Cairn Terrier

Cairn Terrier
  • Category SizeSmall
  • SheddingModerate
  • Grooming RequirementsOnce a week
  • Alone1 to 3 hours
  • Other PetsMedium
  • VocalNot too noisy
  • AllergiesNo
  • Suitability As GuardMedium
  • Dog Group Kennel ClubTerrier


Short-legged and strongly built, Cairn Terriers have a foxy expression, hard coats and small, pointy ears. Whilst not heavily built, they are well muscled, workman-like little dogs, with hard, profuse outer coats and short, soft, close undercoats. Cairns come in cream, wheaten, red, grey or nearly black with brindling in all colours. Adult Cairns measure 28-31cm and weigh about 6-7.5kg.


Cairns are natives of the western islands of Scotland and, in particular, the Isle of Skye, and have been known since the 1500s. The breed was named after the rocks (cairns), which were erected to mark a boundary or grave. These rocks became the favourite hiding place for foxes and other pests, and the small but fearless Cairn Terrier dog breed was designed to rout out the vermin. From a large variety of terrier-type dogs, four distinct breeds slowly emerged: the Cairn, Skye, West Highland White and Scottish


This is a cheerful, alert, lively and extrovert breed that can be trained to happily live with children. They will also get on with other dogs, although some will stand their ground. They must, however, be taught at an early age to accept cats and other household pets, as they will give chase once older. These can be independent and stubborn dogs; therefore, gentle, consistent training is essential.


As with many breeds, the Cairn Terrier can suffer from various hereditary eye disorders, and hip and elbow dysplasia (joint conditions that can be painful and lead to mobility problems). Eye testing and hip scoring of dogs prior to breeding is therefore important. Like many small breeds they can also suffer from kneecaps that may temporarily slip out of place (luxating patellas) and another type of hip disorder.


This breed is bursting with energy and must be given time to run and play – at least an hour daily. However, the hunting instinct is so strong, they will take off after prey, so exercise them off-lead only in safe areas and ensure you train a reliable recall. Their terrier nature implores them to dig – be it in the fields or in your favourite rose garden - so having their own area to dig will help!


Small dogs have a fast metabolism, meaning they burn energy at a high rate, although their small stomachs mean that they must eat little and often. Small-breed foods are specifically designed with appropriate levels of key nutrients and smaller kibble sizes to suit smaller mouths. This also encourages chewing and improves digestion.


The Cairn Terrier's weatherproof, double coat should be brushed and combed once a week. During moulting, which usually occurs twice a year, the coat should be hand stripped to remove the dead hair.