The Delightful Little Cairn Terrier

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Cairn Terrier
Weight: 12 — 14 lbs
Height: 9” — 10”
AKC Rank 2008 #49
Life Span: 14—17 yrs
Group Terrier
Origin Scotland

NOTICE -- The DOG BOOK Isle is being revised and so far, 7 pages are now online for you.

Dog Breed Info - The Cairn Terrier

A Cairn with her ball...
Anyone wanna play?

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Breed Overview

This was the spry, adorable little dog that went with Dorothy to the Land of Oz. The Cairn is lively, perky and intelligent. She’s a great family dog. My first dog, back in 1941, was a Cairn-mix and you couldn't ask for a better companion.

The Cairn was used at one time to hunt fox, otter and badger. The dogs came in a variety of colors, ranging from white to shades of grey to red, black.

In 1873 they were divided into the Dandie Dinmont and Skye Terriers. Cairns were in the Skye group.

By 1912 it was known as the Cairn Terrier and in 1913 was registered by the AKC.


descriptive textThe Cairn Terrier has been documented to mix well with other breeds, especially other terriers. A Cairn MIX tends to live longer and be healthier overall than a purebred Cairn. They are extremely smart, obedient, quiet most of the time, polite, and very playful. I certainly found that true with my dog. So, if you have the chance to get a Cairn mix, I'd say go for it.


Very trainable, especially if you start as a puppy. There is nothing they can’t learn with clicker training and positive reinforcement. They want to please and l;earn tricks well.

Crate Training

Want to crate train your Cairn Terrier? It's easy and if you're interested, take a look and you'll see what to do. Crate training your puppy will save many headaches and problems.

Potty Training

Cairn Terrier puppies are easy to house train, potty train, toilet train, housebreak or whatever you want to call it. If you have a puppy, decide if you want to crate or paper potty train it. For the best results, we have a page at Crate vs Paper Potty Training which will help you decide and from there you can get all the information you need to get the job done. Always praise the pup profusely when she goes potty in the RIGHT PLACE so she knows she has done a good thing. Either method will work for this breed

If you have an older dog, take the dog outside every two hours until she gets the idea which door leads to her potty area. Older dogs catch on to the potty or housebreaking pretty fast once they are shown what to do.

A 96 page paperback booklet that gives good information about caring for and handling the Cairn Terrier. For the price and size, it's one of the best breed-specific books out there. Click on the book cover or the link below and visit Amazon. Scroll down their page to the Customer Reviews and read their comments. Plenty of color photos too.

Cairn Terriers (Complete Pet Owner's Manual)

A well behaved Cairn Terrier
taking a stroll beside the river channel.

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If well socialized as a puppy, this is basically a sweet little dog. It is spirited, bold, inquisitive and hardy. They are stubborn and a kind of scrappy at times. The Cairn is a bit sensitive but tries to please her people. This dog can be a great house pet as long as she is given her daily physical and mental exercise. The Cairn likes walks, play, training and to explore new turf. She's a devoted little family dog.

If you happen to have a Cairn Terrier with a separation anxiety problem, that can be dealt with by investing a few hours of work on your part and some "tough love." (Almost any dog can have separation anxiety)

Friendly Toward Other Dogs

Generally ok, but sometimes she can be a little aggressive to strange dogs.

Friendly Toward Other Pets

Okay with family pets, but can vary from dog to dog. If you bring a puppy home, all will be okay. The puppy will grow up knowing only YOUR other cats and dogs and not the neighbors’.

Friendly Toward Strangers

Not always. The Cairn will do okay with your relatives coming into your house, but may not care for strangers out on the street until she gets to know them.


Very playful. Loves to run and clown around, chasing after balls and small objects. The Cairn loves to play fetch.


Moderately affectionate. Will curl up on the sofa next to you after a good play session and is very loyal to her master and family.

Good with children

Yes. Excellent with children 6 and up. Sturdy little dog and will follow kids in play. The dog is tough enough to withstand some roughhousing. Supervise kids under 6 closely and teach them how to behave with a dog. Your Cairn Terrier will tolerate all ages of kids, but not a lot of poking, pulling and screaming.

Good with Seniors over 65?

Yes. The Cairn is an excellent companion for seniors. As long as the senior can walk some and toss a ball in the yard or house, all will be fine. My dad had a Cairn until he was 83. Trained that dog to do every trick in the book. If longevity is an issue, find a Cairn Terrier Rescue group and pick out a 2 or 3 year old dog that is house trained and knows a few commands. This will make it much easier for the senior to adjust.

Living environment

Apartment, farm, big city is OK. This is a rugged little girl that needs some walks but otherwise can do fine in a small space.

If you have a yard, fine, because the Cairn Terrier likes to roam, sniff and investigate her territory.

An alert, happy Cairn Terrier
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Energy level

High energy.

This Cairn needs grooming!
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Exercise needs, daily

Moderate exercise. Two daily walks and some play time with a ball.


Excellent watchdog. Will announce anything unusual.

Guard dog

No. Maybe the barking will ward off an intruder?




Needs brushing with a stiff bristle brush weekly to keep the wiry coat from matting.

The Cairn needs to see a groomer every 12 weeks or so for a general clean-up and shaping.


Suggested Reading - The Cairn Terrier

The book on the right is by the American National Red Cross and deals with dog illness, emergencies and injuries. It's a valuable reference manual for all dog owners.


Cairn Breeders

In the event you decide to go looking for Cairn Terrier puppies, be SURE to find reputable breeders that really know what they are doing. Be sure the puppy has been well socialized and started in obedience training. It's not often that Cairn Terrier puppies turn up in dog pounds.
Cairn Terrier Breeders with puppies for sale.

Cairn Terrier Rescue

In the event you are seriously considering the adoption of a Cairn and are looking for a Cairn Terrier Rescue group or groups in your state, here are several links that might help:
Petfinder - Cairn Terrier Rescue At this writing there are only 343 Cairn Terriers of various ages available in the USA that are listed by Petfinder. Before you adopt, be sure to read the dog breed info above and below and be cautious about dog health when you do adopt.
Adopt A Pet Cairn Terriers are very popular and hard to find so check online for Cairn Terrier Rescue groups, kennels, shelters and clubs.


Dog Health Issues - The Cairn Terrier
Below: The list of dog illness / illnesses or medical problems for the Cairn Terrier as documented by various vets.

This is basically a healthy breed. Don’t let the list below scare you! Your own dog will probably never have ANY of these problems. These are dog health and medical issues this breed is prone to that have been listed by various veterinarians at different times over the past decade or so and some pertain to puppies and very young dogs that a breeder would deal with.

The information contained herein has been gathered from numerous books by veterinarians and is intended as general information only. Every dog and situation is different. You must see your vet. Our information is for general interest only and not intended to replace the advice provided by your own veterinarian.

  • The Cairn is prone to hind leg problems.

  • Patellar luxation—Limping, Hind Leg Held Up, Can’t straighten back leg, but can walk, run on three-legs. Caused by an unusually shallow spot on the femur, weak ligaments and misalignment of tendons and muscles that align the knee joint and allow the knee cap (patella) to float sideways in and out of position. This can be caused by injury or be present at birth and can affect either rear leg and may cause pain. It’s most common in small and toy dogs like the Cairn Terrier. If your dog has trouble straightening the leg, is limping, or is walking on three legs and holding one hind leg up, look for patellar luxation. Several of my dogs have had the problem and all I’ve done is reach down, massage the knee a little until they drop their leg, and we’re good to go for another 3 or 4 months. Severe cases require surgery for a fully lame leg.

  • Pulmonary Fibrosis—A serious, terminal lung disease that is commonly found in middle age and older West Highland White Terriers. It is also found in humans. Little research has been done; not much is known about the disease. Symptoms: No desire for exercise and the dog will have difficult and rapid breathing. As the disease and exercise increases, so will coughing and rapid, labored breathing. The dog will be perfectly healthy otherwise. As the breathing becomes more intense, euthanasia before death from lung failure is usually the final step. A serious problem for the Cairn Terrier.

    The Cairn Terrier is prone to kidney problems.

  • Polycystic kidney disease—Chronic renal (kidney) failure. Caused by a number of thins such as parasite-like kidney worms, infections, and toxins like vehicle anti-freeze. Symptoms are depression, vomiting, loss of appetite and less (or more) urinating than usual. Because the symptoms are so common, many pet owners tend to overlook the problem and let the illness go too long before seeing the vet when it’s too late to save the dog. Depending on the cause, it may be treatable with medication, liquid therapy, diet, and possibly dialysis. In very rare cases, some vet clinics have done kidney transplants.

  • Renal dysplasia—Kidney problem - Increased drinking and urination or bad breath. Disease of the kidney. Improper function of the kidney. If you own a Shih Tzu, or other breed prone to this, check twice a year with your vet for kidney function or.... sooner if you observe any unusual symptoms such as... increased drinking, increased or decreased urination, very little color to the urine, depression, loss of appetite, bad odor in breath plus any other unusual behaviors. See vet immediately!

  • Mitral stenosis (Mitral valve insufficiency)—Hereditary heart problem in the Cairn Terrier. A weak mitral valve allows blood to flow backwards and to simplify this, the net result is an enlarged heart and when the heart can no longer compensate, look for a loss of desire for exercise, trouble breathing, coughing at night and liquid in the lungs. As this progresses, the dog may collapse. There is no cure... but if you act quickly, the vet may be able to make the dog more comfortable with medication and diet.

  • Glaucoma—Eye Problem. Painful pressure builds in the eye. Poor eye drainage. Leads to blindness.

  • Lens luxation—Hereditary. Weak fibers holding the lens of the eye allow the lens to dislocate. The eye can not focus. This leads to painful, red eyes that tear a lot and can lead to Uveitis or Glaucoma if not treated right away. If detected early, surgery and medication might solve the problem.

  • Diabetes—The pancreas manufactures the hormone INSULIN. If the pancreas stops making, or makes less than the normal amount of insulin, or if the tissues in the body become resistant to the insulin, the result is called “diabetes.” The dog can NOT control her blood sugar without injections of insulin on a regular basis, but given the insulin, the dog can live a normal life like a human can. If the Cairn Terrier does not receive the insulin injections at the same time each day of her life, the dog will go into a coma and she will die. Some causes of diabetes may be chronic pancreatitis, heredity, obesity or old age, but no one is sure. Symptoms are excess drinking and urination, dehydration, weight loss, increased appetite, weight gain, and cataracts may develop suddenly. Treatment is in the form of the insulin injections daily and a strict diet low in carbohydrates and sugars. Home cooking may be suggested in some cases. Frequent trips to the vet for blood monitoring will be needed but diabetes is not a death sentence.

  • Seborrhea—Hereditary. Skin disease. Itching and scratching. Unusually dry, flaky coat with the familiar “dog” odor. Sebaceous glands will produce a waxy, oily substance in the armpits, in the ears, under the dog and around the elbow joints. Secondary ear and skin infections are common too. There are many, many causes and IF the vet can identify one and treat it, you’re lucky. It’s a tough disorder to pinpoint. Springer Spaniels, Cocker Spaniels, Terriers and Retrievers are among the most susceptible.

  • Malassezia dermatitis—A highly itchy skin infection, usually around the ears, muzzle, inner thighs, eyes or feet. The Cairn Terrier may become frantic, chewing and scratching the ears and feet. If an ear infection, there might be a waxy discharge and smelly odor. The dog will be rubbing and pawing at the ear. Look for Malassezia in the summer, humidity and allergy seasons. Your vet will treat this with appropriate medications and bathing after a diagnosis.

  • Elbow luxation— Limping front leg - Very uncommon. A dislocated elbow joint affecting the front legs and causing a painful, lame front leg. Usually caused by a trauma to the joint such as falling or fighting with another dog or some form of physical abuse. Symptoms: A lame front leg, carrying the front leg bent, swelling at the front knee joint. See your vet for treatment or the dog will eventually lose the leg.

  • Portacaval shunt—Hereditary in origin, neurological and other serious problems are caused by a tiny embryonic blood vessel that exists within the liver of the Cairn Terrier before birth to disintegrate after birth allowing fluids to flow where they shouldn’t. Unfiltered blood flows past the lover without filtering, causing toxins to build in the body. Symptoms include central nervous system disorders and undersized, underweight puppies are also suspect. Medical and surgical remedies are in place. If a puppy survives surgery, there is a chance for it to live a good life. The Cairn Terrier breeders should breed around this problem, but not all of them do.

  • Atopic dermatitis's—Hereditary. Shows at 1 to 3 years age. Skin allergy triggered by dust mites, pollen, poor quality foods and other garbage we put into the dog’s environment. Many breeds are prone to this. The dog will lick, rub, chew and scratch the infected areas. Allergens can also come from fleas, bacteria and yeast infections. See your vet. There are many treatments ranging from medicines, antihistamines, diets, bathing, cleansing the house of dust mites and so on.

  • Globoid cell leukodystrophy— A shortage of a particular enzyme needed for normal metabolic processes in the body. This disease causes death due to deterioration of white matter in the brain. The disease is found in puppies and they usually die before reaching a year of age.

  • Cataracts - Eye Problems. Hazy or cloudy vision which if not treated can lead to blindness.

    I had a Cairn Terrier mix for 16 years and other than a skin allergy, she never had a health problem, never saw a vet.


Other problems could occur with your Cairn Terrier. If you notice any problems with your dog, take it to the vet immediately. This website is for general information only and is not intended to, in any way, be a medical guide.

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