The West Highland White Terrier, commonly called a Westie, is a small, spirited, white dog originally bred in Scotland. Being purebreds, Westies face their share of health concerns that require special care and vigilance. In 2007, the West Highland White Terrier Club conducted a health survey that found that 1 in 2 Westies had at least one of the following common health problems. Many of them are, sadly, incurable conditions that must be managed throughout your dog’s life. In addition to conventional medication, advances in Pulsed Electromagnetic Field Therapy, which uses low-level pulses of energy to stimulate cells’ anti-inflammatory response, may offer relief to some affected dogs.


1. Allergies


Allergies that cause itchy skin are common in all terriers. A recent study found that 66% of West Highland White Terriers experienced some skin disease by age 3. A rare and nasty inherited condition is called “epidermal dysplasia” or Westie Armadillo Syndrome. This begins to affect dogs between 3 and 12 months old, making their head, feet, and belly inflamed and itchy. The painful condition slowly spread over the dog’s whole body causing hair loss and recurrent skin yeast infections.
Unfortunately, epidermal dysplasia is incurable. Conventional medicine can manage it with medications and shampoos, but very little can be done for a severely suffering dog. Pulsed Electromagnetic Field therapy (PEMF) has been reported to ease the symptoms of allergies and infections in humans. It may be useful for providing relief related to itching skin in a West Highland White Terrier. And, happily, PEMF has no side effects as medications do.


2. Orthopedic diseases


Westies face many joint problems including loose knees (luxating patella), hip dysplasia, swollen jaw (craniomandibular osteopathy) and hipbone atrophy (Legg-Calve-Perthes disease). PEMF has a long history of use with orthopedic conditions, from fractures to arthritis, and is useful in relieving pain and swelling associated with many of these conditions. Equine therapists have been using this therapy successfully and the practice is now spreading to small animals. Laboratory studies have shown that PEMF has helped reduce the advance of progressive disorders like osteoarthritis.

West Highland White Terrier

3. Digestion


Digestive diseases such as colitis (inflammatory bowel disease) and pancreatitis are common in Westies. PEMF could potentially reduce the pain and swelling brought on by these disorders.


4. White Shaker Dog Syndrome


This is a poorly understood neuromuscular disease that causes tremors in small dogs such as the West Highland White Terrier. It develops suddenly around 2 years of age and can lead to seizures and difficulty walking in some dogs. The syndrome generally responds to steroids, and in some cases may disappear with time. However, a dog with WSDS may need to take steroids for the rest of its life.
PEMF has been shown in animal studies to slow and reduce the development of brain inflammation after injury, as well as improving blood flow and tissue oxygenation. While no direct studies have been done with WSDS and PEMF, the fact that PEMF has no side effects –as steroids do–makes it encouraging to try on the syndrome, especially in dogs with severe or reoccurring cases.


5. Pulmonary fibrosis


This acute pneumonia is so common to the breed that it is sometimes called “Westie lung disease.” PF leads to scar build up in the lung tissue that makes breathing increasingly difficult for the dog, eventually leading to death. Again, little is known of its immediate causes other than it is likely a response to long term exposure to irritants such as allergens, pollution, and infections. The disease manifests in dogs around 9 years old as shortness of breath, wheezing, lack of energy and exhaustion.
Sadly, there is no cure for PF. The lung scarring process is generally related to long-term low-level inflammation (from irritants, pollutants, etc) and this inflammation may be slowed and managed using corticosteroids and cough suppressants. PEMF is effective in treating inflammatory diseases and has even reported improving outcomes in some cases of fibrosis in humans. While no studies on PF in Westies exist yet, the biological process behind the disease makes PEMF therapy definitely worth a try.


Final notes:


PEMF is a general anti-inflammatory with the potential for improving tissue healing and pain relief for dogs. While specific studies don’t exist, to the extent that the disease involves inflammation, PEMF may be useful.
In addition to these specific health problems, a West Highland White Terrier faces all the general issues of any dog. He will need recovery following surgery and other procedures, he’ll get strains and sprains from running about. And he’ll need extra care as he grows older for osteoarthritis and other joint conditions. PEMF has the potential to address all these concerns throughout his lifetime.