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Cairn Terrier

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Lively, loyal and friendly, Cairn terriers are appealing little dogs which are excellent pets. They are feisty and brave pooches which thrive on human company. Cairns don’t need a great deal of exercise but are high-maintenance on the grooming front. They need owners who are at home all day and will reward them with devotion and a little mischief.

Which breed group is the Cairn terrier in?

Breed group: Terrier

Cairn terrier breed history

As with so many breeds, the precise history of the Cairn terrier isn’t known. These efficient hunters of vermin and foxes developed in the Scottish Highlands and there are references to similar dogs dating back to the 16th century. Cairn terriers were valued by farmers as they were courageous and kept vermin under control. The dogs varied from region to region but would have had ancestors in common.

The Cairn terrier was little known until the 20th century as it had evolved in remote areas of the country. Enthusiasts then raised the profile of the breed and began pushing for Kennel Club recognition which they received in 1910. That year, the official Cairn Club was established with just 54 members. There are now more than 20 breed clubs around the world.

Cairn terrier breed characteristics

Diminutive but robust, Cairn terriers are muscular dogs with small, broad heads. Their black shiny noses and shaggy eyebrows enhance their visual appeal and their eyes are set wide apart. Cairn terriers boast small pointed ears which are carried upright, strong necks and compact bodies. Their furry tails are carried gaily but never over their backs. These splendid little dogs have double coats with the outer coat being rough and the undercoat soft.  Various colours are acceptable including brindle, cream, grey, red and wheaten.

Cairn terriers are notable for both their fearlessness and gregarious natures. They are rarely aggressive and possess impressive intelligence but can get up to mischief. They excel at Canine sports, are easy to train and thrive on human company.

  • Lifespan: 12-17 years
  • Height: up to 33cm
  • Weight: up to 6.8kg
  • Robust
  • Muscular
  • Small heads
  • Black shiny noses
  • Pointed, upright ears
  • Tails carried gaily
  • Double coats in a variety of colours
  • Fearless
  • Intelligent
  • Excel at canine sports
  • Easy to train
  • Love people

Health issues with Cairn terrier

Cairn terriers are sturdy pooches but are prone to several hereditary and congenital conditions as follows:

  • Cataracts
  • Progressive retinal atrophy
  • Lens luxation
  • Retinal Dysplasia (RD)
  • Persistent Pupillary Membrane (PPM)
  • Persistent Hyaloid Artery (PHA)
  • Entropion - less frequently seen in the breed
  • Glaucoma
  • Optic nerve hypoplasia
  • Porto systemic shunt (PSS)
  • Ocular melanosis (OM)
  • Abnormal Pigmentation (APD)
  • Hip Dysplasia
  • Luxating Patella
  • Von Willebrand Disease
  • Legg-Calves-Perthes disease

What is the Cairn terrier bred for?

Cairn terriers were originally bred to work in the Scottish Highlands, controlling foxes and vermin.

What sort of owners does the Cairn terrier suit?

Friendly and adaptable, Cairn terriers are excellent pets and are suitable for novice owners. They are easy to train but must be trained well to prevent mischief. They shed only moderately and don’t require an enormous amount of exercise. These dogs do need to be kept busy and will suffer from separation anxiety. As such, their ideal owner would be at home with them all day and would be able to offer them a garden to play in. This should be very secure as Cairns love to dig! This breed can thrive in both the countryside and the urban environment and can live happily in an apartment as long as they spend time in the great outdoors every day.


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