The Ultimate West Highland White Terrier Clippers & Grooming Guide
The West Highland White Terrier - or Westie for short - is a breed and coat type we get asked a lot about. That’s why we created this Ultimate Grooming Guide to help answer all your questions about coat type, coat care, clippers, blades, comb attachments, brushes, shampoo and more, all for the Westie coat. If your dog is a West Highland White Terrier or Westie cross with a Westie coat type, this guide is for you!
What type of coat does the Westie have?
The Westie is part of the ‘rough haired terrier’ group and has low-allergy, double coat, with a harsher outer coat and softer cottony undercoat. The Westie coat is called non-shed but does actually shed (all non-shed coats still shed). You may notice light shedding, however most of the old coat is retained instead of dropping out, meaning the old dead coat needs to be removed during grooming instead.
Westies have a longer coat than some terriers. To get that dead coat out and prevent tangles, knots and mats forming, regular brushing is required (unless you keep the coat clipped short). To create the correct Westie coat texture they are traditionally hand-stripped, not clipped, however pet Westies are often clipped. Keep in mind if you clip the Westie coat, that will shorten it, but won’t remove that old dead hair, so dead coat should always be removed before you clip (this can be done by hand-stripping or using a deshedding tool if you prefer not to hand-strip). Striping returns the Westie coat to the correct, harsher, more wiry texture. Clipping creates a softer coat over time. Although hand-stripping is more often done for show dogs, more and more groomers now offer hand-stripping.
The change! The puppy coat versus the adult coat:
This will vary, especially with Westie-crosses, but in general the adult Westie coat may not come through until around 12 months of age, in some cases the adult coat won’t fully develop for years. That means a Westie pup’s coat will start off lighter, thinner and much easier care. However it’s important to get a pup used to regular brushing in advance of the coat needing it so you have no trouble grooming the more high maintenance adult coat when it comes through.
Even though it’s white, the Westie coat should be easy to keep clean, as isn’t typically oily or smelly. Westies do tend to have a knack for finding dirt! However they can usually be left to dry then the dirt brushed out rather than having to bathe them to remove it. Without the oily protective coating some breeds have, it’s advised not to bathe the Westie coat more than you need to. When you do, it’s best to use a gentler shampoo that doesn’t strip the natural oils that the coat does have. You can spot clean the Westie coat for dirt that can’t be brushed out. A waterless shampoo is handy to have on hand to avoid a full bath when only one area needs cleaning. Never use human shampoo (even baby shampoo is up to 150 times more acidic than a dog’s skin). Look for a shampoo that says it is gentle or mild, or made specifically for the wiry terrier coat, like the soap-free, non-irritating Bio-Groom Wire Coat.
What are the best brushes to use on the Westie coat?
A bristle brush won’t do much for the Westie coat (except when they have their finer, lighter puppy coat), so we recommend getting a pin brush to use as your everyday brush to get down through that double adult coat. A quick once-over brush, once a day, is ideal if the coat’s longer, otherwise once a week or less often if the coat’s kept short. If tangles or knots are found you can use a grooming comb (for lighter tangles), or a slicker brush (for knots) and gently ‘pat’ out the knot from tip to skin. Using a detangler spray helps with knot removal also.
Regular grooming will avoid mats, but if mats have formed (the armpits tend to be one spot Westies are more prone to them forming), you may be able to break them apart with a dematter, and then brush them out with a slicker. However it can be faster and kinder to clip mats out with a trimmer or clipper instead. Clipping out mats will leave the coat quite short as the blade needs to go ‘under’ the mat to remove it. Bad mats are best removed by a professional as mats can pull skin up and into the knot, so mat removal has a higher risk of injury for the dog. When brushing out a knot or mat, applying detangler is recommended.
How often should a Westie be clipped?
Bathing and clipping every 4 to 8 weeks is common but it entirely depends on how you like the coat and how well you maintain it when it gets longer in-between clipping. If the coat’s particularly dirty or smelly, bathing as often as fortnightly can be needed, otherwise it can help to have waterless shampoo on hand for spot-cleaning to avoid frequent bathing. Bathing every 6 weeks or so is a typical frequency. If you prefer to hand-strip, every 8 weeks or so is normal, or you can do a different smaller section of coat weekly on an 8 week cycle.
Westie coat colour, paw & mouth staining
Unlike some white coated dogs, the Westie is less prone to a yellow coat and to tear staining than some, however can be more prone than most to saliva staining on paws, causing them to discolour a reddish-brown to burgundy colour. If you find that happening, tear stain remover can be used on paws (although you may need something stronger), and whitening shampoo can help also (again though, it will depend how bad the staining is). Fidos Tear Stain Remover and Bio-Groom Super White Shampoo are current best sellers that can help and are best used frequently and proactively. When using shampoo, wash with a normal shampoo first, then with whitening shampoo (use normal shampoo to get out dirt, debris and excess oil, save the whitening shampoo an already clean coat for best results).
If licking is the cause of stained paws (it often is with the Westie), you may get saliva stains around the mouth as well which can also be treated with Fidos Tear Stain Remover. It’s worth working out the cause of paw licking as it may be a fungus or yeast infection, a contact allergy such as grass, or a cut or infection. Keeping fur between paw pads trimmed as short as possible can help also.
To help work out possible causes of paw staining, check the coat. If the coat is white at the base then it’s likely due to licking. If it’s discoloured down to the skin however, that’s a sign it’s growing in stained, suggesting a fungal infection. Your Vet is best to investigate further.
If the staining is only around the mouth and not the paws there are a few things to try. Keep fur around the mouth trimmed shorter so it doesn’t go in to the mouth. Avoid feeding foods and treats that may stain. Try and avoid the beard constantly being wet (dry it after drinking for example and keep it shorter), and use tear stain remover regularly. Again, if it’s become quite stained, you may need something stronger to lighten the staining. New coat should then grow in white.
Westie ear care
With their upright ears, Westies are less prone to ear infections than breeds with folded down ears tend to be, but their ears should still be checked and cleaned every 4 weeks or so as they have surprisingly furry ears that can get gunked up. Fidos Ear Drops are popular for cleaning, and can be used on a cotton pad. Only clean visible areas, don’t put anything down the ear canal. If there’s not a lot of visible ear surface, you’ll need to pluck out excess fur gently from the ear, or can snip it out using safety-tip scissors, or use mini size trimmers to do the job safely. Once excess fur is removed you can wipe visible ear surfaces more easily with ear cleaner.
Westie nail care
Nails should be trimmed about every 6 weeks or so depending on the surfaces the dog walks on (some surfaces wear nails down faster than others). Nail grinders are an option if less confident using nail clippers, like the Codos Nail Grinder.
How can you tell if clippers are rated for the Westie coat?
Dog clippers generally come in 4 levels: light use, medium duty, heavy duty and super duty. An underpowered clipper can end up ‘chewing’ (grabbing or pulling the coat), instead of cutting, even with a new, sharp blade. For the Westie coat type look for a clipper rated heavy duty or super duty. Upgrade to super duty if the coat is prone to knots or mats, if you don’t hand-strip, or if you don’t deshed before clipping, otherwise heavy duty will be fine if none of those apply.
If a clipper doesn’t say if it’s heavy duty or super duty, it might say it’s rated for ‘full body clipping’ for ‘all coat types’ or may mention it’s for ‘difficult, thick, double or matted’ coats. That’s the level you’re looking for. If it says it’s ‘light use’ or ‘medium duty’ or that it’s for ‘trimming and touch-ups only’ that tells you it’s likely to be underpowered for full body clipping for an adult Westie coat.
Most heavy duty and super duty clippers will be multi-speed. Either 2 speed or the newer 5 speed models. Use the lower speed in general to keep blades cooler for longer, and save the high speeds for thicker, difficult or knotted areas.
For puppies: Clippers rated light-use WILL do the job for full body clipping while your Westie has their thin puppy coat when young. You can then use them for trimming and touch-ups later when the adult coat comes through (such as paw pads and touch-ups between going to the groomer).
TIP before you buy any clippers: Know what A5 means
If the clipper description says it's an A5 model (or A5 style or A5 type), that tells you the clipper is compatible with the most blades and accessories possible, and that you can mix and match different brands. Most professional clippers are A5 models. For example, you could use a Wahl universal comb attachment, on a Heiniger blade, on your Andis clippers! Most trimmers however, are not A5 models. They normally have their own blades and combs that fit only that model of trimmer.
Clipper models for the Westie coat
The clippers below are ALL current best sellers, ALL rated for the Westie coat, and ALL universal A5 models. This is not a complete list though. Just a starting point so you're not overwhelmed with options. Don't rule out other clippers just because they are not listed here. You can use this guide to help you compare any model. Note that these are all super duty level clippers, however you can consider a heavy duty clipper instead (like the Andis AGC Brushless in Black), which tend to cost less, provided you keep on top of tangles, knots and mats, and deshed before you clip. Go for super duty unless you can keep on top of those coat maintenance and coat prep requirements.
Andis AGC Super 2 Speed Brushless 2 Speed, Brushless Motor
Wahl KM10 2 Speed, Brushless motor
Andis Excel 5 Speed* 5 Speed
* 5 speed or 2 speed? Most clippers are 2 speeds, however some newer models are now available in 5 speeds. 5 speed clippers have the same top 2 speeds as a standard clippers but with 3 extra, lower speeds. Lower speeds are used to reduce speed, heat and noise, for delicate areas, very noise-sensitive or touch-sensitive dogs, and to help blades run cooler for longer. You still have the same top speeds in reserve for very thick or difficult areas.
Andis Pulse ZR II 5 Speed
Heiniger Saphir** Single speed
Heiniger Opal 2 Speed, Brushless motor
Wahl KM Cordless 2 Speed, Brushless motor
** Although the Heiniger Saphir is a single speed, it has the torque and power needed to handle the Westie coat.
What else do I need to buy when getting clippers?
All clippers listed above come with a blade included free. You'll normally get given a standard size 10 blade with your clippers. However they do not come with shorter or longer blades, or comb attachments, so you order those separately to match the length/s you want the coat to be. With most clippers you'll also need oil and coolant. You'll also typically want at least one comb attachment or one longer blade, and are likely to find at least one pair of scissors very helpful also – probably thinners (more about scissors coming up). See more below about blades, comb attachments and coat lengths to help you decide. You can use Wahl oil with Andis clippers, Andis blade care (a coolant and cleaner in one), with Heiniger clippers and so on, so feel free to mix and match to suit your budget and needs.
How long will a blade stay sharp?
There are so many factors that there isn't an easy answer to that question. However you can get standard steel blades sharpened when they become dull or blunt, rather than having to buy new blades every time. Ceramic blades stay sharper up to 5 times longer than full steel blades, but when ceramic blades eventually become dull or blunt, you can't get that blade type sharpened. You can choose either ceramic or steel blades for all the A5 model clippers listed above. A ceramic blade will always say ceramic in the name and description, and you’ll see it has one white (ceramic) blade and one steel blade.
Whatever blade type you choose, always take care with your coat prep. Poor prep will dull a blade very fast (sometimes within minutes instead of weeks or months). Read more about coat prep below to avoid causing your blade to become blunt earlier than it should. The Westie coat benefits from deshedding before clipping more than most, to remove stuck, dead coat which can otherwise clog the blade and cause avoidable problems with clipping.
Trimmers for the Westie coat
Westie owners often get a little cordless trimmer as well to use on the feet, between paw pads, around the face, ears and eyes, and around the rectum, genitals, armpits and abdomen. You can use a full-size clipper for these areas if you prefer, however factors to consider are: how sensitive your dog is, whether you want to go cordless, and if you want a smaller blade to get to those difficult areas more easily. There’s quite a size difference between a clipper rated for full body clipping, and a little mini size trimmer.
If the dog is extra noise sensitive or vibration sensitive, or anxious about being groomed or touched in certain places, a trimmer can help as it's a lot lighter, smaller, lower vibration and quieter than a clipper. Trimmers are rated for trimming areas with shorter, thinner fur. Being cordless, and having a much smaller blade width, means they can get in to tricky or delicate areas more easily and the fine, short blade reduces the risk of injury, ideal if you're a beginner. For the Westie a mini size trimmer is the more popular size. Mini trimmers have the smallest blade width, around 3cm. The next size up is called a midi and the blade width is around 4cm. A full size clipper’s blade is about 5cm wide.
MINI Trimmers are the smaller size.
Higher quality models:
Budget option > Shernbao Mini
MIDI Trimmers have a medium width blade, around 4cm. This size is popular as a first clipper for all-over use for a Westie puppy before they get their adult coat (while their coat is still thin and easy to clip) and can then be used as a trimmer on the adult coat.
High Quality Models:
Andis Vida 5 in 1 model
Wahl Bravura 5 in 1 model
Wahl Harmony 5 in 1 model
Codos CP-9800 4 in 1 model
Shernbao Midi Trimmer 4 in 1 model
Before you buy any blade
Check what model your clipper is first. If you have an A5 model clipper of any brand, almost every blade we sell will fit on your clipper, no matter what brand your clipper is, or what brand the blade is. You can then mix and match to suit your needs, so an Andis blade can go on a Wahl clipper, a Geib blade on an Andis clipper, a Wahl comb attachment on an Andis blade and so on. For each blade listed below you can buy them in any brand.
Standard / universal blades come in blade sizes from 50 (under 1mm) to 3 (over 1cm). It’s easier to buy blades and comb attachments based on coat length. The most popular blade sizes for the Maltese depend on the look you want to achieve.
Westie Blade Guide
If you are a beginner groomer, we recommend further education first, such as the book Theory of 5, lessons from your groomer or breeder, attending a short course with one of the grooming schools in NZ, or watching tutorials on YouTube.
Here are 2 tutorials with photos showing 2 pet clip techniques. Both copy a modified Westie look: The Good the Bad the Furry > and Pet Business > It’s also popular to do a teddy bear trim or puppy clip on a Westie. A teddy bear trim normally keeps the head longer and rounded, round feet and a slightly shorter body for balance. A puppy trim is usually one length all over.
Products and blades for a Westie pet clip
#10 blade Also called a ‘standard blade’. A 10 blade is included free with most clippers. It leaves the coat around 2mm when used by itself. Universal comb attachments fit on any brand of size 10 blade for longer coat lengths from under 3mm to over 3cm. Your 10 blade is one of the most versatile for this reason. For the Westie you’d typically use a 10 blade by itself for sanitary areas also, and could use it for paw pads, ears and more depending on the tools you have.
Paw pads: You can also use a 10 blade for paw pads if you don’t have a trimmer or a shorter blade available, otherwise you use a 30 or 15 blade for paw pads, or use a mini trimmer.
Back and sides: For the Westie body a 4F blade is a popular body blade, leaving the coat about 10mm / 1cm on the body and sides. Or you can attach a 10mm or longer comb attachment on your 10 blade instead. Trim down the neck, along the back and down the sides, leaving a longer ‘skirt’ underneath if you like. A blade usually leaves a smoother, cleaner finish than using a comb attachment on a blade, however comb attachments cost less (you can tidy up afterwards with thinning scissors to remove comb marks left in the coat). To emulate a pet clip version of a more traditional Westie look, you can leave a longer, feathery ‘skirt’ underneath the body, leave fur below the chest longer at the front, trim the outside back of the legs short down to the knee, but leave the front, back and bottom of the leg longer if you like.
A type of scissor called thinners can be used to blend the short areas that you’ve clipped, into the long areas you want to keep long, and to trim areas like face to tidy them up. Thinners have one solid blade, and one notched blade, so they leave a more natural textured finish compared to traditional scissors that have two solid blades and leave behind a blunt cut. You’d use a curved or straight scissor (with two solid blades) for areas like the face. If new to using thinners, go for shorter thinners with a high teeth count. The most popular are the Geib Gator 6.5” 40 Tooth Thinners.
Face: Curved or straight scissors can be used to cut in the shape of the face, shorten and create a fringe over the eyes. Thinners can then be used to finish by blending the longer fur on the face into the shorter body fur on the neck.
To tidy up the tips and edges of the ears you can use a mini trimmer, a short blade on your clippers like a 30, or scissors. You can use thinners, straight or curved scissors, but may like some short safety-tip scissors for the face as those also come in handy for the inside of the ears also and have a rounded blunt tip to reduce the risk of injury. Otherwise you can use your 10 blade for the ears if you have nothing else available.
Tail: One of the things that gives the Westie their cheerful look is that carrot-shaped tail. Comb out the tail and use scissors, trimmer or a blade freehand to create the carrot shape, thicker at the base tapering to a point at the tip.
Comb attachments come in lengths from under 3mm to over 3cm. You can use any brand of universal comb attachment on your 10 blade. For the Westie coat type, stainless steel comb attachments are preferable over plastic combs.
Important considerations if you only have 1 blade
If you only get one blade (usually a 10) and use it for every groom, keep in mind it’ll both heat up more, and need sharpening more often. When a blade is starting to go dull, you’ll normally notice it begins to ‘chew’ or ‘grab’ the coat. If you use A5 blades that are full steel, you can get them sharpened multiple times with our blade sharpening service. There are a number of steps you can take to help keep your blades sharper for longer.
Remember to check any blade regularly by touching it every 10 mins or so, to avoid blade burn irritating or burning the dog’s skin. If a blade is too hot, either stop clipping and wait till it cools down, replace it with a different blade of the same length, or spray coolant and keep clipping. Continuing to clip with a hot blade can cause the motor to work harder than it should and heat up the clipper itself or burn out the motor. Some coolants also clean and disinfect the blade, so look for a 2-in-1 that does both to save money. Coolant also takes off oil, so reapply oil after using coolant, and keep clipping. The guide to blades and blade care is worth reading also before you buy.
Before buying any blade longer than a 10
Unless experienced or trained using skip tooth blades, only get the finish cut version in any blade longer than a #10. Longer blades - such as 3, 4, 5 or 7 - come in two types, skip tooth (ST) where every other tooth is shorter, or finish cut (called F or FC depending on the brand but they mean the same thing), where all the teeth are the same length. All blades 10 or shorter - such as 10, 15 and 30 - are always finish cut, so don’t typically say F or FC after the size as they don’t come in another type.
Blades for coat lengths under 1cm
#7 blade Longer than a 10 blade. Leaves the coat very short, around 3mm. Used when the coat is knotted or matted. Thin coated Westies may find this too short to give skin the required protection from the sun. Get the FC version of this blade unless experienced.
#5 blade A short body blade. Still a shorter finish for easy maintenance, but with more sun protection than a 7. Leaves the coat around 6mm. Get the FC version unless experienced.
#4 blade A popular body length blade for a Westie in a pet clip. Leaves the coat around 1cm (9mm). Get the FC version unless experienced.
#3 blade The next size up for a longer, slightly fluffier finish than a 4. Leaves the coat around 13mm however important to note is the coat needs to be knot and tangle free when using longer blades - and of all blades, the 3 is the trickier to get used to using, so may require changing your technique such as the angle you have your clippers on in order to get best results with this length.
There is a longer 3 blade also available - called a 3/4 - that leaves the coat 19mm, however a blade with teeth that long is not recommended unless experienced. It’s better to use a comb attachment on a 10 blade if you want longer than 13mm.
For coat lengths longer than 1cm
Comb attachments offer a range of coat lengths from under 3mm to over 3cm. You can choose one comb to have the whole body the same length, or a set to have some areas (like the legs and head), longer than others to keep a more balanced look. Comb attachments fit on all brands of 10 blade, and many fit on a 30 blade also.
In Wahl, comb attachments in sizes 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8 are popular lengths for a fluffier, longer finish up to 25mm. In Andis comb attachments, sizes 1, 0, A, B, C, D, E and F are popular for longer lengths right up to 32mm. Note that comb sizes do not match blade sizes. A 7 comb and a 7 blade are very different lengths for example. To avoid confusion, always buy based on coat length instead which is given in mm’s.
For achieving longer coat lengths, a tangle and knot free coat is important. If a standard grooming comb cannot get through the coat, a blade with a comb attachment on, or a longer blade, will have trouble also. The longer the blade or comb attachment, the more important a knot-free coat becomes. Shorter blades such as the 7F and 10 can go under knots so are the better choice when you can’t remove knots before you clip, but will result in a much shorter length.
What coat prep is needed before clipping?
Even with a brand new, sharp blade, and super duty clipper, poor coat prep can cause a lot of (avoidable) problems when clipping a Westie. Before you clip read What to do before you clip any dog > and keep in mind that dead coat needs to be removed before clipping, either by brushing or using a deshedder, or by plucking / hand-stripping. If left in the coat it will cause a blade to become clogged.
Drying the Westie coat
Getting the coat 100% dry is an important step after you wash, before you clip. You can use towels but it can take a long time and leave the dog shivering in the meantime, plus if you ‘rub’ the coat it can cause tangles and knots to form. We recommend using a pet chamois to soak up excess water fast, which you can wring out to then soak up more. Once the excess is out of the coat, finish drying quickly using a pet dryer, such as a Shernbao Cyclone or Super Cyclone. If a dog is very noise-sensitive or you just want the extra protection from noise or from air entering the ear, pop a Happy Hoodie on. Westies fit a size large hoodie.