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Home > Dogs > Westie Lung Disease: Vet-Explained Causes, Signs & Care

Westie Lung Disease: Vet-Explained Causes, Signs & Care

West Highland White Terrier waits in the vet's room to be examined

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Written by

Dr. Stacie Grannum

Veterinarian, DVM

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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West Highland White Terriers, also known as Westies, can suffer from a chronic and progressive lung condition known as canine idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (CIPF). The disease causes thickening and scarring of lung tissue, which impedes the exchange of oxygen into the bloodstream. Affected dogs may cough, have difficulty breathing, and show intolerance for exercise. The lung disease is not curable, but some therapies may help affected dogs feel more comfortable for a period of time. Inevitably, though, the disease is fatal.

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What Is Westie Lung Disease?

west highland terrier dog lying on the carpet
Image By: Bogdanovich_Alexander, Shutterstock

CIPF is a spontaneously occurring lung disease that primarily affects middle-aged to elderly West Highland White Terriers. The average age of Westies affected by CIPF is 9–13 years old, though rarely, dogs as young as 2 years of age can be affected. The duration of clinical signs prior to a diagnosis is usually 8–13 months. Males and females are equally affected, with no sex predilection. Since the disease is prevalent in Westies, there may be a genetic predisposition.

Unfortunately, CIPF is chronic and progressive, and there is currently no cure. Westies diagnosed with CIPF have a poor prognosis.

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What Are the Signs of Westie Lung Disease?

Signs of canine idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis in West Highland White Terriers may include:

  • Coughing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Noisy, wheezy, or crackly breathing
  • Increased respiratory effort and rate of breathing
  • Exercise intolerance
  • Lethargy
  • Blue mucous membranes
  • Collapse

What Are the Causes of Westie Lung Disease?

The reason that West Highland White Terriers are predisposed to the disease is not yet fully understood, but genetic and environmental factors may play a role in its development. CIPF causes thickening and scarring (fibrosis) of the lung tissues, which makes the normal physiological exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide difficult.

The disease closely resembles idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) in humans, but CT scans and microscopic evaluation of tissues from dogs with the disease (histopathology) differ from human samples. Nevertheless, researchers are optimistic that studying certain aspects of the fibrotic mechanisms of the disease in dogs may also prove useful for human medicine. Through further research, it may be possible to determine why dogs, especially Westies, develop the chronic and progressive lung scarring that is the hallmark of CIPF.

In genetically susceptible people, IPF was described as an inflammatory disease but is now considered an epithelium-driven disease in which the aging lung epithelium experiences repetitive micro-injuries that cause the tissue to try to continuously repair itself, leading to thickening and scarring. Epithelial tissue lines the respiratory system and acts as a barrier to germs and foreign particles. In simpler terms, the delicate lung tissue and alveoli are repeatedly exposed to injury and undergo an abnormal wound-healing process. However, the process triggering the fibrotic event remains unclear.

west highland terrier dog lying on bed
Image Credit: Maksym Ukrainets, Shutterstock

How Is Westie Lung Disease Diagnosed?

There are no specific diagnostics to test for CIPF, so diagnosing the disease can be difficult. However, several tests are useful to help confirm the suspicion of CIPF in your dog. Your veterinarian may recommend bloodwork, X-rays, bronchoscopy and bronchoalveolar lavage, echocardiogram, and the “6-minute walking test to evaluate exercise tolerance.

Westies suspected of having CIPF often suffer from pulmonary hypertension and airway collapse, which occurs secondarily as a result of lung disease. Bloodwork frequently shows abnormalities. Coarse lung crackles can be heard throughout the lungs during auscultation, and abnormal changes in the lung tissue can be seen on X-rays.

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How Do I Care for a Dog With Westie Lung Disease?

There is currently no curative treatment for Westie Lung Disease. Therapies focus on reducing clinical signs and decreasing complications that can result from the disease. Anti-inflammatories like corticosteroids can help relieve coughing in dogs that have changes to their respiratory tract. Bronchodilators can help open up the airways so your dog breathes more easily. A cough suppressant may also be prescribed to control coughing. Due to the progressive nature of the disease, many dogs are humanely euthanized to prevent further suffering when medications are no longer effective and their quality of life decreases.

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What Is the Prognosis for Westie Lung Disease?

West Highland White Terriers with CIPF can have a fast or slow progression of the disease. Some dogs have sudden and severe worsening of clinical signs. In one study, the average survival time was 32 months after the onset of clinical signs.


Is There a Cure for the Disease?

At this time, there is no cure for Westie Lung Disease. Research is ongoing, however.

west highland terrier dog lying on bed
Image Credit: Detyukov Sergey, Shutterstock

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Conclusion

Westie Lung Disease is a chronic and progressive lung disease, most commonly occurring in older West Highland White Terriers. The disease causes scarring of the lungs, which interferes with oxygen diffusion into the bloodstream. The cause of the disease is yet to be determined, but genetic and environmental factors may play a role. CIPF is not currently curable and the disease is eventually fatal.


Featured Image Credit: Itxu,Shutterstock

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