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Cairn Terrier

Cairn Terrier Breed


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Dog Size

Energy Level

Dog Energy Level


Dog Trainability

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Physical Characteristics:
Height – Female: 9-10” | Male: 10-13”
Weight – Female: 13-14 lbs. | Male: 14-18 lbs.
Energy Level: Moderate
The American Kennel Club recognizes the Cairn Terrier in the following colors:

  • Black
  • Black Brindle
  • Brindle
  • Cream
  • Cream brindle
  • Gray
  • Gray brindle
  • Red
  • Red brindle
  • Silver
  • Wheaten

Health & Longevity

Average Life Span: 12-15 years
The Cairn Terrier is a lively pup with fairly good health, but there are a few complex health conditions that would concern most pet owners. These plucky little dogs are prone to the usual health conditions that affect any dog of any breed, such as heart disease, bone cancer, and heartworms. But there are also several breed-specific health issues that your Cairn Terrier could have inherited from its parents. During the puppy years, it is important to establish a good relationship with a reputable veterinarian. This will enable the vet to get to know your pup and treat them throughout their life.

Two examples of health issues that a Cairn Terrier might encounter are:

Corneal Dystrophy

This condition most often occurs in pups with high cholesterol or a genetic predisposition to eye problems. The cells lining the cornea degenerate, causing cloudiness, eye spasms and twitches, fluid blisters, and impaired vision. There are several kinds of corneal dystrophy, so your vet will have to do a thorough examination to discover the type. Treatment includes vet-prescribed eye antibiotics and possible surgery. Even after treatment, there remains a cloudy film over the cornea.

Craniomandibular Osteopathy

Also nicknamed lion’s jaw, this disease occurs when the bone shifts, widens, and changes in both the lower jaw and skull. It causes elongation, dislocation, and severe pain when eating or drinking. Symptoms are apparent, as pet owners will be able to see the difference in how their pet’s jaw bone sets. Surgery is required to correct this condition.

Other health concerns your Cairn Terrier may face include cataracts, skin allergies, glaucoma, hip dysplasia, and Legg-Calve-Perthes disease. The average Cairn Terrier boasts a lengthy lifespan between 12 to 15 years.

Temperament & Train-ability

With any dogs, you will get a few downsides with the upsides, and a Cairn Terrier is the perfect example of a diverse personality. While these pups are clever, intelligent, high-energy, and protective, they are also strong-willed, bossy, somewhat rude, and expectant. While they can be playful and loving towards older children and adults in their family, they can be a bit aggressive, nippy, and intolerant of younger children and other dogs. Their diverse traits make them an enigma in the purebred world, but they are also some of the most popular pups because of the strong bond they form with their loved ones.

Cairn Terriers would make great companions in single-pet homes, because she would rather be the dominant pup, or only pup, in the household. She thinks all dogs, even larger dogs, are beneath her, so she will commonly challenge any dog to a dominance showdown. This could make it difficult to go to a dog park, but socialization from an early age could inhibit her natural alpha-like manners. She would deal well with other dogs if she were raised with them from the beginning. Same goes for her relationship with younger children.

In the presence of strangers, the Cairn Terrier can be aggressive with incessant barking and low growling, but they rarely bite unless they are truly threatened or provoked. It simply takes these pups a while to get used to new people.

Exercise-wise, Cairn Terriers would be ideal companions for fitness-minded pet owners. She loves running and playing and romping all over the place, so she would happily join you for a long walk, or run, around the neighborhood. She needs lots of daily stimulation to keep boredom at bay. If boredom hits, the Cairn Terrier becomes destructive, chewing on furniture and other household items in a bid to entertain herself.

Cairn Terriers are highly intelligent, which makes them compliant to commands. However, they are also independent, and may try to challenge your dominance with a show of disobedience. Keep your cool and be patient. Use a firm, strong tone in a clear, positive voice to communicate instructions to your Cairn Terrier. It might take some repetition, but she will eventually come around.


Low-shedding and double-coated, the Cairn Terrier is known for their close-cropped, smooth undercoat, and lengthy, wiry overcoat. Grab a firm-bristled brush and give their coat a long brush-down at least 2-3 times per week. This keeps excess hairs from forming kinks and tangles.

Other primary care needs for your Cairn Terrier include cleaning their ears once a week, trimming their coat every 6-8 weeks, clipping their toenails every 3 weeks, and brushing their teeth at least every other day.


Cairn Terriers are big appetites in mid-sized bodies. These pups have an abundance of energy, so they need nutritious meals to fuel their activities. Every Cairn Terrier is different in their nutritional needs, so consult a vet to make sure you are feeding your pup correctly. On average, Cairn Terriers need two meals per day, with ½ to 1 cup of dry, good-quality kibble for each meal.

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Cairn Terries are some of the most in-demand purebreds in the dog world. Therefore, they are also some of the most abandoned to rescue groups and animal shelters. Check both places before you peruse the internet for a reputable breeder. Yes, many of the adoptable Cairn Terriers are older, but you would be offering a sweet, spunky pup the second chance it needs for a new, happy forever home. Adoption fees vary from between states and counties, but the average is between $75 to $250. Add up vaccinations, vet check-ups, and spay or neuter services, and you have around $500 for your Cairn Terrier companion.

If you opt for a breeder, take the time to search thoroughly for a reliable one. On average, a Cairn Terrier puppy will cost between $700 to $1,000 from a breeder. Remember to ask for purebred documentation and health records to ensure you have found a trustworthy breeder.

Paws ‘N’ Pups Ranking

Paws ‘N’ Pups ranks every breed out of 4 with 1 being easiest to integrate into your life and 4 being the toughest – The lower the ranking the better.
Ranking takes into account a few basic factors including cost, skill level needed, high vs low maintenance and how critical regular training is to success.Cairn Terriers are a 2.5 on the integration scale. These pups have a natural aggression that comes out around strangers and other dogs. However, this can be trained out of them, if you begin training and socialization at an early age. When these pups are properly trained and socialized, they make sassy, plucky, sweet companions for someone living an active, fit lifestyle.


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