thickened skin appears dry but greasy, like a dog suffering from bad allergies. Diagnosis is accomplished by skin biopsies and only experienced dermatologists are qualified to identify epidermal dysplasia. There is no known cure, but vets prescribe potent topical and oral medications to control the discomfort. Affected dogs and their relatives should not be bred.


Auto-Immune Skin Conditions

Auto-immune skin conditions are commonly referred to as being allergic to yourself, while allergies are usually inflammatory reactions to an outside agent. Auto-immune diseases cause serious damage to the tissues that are involved. The best known auto-immune disease is lupus, which affects people as well as dogs.

The signs are variable and may affect kidneys, bones, blood and skin. It can be fatal to both dogs and humans, though it is not thought to be transmissible. It is usually successfully treated with cortisone, prednisone or similar corticosteroid, but extensive use of these drugs can have harmful side effects.


Airborne Allergies

Westies show greater tendency toward inhalant allergies than other breeds. The usual offenders include pollen, dust and molds. Humans have hay fever, rose fever and other fevers from which they suffer during the pollination season. Many dogs suffer from the same allergies. When the pollen count is high, your dog might suffer but don’t expect him to sneeze and have a runny nose, like a human would. Dogs react to pollen allergies the same they react to fleas, they scratch and bite themselves.

Westies tend to rub their faces with their front feet, lick and bite at their front feet and develop rashes on their bellies or in the armpits. Westies are very susceptible to airborne pollen and house-dust allergies, so do not think that your Westie will only encounter potential allergens outdoors. Dogs, like humans, can be tested for allergens. Discuss the testing with your veterinary dermatologist.

How to Get Rid of My Westie’s Itching

Westie Itching

Skin care is importatant for Westie’s

Have your veterinarian do a general examination. Make sure your Westie is free of mange and fleas. If either is present, follow your vet’s treatment instructions carefully. Treat your home also to prevent re-infestation.

Have your dog’s blood tested. A general blood panel will tell the vet is there is a problem with your dog’s thyroid that is causing the itching. If so, your vet will prescribe medication to regulate the thyroid.

Get A Simple Psoriasis Test

Consider skin tests for allergies. If other causes have been ruled out, consider doing tests to find specific allergies. If allergies are found, your vet will recommend an elimination diet, which can systematically eliminate those dietary elements that are causing the itching problem. The vet may also prescribe steroid medications or antihistamines.

Have your vet check for malassezia. Malassezia is a yeast-like fungus that is commonly found on dogs. Westies, however, have a problem fighting this particular fungus, and it can cause severe and chronic skin problems for them. The growth of the fungus is affected by high humidity, increased skin oils, immune deficiencies, and flea or food allergies. It is not contagious. The infection is diagnosed by taking a swab or scratching from an infected area and looking at it under a microscope. It can be treated either topically or by an oral medication called ketoconazole. Often, both methods are used. An anti-yeast shampoo also is recommended. This infection is not helped by prednisone medications. Ketoconazole can cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. These side effects can be helped by dividing the medication into smaller doses, or starting with a stomach-coating medicine before taking the ketoconazole

Shampooing to Relieve Itching

Follow your vet’s instructions for bathing your pet. The vet may prescribe a prescription shampoo or an over-the-counter medicated shampoo such as Selsun Blue to reduce the itching. Leave on for 10-15 minutes, then rinse thoroughly several times.

Use a vinegar soak to help itching. Fill tube with lukewarm water. Add 1 to 2 cups Epson salts. Soak dog for 10 minutes. Rinse thoroughly. Empty and re-fill the tub with lukewarm water. Add 1 to 2 cups real apple cider vinegar (not apple-flavored). Wet dog with solution and soak for 10 minutes. Do not rinse.

Tips & Warnings

West Highland white breed experts warn against excessive shampooing of this breed’s coat. Follow your veterinarian’s instructions carefully.

Dog Allergies

What you need to know About Dog Allergies

Constant scratching, tail-biting, coughing and wheezing, eye and nose discharges – if these symptoms commonly occur with your dog, chances are that he/she is suffering from allergies.

Yes, dogs, just like us can suffer from allergies. Roughly about 20 percent of dogs living in our homes suffer from some type of allergy. Major classifications of canine allergies are atopic dermatitis, flea allergy, food allergy and inhalant allergy. 

Atopic Dermatitis

Atopic dermatitis is a skin allergy caused by a hypersensitivity to several and very common substances like molds and dust mites.

If your dog scratches and licks himself excessively (particularly licking and chewing the paws, abdomen and legs), and his/her ears are hot to the touch, he/she may be suffering from atopic dermatitis.

Check to see if your dog’s saliva causes stains. A red to brown stain is another indicator that your dog has atopic dermatitis. In persistent cases, the skin on the abdomen changes color from pink, to a bright red then to black.

Flea Allergy

Flea allergy is the most common form of canine allergy. However, it is not the flea but the flea’s saliva that your dog may be allergic to. To find out if your dog has flea allergies, a skin allergy test is required. If he/she tests positive, a strict control regimen can reduce symptoms. Consult your vet as to what type of treatment is best for your pet. There is a wide array of choices ranging from pills to sprays to shampoos.

Inhalant Allergy

Just like us, dogs are susceptible to allergens inhaled from the air. Pollen from trees, grass, and flowers, dust mites and molds are just some of the common culprits. However, unlike humans who exhibit inhalant allergies through sneezing and coughing, dogs show their reactions through scratching and biting as well as chewing of feet and licking constantly. A less common reaction is recurrent infections in your dog’s ears.

You can help alleviate the allergy by vacuuming frequently and dusting the areas your dog spends most of his time in (like his sleeping area).

Food Allergy 

Dogs also exhibit allergies to the food they eat. And this is perhaps the most tedious to diagnose because food allergies can mimic any of the other allergies mentioned above. The first thing to do is to remove all possible allergy causing ingredients from your pet’s diet. You can do this by using a homemade meal of a protein and starch source that your dog hasn’t had before. Gradually add (one at a time for about a week), more ingredients into it. If symptoms return after adding a particular ingredient, then the possible allergen could be identified.

However, allergic reactions may not appear for about a week after consuming the allergen so be sure to confirm your findings with your vet. Once it has been verified, avoid that ingredient in all foods given to your dog.


You can help your pet and alleviate his allergy woes by bathing and conditioning your dog regularly. Water helps to relieve your dog’s skin and keeps it healthy. It also rinses off allergens from their body. Different kinds of shampoos are available to treat allergies, depending, of course, on your pet’s particular condition.


Corticosteroids are useful for controlling allergies by reducing the inflammation in your dog’s skin. Although it will weaken their immune system a bit, it is often necessary in order to treat the allergy.

Some side effects are increased appetite and drinking, and higher chances of developing infections. It is therefore not recommended for long-term use. If a longer duration of use is necessary, your pet will require close supervision by your Vet.

Prednisone, a short-acting steroid, can be used orally and is safer than the long-acting steroids. Taken with antihistamines and Omega fatty acids and frequent bathing, these short-acting steroids can be used effectively when used sparingly.

An allergy injection, also called immunotherapy, is a series of treatments meant to produce immunity to substances your dog is currently allergic to. Skin and blood testing is performed to find out what substances causes your pet’s allergies. These substances then are given to your dog in small but increasing amounts via injections.

Over a period of time, the dog becomes desensitized to the substances and no longer exhibits allergic reactions to them. Finding out what allergies your dog is suffering from and the allergens that cause them may be a tedious, pain-staking process. But it is worth the effort especially as you see the relief you give your dog translate to a pet that’s in a better disposition and mood, perhaps in gratitude for the time you’ve spent to understand and take care of their ailments.