Cairn Terrier


Cairn Terrier dog breed
Connect with a Vet

Breed Snapshot

Life Expectancy:

13 to 15 years



Maintenance Level:


Shed Level:




Coat Color:

Blue Ribbon

Best For

The Cairn Terrier is best for active families (children included) that are dedicated to consistent training. Because of their small size, they are well-suited for apartment life.

Cairn Terrier Traits

Cairn Terrier Temperament

There is a whole lot of personality packed into the compact Cairn Terrier. They are a friendly, sociable breed who loves making new friends wherever they go, of both the two- and four-legged variety. So, yes, you can expect to leave any trip to the dog park with a puppy playdate booked for next week. Hope you like a full social calendar! Cairns are good with kids, and their scrappy personalities allow them to enjoy the rough-and-tumble play of an afternoon outside with the little kiddos (as long as they follow the no ear or tail pulling rule). Cairn Terriers generally do not have aggressive tendencies or are known to be biters, so social interactions should be happy ones.

Cairns were originally bred to hunt vermin out of rockpiles, or “cairns” in Scotland, so they are a working terrier breed. Rock piles are scarce nowadays outside of Scotland, but their high prey drive will keep them on alert for squirrels, bunnies or any other small furry animals that dare to invade their territory. Their instinct to dig is strong, so some savvy pet parents have been known to provide their Cairn Terrier with a sand box of hidden toys to dig for—this keeps their dog happy and their daisies intact. Win, win.

For the most part, their temperament is happy-go-lucky, and they’re never more content than when sharing an adventure with you. Energetic and curious, they’re always up for a game of fetch, a tussle with their favorite tug toy, or just a walk around the neighborhood. But beware the bored Cairn pup who will quickly turn into a barking Cairn pup—one who may not stop until the entertainment resumes making you—yup, you guessed it—your neighbor’s new favorite person. And while they are not known to be lapdogs glad to just watch the world go by, Cairn Terriers may well snuggle up at the end of a busy day for a chance to recharge before tomorrow’s adventure begins.

How to Care for a Cairn Terrier

Cairn Terrier dogs need an average amount of tending to, including regular grooming, exercise and consistent training. Fortunately, these bright little dogs are a quick study, leaving you with lots of time to play when the work is done.

Cairn Terrier Health

Cairn Terriers lifespan tends to be long, about 14 to 15 years or more, and they are generally a healthy, hardy breed. But they have a few health problems you need to be aware of, so you can help your pup live the longest life possible.

  • Luxating Patella: This is a condition in which the kneecap moves out of position. Depending on the severity, it can sometimes be treated with a brace. If not, surgery may be required.
  • Diabetes: This metabolism disorder is not one that can be cured. However, your vet will work with you to manage it by determining the correct insulin dosage to keep your pet’s blood sugar level stable.
  • Hypothyroidism: This condition, when the thyroid gland is underactive and metabolism therefore slows down, can affect nearly every bodily organ. Once diagnosed, it can be treated with a daily oral medication.
  • Globoid Cell Leukodystrophy (GCL): Also known as Krabbe disease, this genetic disorder, which damages neurological function, is sadly always fatal. Physical therapy, medication, bone marrow or cord blood transplants can help minimize symptoms and discomfort, but there is no cure. The best way to prevent the disease is to be sure your breeder screens their dogs for this in advance of breeding.
  • Portosystemic Vascular Anomaly (PSVA) and Microvascular Dysplasia (MVD): These related genetic disorders cause liver circulation not to function properly. Treatment may include medication or surgery, particularly for PSVA.
  • Kidney Aplasia/Dysplasia: The abnormal development of one or both kidneys is a hereditary condition. Depending on the severity, treatment may include medication, fluid therapy, kidney support supplements, special diets and more. Regular monitoring of the condition may also be called for. Screening for this disorder before breeding is the only way to prevent it.

Cairn Terrier History

The origin of the Cairn Terrier lies in Scotland and the breed dates to the olden days. Not, not the ’80s (although it’s reasonable you’d think so. Their hair does look a bit like a classic ’80s Jon Bon Jovi coif). But this is the real olden days—the 17th century. They lived predominantly in the Western Highlands, in particular on the Isle of Skye, where they patrolled game preserves and farms.

For many years, they were lumped together with other terriers and collectively called “Scotch Terriers.” It wasn’t until the late 1800s that they were recognized as their own distinct breed. In those days, large mounds of rocks, or “cairns,” were used to mark a boundary or grave. Rodents and other vermin would take up residence inside and underneath the cairns and it was the Cairn Terrier’s job to dig and evict the critters. They were, in effect, the original Terminator. Arnold, eat your heart out. This was usually a one-dog job, but sometimes multiple dogs would work together as a pack and go after bigger critters such as foxes and otters.

The Cairn’s bravery, tenacity and independence were qualities that served them well when they were working the windswept Highlands of Scotland. The American Kennel Club (AKC) recognized the Cairn Terrier in 1913 as the 69th breed. In 1939, the whole world met the adorable breed when a Cairn Terrier was picked to play Toto in a little movie called “The Wizard of Oz.”

You can find a Cairn Terrier puppy to adopt today by checking out a list of reputable breeders on the American Kennel Club’s website. Depending on the breeder, costs may vary, but a price you can expect to pay for a Cairn Terrier is between $1,000-$2,000. If you’re interested in a rescue dog, the Cairn Terrier Club of America also includes contact information for rescues that may be useful or you can keep an eye out for the breed at your local shelter.


How do you pronounce Cairn Terrier?

You pronounce Carin Terrier “Kehrn Teh-ree-ur.”

Do Cairn Terriers shed?

Cairn Terriers do not shed much, and they may be a good choice for people with allergies.

How long do Cairn Terriers live?

Cairns are a long-lived little breed with a life expectancy of 13 to 15 years, which gives you a long time to create many wonderful memories with this delightful pup.

How big do Cairn Terriers get?

Cairn Terriers don’t get very big. They are about about 10 inches tall and weigh 13 to 14 pounds.

What are the most common Cairn Terrier mixes?

  • Cairn Terrier-Chihuahua mix (Toxirn)
  • Cairn Terrier-Poodle mix (Cairnoodle)
  • Cairn Terrier-Yorkie mix (Carkie)
  • Cairn Terrier-Shih Tzu mix (Care-tzu)
  • Cairn Terrier-Schnauzer mix (Carnauzer)

Top Takeaways

Don’t be fooled by their size: Cairn Terriers are little dogs with big personalities. They’re always up for fun—be sure you include them in all your activities. And Cairns have never met a stranger, so get used to making loads of new friends. Good thing is, with your now busier social calendar, you’ll always have a plus one.

Expert input provided by veterinarian Susan Hankerd DVM, owner of the Auburn Animal Hospital in Rochester, Mich., and certified dog trainer Bonny Wainz, IACP-CDT, CDTA, PDTI, owner of Alternative Canine Training in Royal Oak, Mich.

Search for Adoptable Cairn Terriers Near You

Top Cairn Terrier Names

These are the top Cairn Terrier names as chosen by Chewy's pet parents!

Female Names

  • Lucy
  • Ruby
  • Daisy
  • Hazel
  • Maisie
  • Luna
  • Bella
  • Maggie
  • Pepper
  • Lola

Male Names

  • Max
  • Tucker
  • Archie
  • Ollie
  • Angus
  • Milo
  • Charlie
  • Oliver
  • Teddy
  • Finn