The west highland terrier is a relatively healthy and long lived breed considering the fact that he is a purebred.  However, with an average life expectancy of 15 years you may find it surprising to discover that they are prone to many health problems.  Thus, you should learn about the ailments that are commonly linked to the breed, so you can quickly spot a problem if one ever arises.

One particular illness that a west highland terrier is at risk for is known as white shaker syndrome (WSS).  This is a condition that is characterized by a generalized tremor and it almost always occurs in young small dogs.  Those between the ages of 9 months and 3 years are most often affected but it can occur at any age and equally effects both genders.    Due to the fact that the problem was primarily witnessed in dogs with white coats, it was given the name white shaker dog syndrome.

Canines with WSS experience a fine tremor in their entire body that usually persists throughout the day and worsens with handling or if the westie becomes excited or stressed.   Other physical signs of this syndrome, aside from body tremors, include, but may not be limited to:

•    Rapid involuntary eye movements
•    Neurological system abnormality (I.E. weakness in limbs, tilted head, etc.)
•    Occasional seizures

What causes it? This west highland terrier disease is frequently associated with mild inflammation of the central nervous system.  The inflammation usually affects the part of the brain known as the cerebellum.  When this portion of the brain malfunctions it could initiate a tremor.   However, this is only a theory.  The actual cause of WSS is unknown.

How is white shaker syndrome diagnosed? A veterinarian will run a series of tests that may include a physical exam, x-rays, blood cytology and chemistry.  That said, usually the diagnosis is made based on symptoms and clinical descriptions.

Is their treatment? There is no specific therapy for this disease and usually all that is prescribed are drugs to reduce the tremors, such as Valium, and anti-inflammatory meds.  Some white highland terrier owners will raise the food and water dishes to make it easier for their pet to eat and drink without having to bend their head low.  It’s also a good idea to keep the dog’s environment as stress free and low-key as possible to ease tension.  

Finally, while this condition may at times be unpleasant for your west highland terrier it is not believed to be fatal.