Choosing a Cairn Terrier

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As the breed that accompanied Dorothy to the Land of Oz, the cairn terrier is a spry little dog perfect for the family. This breed is inquisitive and playful, always ready to join in the fun, even if that includes fighting witches and creepy flying monkeys.

History and Origin

Artists have been depicting dogs closely resembling the cairn terrier since the 15th century. By the late 1700s, the Highlands of Scotland, including the Isle of Skye, were spilling over with little terriers originally known by the generic term "short-haired" or "little Skye terriers." Toward the end of the 19th century, it was decided to separate these Scottish terriers and develop pure bloodlines and specific breeds. Originally, the breeds were separated into two categories – Dandie Dinmont terriers and Skye terriers. Eventually, the Skye terriers, thought to originate from the Isle of Skye, were further divided into the Scottish terrier, West Highland white terrier and cairn terrier.

A cairn is a pile of stones that signify a landmark or memorial. Vermin would hide in these cairns and the terriers would readily flush them out. In 1912, the cairn terrier received an official name based on their excellent ability to hunt fox, otter and badger in cairns.

In 1913, the breed received official recognition by the American Kennel Club.


The cairn terrier is a small dog with a rough appearance. The ears are sharply pointed and erect. The hair coat appears ragged and coarse but should not be trimmed. The cairn terrier can be various colors including cream, red, brindle, light gray or even black. The only color that is not allowed is white.


The cairn terrier stand 9 to 10 inches at the shoulder and weighs about 14 pounds.


The cairn terrier is a rough and tumble kind of dog. It is a terrier at heart and always seems ready to go. The breed is active, curious and loves getting into things.

Home and Family Relations

The cairn terrier makes a wonderful family pet and will follow right along with anything the children want to do. The breed is ideal as a single house dog or with other dogs. The cairn terrier is small enough for an apartment and certainly tough enough to live on a country farm.


The cairn terrier is inquisitive and a quick learner. They do well with obedience training but love rousting prey from their lairs.

Special Concerns

As a terrier, the cairn has a tendency to dig. If not provided adequate entertainment, behavior problems may develop. The hair coat is not long but the coarse nature requires daily brushing to prevent mats and tangles.

Health Concerns

In general, the Cairn Terrier is a healthy dog with few medical concerns. However, the following diseases or disorders have been reported:

  • Cataracts cause a loss of the normal transparency of the lens of the eye. The problem can occur in one or both eyes and can lead to blindness.
  • Atopy is an itchy skin disease of animals that is caused by an allergy to substances in the environment.
  • Cryptorchidism is a condition in which one or both testicles do not descend into the scrotum.
  • Diabetes is a disease of the pancreas related to insufficient amounts of insulin production.
  • Glaucoma is a painful and serious condition that causes pressure within the eye to increase. It can lead to blindness if not treated early.
  • Patellar luxation is a disorder affecting the kneecap.
  • Portosystemic shunt (PSS) is a malformation of the blood flow associated with the liver. The blood is shunted away from the liver, resulting in accumulation of blood toxins and subsequent profound illness.
  • Inguinal hernia is condition in which abdominal contents protrude through the inguinal ring, which is located at the inner fold of the rear leg close to the body wall "groin area".
  • Lens luxation is a dislocation or displacement of the lens within the eye.
  • Polycystic kidney disease is progressive, irreversible, inherited kidney disease in that can result in renal failure
  • Renal dysplasia is a disease in which development of the kidney tissue is abnormal which can cause renal failure.

    Life Span

    The cairn terrier can live up to 14 to 16 years.

    We realize that each dog is unique and may display other characteristics. This profile provides generally accepted breed information only.

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