Study finds Britons may be falling out of love with Westies


The West Highland White Terriers are becoming more and more unpopular with the breed making up less than one in 200 (0.43 per cent) of dogs born in the UK. 

Known for its diminutive stature, thick white coats and affectionate gaze, the dog has long been a favourite of Britons. 

But changes in the public psyche and the spread of ‘Instafamous’ dogs on social media has seen a shift away from the traditional breed in preference of more trendy ‘flat-faced’ dogs, such as French Bulldogs and pugs. 

Now, less than one in 200 (0.43 per cent) of dogs born in the UK are Westies and the average age of the pet is a rather long-in-the-tooth 7.8 years.

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Now, less than one in 200 (0.43 per cent) of dogs born in the UK are Westies and the average age of the pet is a rather long-in-the-tooth 7.8 years, indicating an ageing population (stock photo)

Now, less than one in 200 (0.43 per cent) of dogs born in the UK are Westies and the average age of the pet is a rather long-in-the-tooth 7.8 years, indicating an ageing population (stock photo)

WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT WESTIES IN THE UK?  

Male Westies are more likely to be diagnosed with ear disease and aggression than female Westies.

Female Westies are more likely, however, to develop dental disease

The average bodyweight of the Westie is 9.6kg, with males tending to be heavier with an average weight of 10.1kg compared to the 9.0kg average of females

The average lifespan of the breed is 13.4 years with males outliving females at 13.8 years compared to the latter’s 12.9 years 

Less than one in 200 (0.43 per cent) of dogs born in the UK are Westies 

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The average age of the pet is a rather long-in-the-tooth 7.8 years. 

The findings come on the back of a scientific paper published by Royal Veterinary College (RVC).

Dr Dan O’Neill, Senior Lecturer and VetCompassTM researcher at the RVC, who was the main author of the paper, said: ‘With the ascent of social media as a dominant influencer of public opinion, ownership preferences for dog breeds are becoming increasingly polarised and susceptible to the whims of internet celebrity endorsement and advertising. 

‘Previously, preferences for dog breeds used to wax and wane gently over time. But VetCompass breed data now show rapid changes in preferences among breeds that create bubbles and troughs of demand that can have far-reaching implications for these breeds. 

‘Flat-faced (brachycephalic) breeds are currently the darling of the nation but this has created huge welfare problems for breeds such as the Pug and French Bulldog. 

‘And breeds such as the West Highland White Terrier and Cavalier King Charles have fallen sharply out of favour.’  

The study was based on the records of over 900,000 Westies who visited veterinary clinics in the UK in 2016 and was published this week in the journal Canine Genetics and Epidemiology

It looked at the ongoing health of the breed and collated data on demography, mortality and disorders. 

It found the most common disorders affecting them involve dental disease (15.7 per cent), ear disease (10.6 per cent), overgrown nails (7.2 per cent), allergic skin disorder (6.5 per cent) and obesity (6.1 per cent). 

Causes of death among the beloved companions vary, but more than one in ten (10.2 per cent) of the Westies die from lower respiratory tract disease and cancer.

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Spinal cord disorders were the next biggest killer at 7.8 per cent.  

Camilla Pegram, Veterinary Epidemiologist and VetCompassTM researcher at the RVC, who co- authored the paper, said: ‘The most common disorders of Westies shown in this study are also common in the wider UK dog population. 

Breeds such as the West Highland White Terrier (pictured) and Cavalier King Charles have fallen sharply out of favour as social media makes flat-faced dogs 'the darling of the nation', researchers reveal (stock photo)

Breeds such as the West Highland White Terrier (pictured) and Cavalier King Charles have fallen sharply out of favour as social media makes flat-faced dogs ‘the darling of the nation’, researchers reveal (stock photo)

‘However, the breed does seem predisposed to lower respiratory tract disease which was a common cause of death in the Westie. 

‘Owners should be aware of this as their Westie ages. What is particularly interesting is the level of skin disorders, which although relatively high, are still lower than might have been predicted a decade ago.

‘It is possible that the reduction in Westie ownership has relieved the pressure on breeders to breed from less healthy individuals to meet demand and therefore contributed to improved skin health within the breed. 

‘Paradoxically, reducing popularity may have led to better health in the Westies that are now being born.’

Bill Lambert, Senior Health and Welfare Manager at the Kennel Club commented: ‘The Kennel Club has certainly seen fewer West Highland White Terrier puppies being registered each year as this historic breed seems to continue to fall out of favour. 

‘However, we’re pleased this study indicates that Westies don’t appear to suffer from a high prevalence of specific diseases, other than those which appear to be fairly common for all dogs. 

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‘Sadly this contrasts with many of the increasingly popular breeds, like French Bulldogs, Bulldogs and Pugs, which are often being bred indiscriminately to match the soaring demand leading to some serious health and welfare issues. 

‘This underlines just how important it is for puppy buyers to do thorough research and go to a responsible breeder.’



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