Known Diseases Affecting Westies
The West Highland White Terrier is generally a hearty, healthy dog. However, like all breeds, individuals can fall victim to an acquired or inherited disease. The list below is not comprehensive. Be sure to fully document and describe symptoms to your vet, if you notice a change in habits, weight or behavior. The selections below are meant to give brief information about each disease. For more thorough information, please consult your veterinarian.
Addison's disease (Hypoadrenocorticism)
Addison's Disease is classified as primary or secondary. Primary adrenocorticism affects salt/potassium balance and glucorticoid in the body and as well. Secondary adrenocorticism usually only affects the glucocorticoids. It is not known why primary adrenocorticism occurs but it may be an immune mediated process. Secondary adrenocorticism probably occurs most often when prednisone or other cortisone being administered for medical reasons are suddenly withdrawn. It can occur as a result of pituitary cancer or some other process that interferes with production of hormones that stimulate the adrenal glands.
Most dogs with Addison's disease initially exhibit gastrointestinal disturbances, such as chronic vomiting. Lethargy and poor appetite are also symptomatic. More severe signs occur when a dog with hypoadrenocorticism is stressed or when potassium levels get high enough to interfere with heart function. Dogs with this problem will sometimes suffer severe shock symptoms when stressed, possibly leading to a rapid death. When potassium levels get high, heart arrhythmia or even heart stoppage can occur. In some cases, especially secondary Addison's disease, there are no detectable electrolyte changes.
This disease can be diagnosed up by watching for changes in the ratio between sodium or potassium. When this happens it is still extremely important to treat for it. It is confirmed by an ACTH response test -- administration of this hormone should stimulate production of adrenal hormones. If this does not occur then hypoadrenocorticism is present. In cases in which the electrolyte levels are normal this is the only test for the problem and it will be missed unless it is looked for specifically. At times this disease can be hard to differentiate from renal failure because the symptoms and even the bloodwork can be similar ---- so the ACTH response test may be necessary to differentiate them. Treatment for this disease is usually done by oral administration of fludrocortisone acetate (Flurinaf), salting the food, and administration of corticosteroids like prednisone. In a crisis situation this disorder must be treated more aggressively with intravenous fluids, IV glucocorticoids and correction of acid/base balances.
Depending on the location in the United States, the disease is often seasonal since the allergens are seasonal. Typical allergens are dander; pollens of grasses, weeds and trees; house dust and molds. The disease occurs in both sexes, but some studies have reported a higher incidence in females. In about 75% of cases, the disease eventually becomes nonseasonal and may thus occur year round.
In approximately 75% of cases, the disease appears between 1 and 3 years of age, and in a few cases, may occur before 12 months of age.
It is important to first rule out other skin disorders such as mange, ringworm, hookworm, and food allergies by performing skin scrapings, bacterial and fungal cultures, fecal analysis, and trials of hypoallergenic diet. Then other tests may be done to confirm atopy.
Intradermal skin tests are the only accepted in vivo (in the living animal) method for clinical diagnosis of atopic dermatitis. Approximately 90% of affected dogs will give a positive immediate skin reaction depending on the allergen. Short-acting barbituates can be used to calm excitable dogs for skin testing.
There are two tests that can be performed in the laboratory that may be useful in excitable dogs or in those with widespread diffuse dermatitis: Radioallergosorbent test (RAST) and Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) Positive results on the skin tests, RAST or ELISA tests and the presence of the clinical signs described above confirm the diagnosis.
The most desirable treatment for Atopic Dermatitis is to avoid the allergen, but this is most often not possible. Glucocorticoids such as prednisone or prednisolone are often effective, at least for a time. Antihistamines are effective in some cases. Hyposensitization or tolerization may be effective but they generally require a long course of treatment.
Brucellosis is a disease caused by a bacteria, Brucella canis, that is found throughout the world. It is spread through contact with aborted fetuses and discharges from the uterus of infected bitches, during mating, through maternal milk and possibly through airborne transmission in some cases. The bacteria enter the body through mucous membranes and spreads from there to lymph nodes and the spleen. It also spreads to the uterus, placenta and prostate gland as well as other internal organs at times. In female dogs, infection leads to abortion or early death of infected puppies.
Infected females may have no other clinical signs. In some cases there may be decreased fertility rather than abortion. This may be due to re-absorption of fetuses early in their development. In male dogs, infection of the testicles can lead to infertility due to anti-sperm antibodies developed as the body attempts to fight off the bacterial infection. The testes may atrophy after the initial period of swelling. Scrotal enlargement or infection of the skin over the scrotum may be seen. In both female and male dogs there may be infection of spinal discs (diskospondylitis) which can cause back pain and rear leg weakness or even paralysis. Eye inflammation may be seen in either sex. It is not usually possible to culture Brucella canis bacteria from the blood or affected tissues so diagnosis is usually done by titer testing. There is a kit available to veterinarians for testing in their office. It is usually best to retest any dogs found positive on this test with other testing methods since there is a fairly high rate of false positives using the in-house test kit. Brucellosis is very difficult to treat successfully. A combination of minocycline and streptomycin is thought to be most effective but is expensive. Tetracycline can be substituted for the minocylcine to reduce costs but also lowers the effectiveness of treatment.
All infected animals should be neutered or spayed to prevent sexually related transmission. All infected animals should be considered to be lifelong carriers of the disease, even if treated. It would probably be best not to breed dogs without testing both the male and female for this disease. Breeding should be a deliberate choice -- not a random event! For breeding kennels, routine isolation of new dogs would be a very good idea. After isolation and negative tests at entry into the kennel and one month later, it should be safe to let the new dog mix with the others in the kennel. If infection is suspected at any time, quaternary ammonium (like Roccal Rx) and iodophor (Betadine Rx) disinfectants can kill Brucella organisms in the kennel to limit spread of the disease.
Blastomycosis is a fungal infection that affects primarily young, male dogs that have access to the outdoors. According to Dr. Brendan McKiernan, a small animal veterinarian at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine at Urbana, "'Blasto' is a fungus that invades the dog's body. If left untreated it can lead to the death of the dog."
Blasto is thought to be found in the soil, especially in the Great Lakes area, the Ohio, Mississippi, and the Missouri River Valleys. The spore form of the fungus lives in the environment. From there it is inhaled into the alveoli of the dog's lungs. Depending on the animal's immune system and the amount of spores inhaled, the dog may either clear the infection or it will spread throughout the body.
A dog infected with blastomycosis can show many signs. The dog may have a fever, lose weight, and go off feed. Respiratory signs are most common, including coughing and respiratory distress. The dog may also have skin lesions and draining open sores. These skin lesions are often ulcerated and have a clear to bloody discharge. The eyes, male genitals (prostate and testicles), and bones may also be affected.
"The dog's eyes should be watched carefully," Dr. McKiernan warns. "Blastomycosis can cause rapid changes in the eyes. Pain, swelling, redness, excessive tearing, clouding of the corneas, and even blindness may result from this fungal infection."
To detect Blasto, your veterinarian may want to radiograph the lungs in addition to looking at samples of skin lesion drainage under a microscope. By looking at exudate (discharge) from a draining tract or an aspirate of a swollen lymph node under the microscope, your veterinarian may see the actual yeast form of the fungus. If the dog is lame or sore in any limb, radiographs may be helpful to show the bone changes that blasto can cause.
Blastomycosis demands aggressive treatment. Two drugs are currently used, one given intravenously and the other orally. Potential side effects of treatment can include kidney and liver toxicity. Methods exist to minimize these problems.
Dr. McKiernan notes, "It is very important to monitor the patient's kidney function. If the kidney function becomes compromised, the treatment is stopped until the kidneys return to normal."
If you have any questions about blastomycosis, call your veterinarian.
CEPS/Veterinary Extension 2938 Vet. Med. Basic Sciences Bldg. 2001 S. Lincoln Ave. Urbana, Illinois 61802 Phone: 217/333-2907
The fusion of the bony plates normally takes place during fetal development. The soft palate forms the rear portion of the palate wall. Both palates are covered with a mucous membrane. The most common type of cleft palate results when the two bony palate plates fail to fuse. The lack of bone fusion leaves a hole or slit in the roof of the mouth, called a "cleft."
This cleft drastically impacts nursing by suppressing suction. A portion of the food that the puppy is able to draw is passed into the nasal cavity. The nasal cavity is highly vulnerable to infection. A puppy with a cleft palette will literally wear itself out trying to satisfy its appetite. The cleft is present at birth and can usually be detected by examining the roof of the mouth. Occasionally milk can be observed running from a puppy's nose while it is nursing. The only treatment for a cleft palate is to surgically close the opening. In cases of severe clefts the affected pup is usually euthanised.
Hyperadrenocorticism occurs for two reasons --- a tumor of the adrenal gland that produces adrenal hormones or stimulation of the normal adrenal glands from the hormones that control it. The primary reason for this to occur is a pituitary gland tumor that produces excessive ACTH, which stimulates the adrenal gland to produce corticosteroids. Adrenal gland tumors account for 15% of the cases of spontaneous hyperadrenocorticism. Pituitary tumors account for 85%.
Cushing's disease causes increased drinking, increased urination, increased appetite, panting, high blood pressure, hair loss - usually evenly distributed on both sides of the body, pendulous abdomen, thinning of the skin, calcified lumps in the skin, susceptibility to skin infections and diabetes, weakening of the heart and skeletal muscles, nervous system disease and other symptoms. Most owners reach a point where the water consumption and urination become bothersome to them.
The diagnosis of Cushing's can be done with several blood tests. A general hint of Cushing's can be obtained by a blood panel. To confirm it, a test known as a low dose dexamethasone test is done. A baseline blood sample is drawn in the morning, an injection of dexamethasone given and a follow-up blood test done 8 hours later. In a normal dog, the dexamethasone should suppress cortisol levels in the blood stream. In Cushing's disease this effect does not occur. Once the disease is diagnosed, it is possible to differentiate between the adrenal tumors and pituitary gland tumors using a second test, a high dose dexamethasone suppression test. Most dogs with pituitary tumors will have cortisol suppression on this test. There are other tests used, including ACTH response tests and urine cortisol/creatinine ratios to diagnose this disease. X-rays and ultrasonography can help determine if an adrenal gland tumor is present.
If it can be determined that there is an adrenal gland tumor, it can be removed. Many veterinarians prefer to have a specialist attempt this since the surgical risks can be high. Pituitary gland tumors are not usually removed in veterinary medicine. This situation is treated using Lysodren (o'p'-DDD, which is a relative of DDT) or ketaconazole. Some research with Deprenyl for treatment of this is being done, too, I think. Lysodren selectively kills the outer layer of the adrenal gland that produces corticosteroids. By administering it in proper amounts it is possible to kill just enough of the gland off to keep the production of corticosteroids to normal levels. Obviously, close regulation of this using blood testing is necessary since overdoing it can cause severe problems with Addison's disease - hypoadrenocorticism. Adverse reactions to Lysodren occur at times but it is the standard treatment at this time. Over medication with Lysodren can cause poor appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy and weakness. If any of these signs occur then your veterinarian should be immediately notified.
Treatment of Cushing's disease caused by pituitary tumors is symptomatic therapy -- it does not cure the pituitary tumor. The average lifespan of dogs diagnosed with Cushing's, with or without treatment is estimated at 2 years by Dr. Mark Peterson, but in a recent conversation with another endocrinologist I came away with the impression that this was an "educated guess" rather than the result of extensive survey of Cushing's patients. At present, though, I think that treatment should be viewed as a means of providing a better quality lifestyle rather than as a method of extending longevity.
Inadequate insulin production results in diabetes mellitus. Without adequate insulin production the dog's blood glucose concentration will increase, resulting in a condition called hyperglycemia. Due to the build up of unused blood sugar, the dog's kidneys increase their activity, to cleanse the system. The increased kidney activity causes excessive urination, which in turn causes excessive thirst.
The initial indications of diabetes mellitus include an increase in appetite, drinking and urination Inspite of the increased intake; victims of this disease will also suffer considerable weight loss.
Your veterinarian can determine whether or not your dog has diabetes mellitus. With early diagnosis, treatment and proper diet - diabetic dogs can live long, healthy lives. Left untreated, diabetes can lead to blindness, vomiting, weakness, dehydration, labored breathing, coma and eventually death.
Chronic immune mediated keratoconjunctivitis sicca (CIKS) is the newer name for pannus. It is most common in German shepherds, greyhounds and Siberian huskies. The cause of this condition is not known, at present. It may be an immune response to changes brought on by ultraviolet radiation. This is based on the increased prevalence of the disease at higher altitudes.
Usually immune mediated CIKS starts at the outer edges of the cornea as blood vessel infiltration and then pigmentation of the cornea. As the disease progresses it spreads across the cornea to the nasal side of the eye and blindness can result from the condition. The third eyelid may become thickened and depigmented, which makes the eye look even worse.
If the disease appears early in life (less than 2 yrs. old) it has a tendency to be very severe as it progresses. When it shows up later in life (4 to 5 yrs. or older) it usually is less severe. CIKS can be controlled with medical therapy, usually very successfully. It can not be cured, however. Medication is necessary lifelong for dogs with this condition. In areas of low elevation, it is usually possible to treat this with corticosteroid eye drops.
In severe cases, injections of corticosteroids into the tissues surrounding the eye can be necessary. In areas of higher elevation it can be necessary to go to much greater lengths to control this problem. Irradiation of the cornea, surgical removal of the affected areas of the cornea and other measures may be necessary to provide relief from this problem.
Lyme Disease Update
In dogs, the most consistent sign of Lyme disease is lameness with swollen joints that are very warm to the touch and very painful. Other symptoms include depression, loss of appetite, fever and/or enlarged lymph nodes. Some dogs can be infected and never show any symptoms of the disease.
Lyme disease is most usually diagnosed by clinical symptoms, history of travel to areas of the country where the disease is common, and by blood tests. The blood tests can identify antibodies, which are molecules produced by the body to tag foreign invaders like bacteria so that the immune system can attempt to destroy them. The immune system is the body's defense network; it employs specialized cells whose purpose is to seek out and eliminate diseases from the body.
Lyme disease is a difficult disease to diagnose in many cases because these blood tests are not specific for an active infection. A positive test for Lyme disease antibodies indicates that the dog has been infected. It doesn't mean that the cause of the present symptoms is Lyme disease. A dog can also have negative test, but still have Lyme disease if his body hasn't mounted an antibody response at the time the blood for the test was taken.
Lyme disease in dogs is treated like most other bacterial infections with antibiotics. The most effective antibiotics for this disease are the tetracyclines and the penicillins. Dogs typically require treatment for 2 to 4 weeks.
Lyme disease can be prevented by control of the ticks that carry the infection, or by control of the infection itself. Controlling the tick population is difficult because they are so numerous to the environment, Several different types of outdoor insecticides have been developed, but there has only been minimal success using them. A more practical means of dealing with Lyme disease would be to prevent the actual infection. This could be accomplished by developing a vaccine against the bacteria, Borrelia burgdorferi.
A vaccine is an altered particle or particles of the infectious agent that by itself cannot cause serious disease, but can allow the body to mount an immune response. If the body is naturally infected with the bacteria at a later time, the immune system remembers the part of the agent it had seen previously. It is then able to neutralize the bacteria before infection can become established. This is why vaccination is also called immunization.
Pyruvate Kinase Deficiency in Dogs and Cats
Pyruvate Kinase (PK) is an enzyme in glycolysis which is essential for the metabolism of glucose into an energy source utilized by cells such as red blood cells. Without this source of energy, red blood cells are unable to function properly and are consequently destroyed. This process is known as hemolytic anemia.
Various genetic defects cause a PK enzyme deficiency, which causes anemia and is inherited as an autosomal recessive trait. This means that the affected animal must have two mutant PK genes to show clinical signs of the disease. Animals classified as carriers have one mutant gene and one normal PK gene and are clinically asymptomatic. These animals, however, can pass the mutant gene to their offspring.
PK deficient dogs and cats experience anemia, but the clinical signs are different. Affected dogs experience exercise intolerance, lethargy, severe chronic anemia, spleenomegaly and osteosclerosis. Affected dogs die because of anemia and hepatic failure and death by five years of age. Clinical signs of anemia in affected cats are intermittent with episodes of pallor and lethargy. They do not develop osteosclerosis and may have a normal life expectancy. The oldest clinically diagnosed cat with PK deficiency was 14 years of age.
Genetic tests have been developed or established at the University of Pennsylvania to accurately diagnose PK deficiency in Basenji, West Highland White and Cairn Terriers, Abyssinians and Somali cats, in order to detect the presence or absence of the mutant gene. These DNA-based screening tests allow for the identification of affected, carrier and clear/normal animals from a small blood sample. These tests, therefore, can assist breeders and pet owners with important health and mating decisions. We recommend to test animals that 1) display suspicious clinical signs such as chronic anemia, 2) relatives of affected or carrier animals and 3) are considered to be bred.
Affected animals and carriers can pass the mutated allele on to their offspring and should therefore not be used for breeding. Carrier with exceptional traits may be bred to normal/ clear animals as long as all offspring will be tested before used for further breeding. This approach will decrease and could eventually eliminate the mutant gene from a breed.
Secondary seborrhea, on the other hand, occurs if the signs are in association with underlying disease processes that are not directly related to the seborrhea itself.
Primary seborrhea is characterized by scaly, oily patches adhering to the skin. The oiliness collects dirt. Lesions may be most severe on elbows, hocks and ears. Typically, local lesions are hairless, scaly patches with dark centers surrounded by a reddened area and flaking keratin rim. They usually occur on the trunk and chest.
Primary Seborrhea generally occurs in very young puppies. Secondary non-inherited forms can occur anytime, but are usually seen in adults.
Secondary seborrhea can be caused by endocrine disorders like hypothyroidism or hypoadrenocorticism. Nutritional disorders, especially those involving fat, can cause secondary seborrhea. Ectoparasites, endoparasites, dermatophytosis, drug hypersensitivity, local trauma, neoplasia, and any chronic catabolic state may cause secondary seborrhea. Although secondary seborrhea clinically resembles primary seborrhea, it is easy to see that the treatment of secondary seborrhea is dependent on the cause of the problem. It is for this reason that a dermatologist may be required to assist with the diagnosis of difficult cases.
Primary seborrhea is a chronic disease that may be helped but not cured by medication. Medicated shampoos are helpful, as are some ointments containing tar, salicylic acid and sulfur. Systemic and topical corticosteroids may also be beneficial, as may systemic antibiotics, vitamin A, and retinoids.
Westie Lung Disease
Westie Lung disease can be successfully treated if it is diagnosed while the dog is young. It can be detected by a cardiologist using a sonogram. Unfortunately, a dog can suffer from this condition for many years before exhibiting the symptoms that become prevalent later in life. Westie Lung disease is usually diagnosed at 10 years of age.
Early symptoms of pulmonary fibrosis are usually similar to those of other lung diseases. Very often, for example, patients suffer from a dry cough and dyspnea (shortness of breath). As the disease progresses, dyspnea becomes the major problem that can lead to death. Often the immediate cause is respiratory failure due to hypoxemia, right-heart failure, a heart attack; blood clot (embolism) in the lungs, stroke, or lung infection brought on by the disease.
When Westie Lung Disease or any other respiratory problem is advanced, treatment with a "nebulizer" can help your pet breath in times of distress. The dog is put in its crate and the door and holes are covered with a cloth or towel. The nebulizer pumps in medication through tubing. The dog remains in treatment for about 20 minutes. To find out more about this equipment, go to http://revivalanimal.com/. Click on "equipment" and then nebulizing supplies.
Early treatment makes a world of difference in successful treatment. The patient is often treated with a bronchial aspirator, such as Theoduran. The dog should be kept in air-conditioning and protected from extreme stress. With conscientious treatment, a Westie with this disease can live a long life.
White Shaker Dog Syndrome
The association between the disease and dogs with white coats has been curious. Some have suggested that because melanin, a skin and hair pigment, and some are formed in the body from the same product (tyrosine), these dogs may be predisposed to the tremors due to an abnormality in tyrosine metabolism. It is important to realize, however, that breeds of other colors may also have a similar problem, including Yorkshire Terriers, Australian Silky Terriers and Miniature Pinschers. So much for the melanin theory.
Dogs with this disease have a fine tremor of the entire body. Young dogs (9 months to 3 years old) of either sex are most frequently affected. The tremor is usually persistent throughout the day and will worsen with handling and excitement. The magnitude of the tremor may increase or remain persistent without therapy. Other clinical signs associated with a neurological system abnormality, such as head tilts, limb weakness and seizures, and are occasionally seen.
This disease is most often associated with a mild central nervous system inflammation This inflammation commonly affects the cerebellum, and dysfunction of this part of the brain may be one of the initiators of the tremor. Brain inflammation is determined diagnostically by looking at a sample of cerebrospinal fluid under the microscope. In an affected dog, this fluid contains increased numbers of, white blood cells with normal to mildly elevated protein concentrations.
White Shaker Dog Syndrome is usually treated effectively with corticosteroids. The corticosteroids are given in relatively high dosages initially, and then the dose is decreased as the clinical signs improve. It is important to not decrease the corticosteroid dose too quickly, or clinical signs may return.
Many dogs, after being treated for three to six months with corticosteroids, may be normal and may not require additional treatment. Some dogs may require low doses of corticosteroids every other day to keep clinical signs under control. Overall, the disease is rarely fatal.