A small, scruffy haired, grey dog with a short tail and triangular ears is leading the way down a grassy track.

Cairn Terrier

29 August 2023

Let’s talk about… Cairn Terriers: what are they?

  • Cairn Terriers are small but spirited dogs that originated in Scotland.
  • They are named after the piles of stones called "cairns" that were used as markers.
  • These energetic and hardworking dogs were originally bred for hunting and are known for their tenacity and agility.
  • Cairn Terriers have a dense, weather-resistant double coat that comes in various colours such as red, brindle, wheaten, or grey.
  • Cairn Terriers gained worldwide fame as the beloved dog Toto in the classic film "The Wizard of Oz."
  • Cairn Terriers have a compact and sturdy build, with a height ranging from 25 to 30 cm and a weight of approximately 6 to 7 kg.
  • They have a life expectancy of around 13 to 15 years.
Cairn Terrier  Exercise Needs 3/5 Grooming Ease 3/5 Trainability 4/5

What is the temperament of Cairn Terriers like?

  • Cairn Terriers have a bold and confident temperament.
  • They are intelligent, alert, and always ready for action.
  • Despite their small size, they have a strong-willed nature and may display some stubbornness.
  • Cairn Terriers are generally friendly and sociable dogs, but they can be a bit reserved with strangers. Early socialisation is important to help them become well-rounded and comfortable around new people and animals.
  • They are known for their loyalty and make great companions for individuals or families.
  • Cairn Terriers have a natural hunting instinct and may display some chasing behaviours towards small animals. However, with proper training and socialisation, they can often learn to coexist peacefully with other pets in the household.
Benji, the Cairn Terrier

How much exercise do Cairn Terriers need?

  • Cairn Terriers are energetic dogs that require a moderate amount of exercise.
  • They should have over an hour of exercise per day to keep them mentally and physically stimulated. This can be achieved through activities such as brisk walks, playtime in a securely fenced yard, or interactive games.
  • Since they have a hunting background, they enjoy activities that allow them to use their natural instincts, such as puzzle toys or scent games.
  • Mental stimulation is just as important as physical exercise for Cairn Terriers, so incorporating training sessions or challenging toys into their routine is highly beneficial.
Chester, the Cairn Terrier

Do Cairn Terriers need a lot of grooming?

  • Cairn Terriers have a wiry outer coat and a soft, dense undercoat.
  • Their coat requires regular maintenance to keep it looking its best.
  • Weekly brushing with a slicker brush or a comb will help remove loose hair and prevent matting.
  • Some owners choose to hand-strip the coat, which involves removing dead hair by hand, to maintain its texture and appearance. Some owners prefer to trim the coat.  A professional groomer can advise.
  • Cairn Terriers are considered a low-shedding breed, but their hair may still end up around the house.
  • Like any dog, regular tooth brushing with a dog-specific toothpaste twice daily is ideal. If you can’t manage that often, just do it as often as you can.
Ernie, the Cairn Terrier

Are Cairn Terriers easy to train?

  • Cairn Terriers are intelligent and eager to please, making them trainable dogs. However, they can be a bit independent and may test the boundaries.
  • Training should start early, and consistency and positive reinforcement methods work best with this breed.
  • Cairn Terriers respond well to praise, treats, and rewards when they exhibit desired behaviours.
  • It's important to keep training sessions fun and engaging for Cairn Terriers to prevent boredom. Short, frequent training sessions with plenty of mental stimulation will yield the best results.
  • Early socialisation is crucial to ensure they grow up to be well-behaved and confident dogs.
Scooby Doo, the Cairn Terrier

What do Cairn Terriers eat?

  • Cairn Terriers should be fed a balanced diet appropriate for their age, size, and activity level.
  • High-quality commercial dog food formulated for small breeds is a suitable choice.
  • The amount of food will depend on factors such as their age, metabolism, and exercise routine. Most do well being fed twice daily.
  • It's important to monitor their weight and adjust the portion sizes accordingly to prevent overfeeding, as Cairn Terriers can be prone to weight gain.
  • For Cairn Terrier puppies, a specially formulated small-breed puppy food is recommended until they reach around 12 months of age.
  • Puppies have different nutritional requirements for growth and development, so it's important to provide them with appropriate puppy food until they transition to adult dog food.
  • Your vet can advise on the best feeding regime for your pooch.

Are Cairn Terriers healthy?

Cairn Terriers are generally healthy dogs, but like any breed, they can be prone to certain health conditions. It's important to be aware of these potential health concerns and take appropriate measures to keep your Cairn Terrier in good health. Some of the health issues that may affect Cairn Terriers include:

Bones and Joints

  • Legg-Calve-Perthes Disease - a hip condition that affects the blood supply to the head of the femur bone, leading to breakdown of the bone, pain and lameness.
  • Luxating patella - this is when a dog’s kneecap moves out of where it should normally be


  • Cataracts - a common cause of blindness due to a clouding of the lens of the eye
  • Glaucoma - the pressure of the eye becomes too high which can damage the eye


  • Diabetes -  a condition where your dog can’t produce enough insulin to control their blood sugar levels
  • Hypothyroidism - a condition where your dog does not produce enough thyroid hormone

This list is by no means comprehensive, if you have any concerns about the health of your dog, or if you want to discuss further if a Cairn Terrier is right for you, consult with your vet.

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Information on this page should never replace advice given by your veterinarian.  Potential health issues presented are given as a guide only and are not meant to be comprehensive.  If you ever have any concerns about your dog’s health contact your local vet.

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