The study was based on the records of over 900,000 Westies who were under the care of first opinion practice veterinary clinics in the UK in 2016.
Academics on the RVC’s VetCompass programme have carried out the world’s largest study of Westies and found that the breed comprised only 0.43% of puppies born in 2015 compared with 1.69% of puppies born in 2004.
The average age of the Westies studied was a “relatively elderly” 7.8 years, suggesting an ageing population with fewer new puppies entering the population compared to other breeds in the study.
The most common ailments suffered by Westies was found to be dental disease (15.7%), ear disease (10.6%), overgrown nails (7.2%), allergic skin disorder (6.5%) and obesity (6.1%). Lower respiratory tract disease and cancer were the most common cause of death, with each accounting for 10.2% of deaths in the breed. Spinal cord disorders were the next biggest killer at 7.8%.
Dr Dan O’Neill, VetCompass 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 endorsements and advertising. RVCPreviously, 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.
He added: “Flat-faced 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.”
Bill Lambert, senior health and welfare manager at the Kennel Club, said: “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.
“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.”