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"Tim" - West Highland White with Allergic Bronchitis

Photo: Tim


Most owners of West Highland White Terriers are well aware of the high incidence of skin disease within the breed usually thought to be as a result of an allergic response. Unfortunately for these tenacious little dogs they are also commonly diagnosed with respiratory problems.

Usually the earliest symptoms are a mild cough which progressively deteriorates until the owners may be aware that the patient's breathing has become quite laboured and noisy even at rest. This condition normally has very characteristic signs which are readily heard with the stethoscope during an examination. "Tim's" propensity to bark incessantly the very moment that the Fairfield Veterinary Centre is ever mentioned does however make this part of the examination somewhat tricky!


Nevertheless with a series of liver treat bribes we have been able to distract his vocal prowess sufficiently to chart the improvement in the "squeaks and crackles" heard throughout his lung fields.

The respiratory tract within the chest ends in very thin and delicate tissue in order to facilitate the transfer of oxygen into the bloodstream. In the case of "allergic bronchitis" the respiratory lining becomes thickened as a result of a large influx of inflammatory cells. This interferes with the efficient transfer of oxygen into the bloodstream and eventually triggers the cough reflex as the amount of cellular debris or mucous accumulates within the respiratory tract.

Treatment is aimed at "thinning" the inflammatory component to improve the overall function of the lungs to transfer oxygen. Whilst no-one fully understands why this process occurs it seems likely that with the high incidence of disease in small terriers there is probably a genetic predisposition compounded by an allergic reaction. This is also thought to be the case in humans for many asthma sufferers.

Fortunately for Tim his medication appears to be doing the trick and now he barely needs to catch his breath in between barks!


Terry Dunne BVMS, Cert SAO, MRCVS

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