Cairn Terrier


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Breed Snapshot

Life Expectancy:

13 to 15 years



Maintenance Level:


Shed Level:




Coat Color:

BlackCreamGrayRedSilverWheatenBrindleGray BrindleRed BrindleCream BrindleBlack Brindle
Blue Ribbon

Best For

Cairn Terriers may be small, but they're packed with plenty of energy and a feisty, affectionate personality. They love outdoor adventures and require consistent training, making them ideal for active households seeking a spirited dog breed.

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).

Cairns were originally bred to hunt vermin out of rock piles, or “cairns” in Scotland, so they are a working terrier breed. Rock piles are scarce nowadays outside of Scotland, but Cairns’ 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, which just might make you your neighbor’s least 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 13 to 15 years or more, and they are generally a healthy, hardy breed. But they have a few health problems you should 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 its normal position when the knee joint flexes and extends. It may be treated with weight management, joint supplements, pain medication and, in severe cases, surgery.
  • Diabetes Mellitus: Cairn terriers are predisposed to developing diabetes mellitus, but there is no genetic screening test available. If your pet is drinking and urinating excessively, schedule an appointment with your vet right away. Diabetes can be diagnosed with a blood test and is typically treated with insulin injections.
  • Hypothyroidism: Hypothyroidism is an endocrine disease in which the body does not produce enough thyroid hormone. Symptoms include weight gain, lethargy, and hair loss. Treatment is typically daily medication.
  • Cushings Disease: This is another endocrine disease where the body produces too much of the natural steroid cortisol. Blood tests are primarily used to help your vet get a diagnosis and treatment is typically daily medication.
  • Globoid Cell Leukodystrophy (GCL): Also known as Krabbe disease, this genetic disorder, which damages neurological function, is sadly always fatal as there is no cure. Genetic screening tests are available so be sure to ask your breeder.
  • Liver Shunts: Portosystemic vascular anomaly (PSVA) and microvascular dysplasia (MVD) are related genetic disorders that cause liver circulation to function improperly. Treatment may include medication or surgery, particularly for PSVA.
  • Abnormal Kidney Development: Kidney aplasia and dysplasia are the abnormal development of one or both kidneys and are hereditary conditions. 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. Genetic 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 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. 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. Search Chewy’s database of adoptable dogs for Cairn Terriers in your area.


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?

Note: These are not purebred dogs but mixed breeds.


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.

Breed characteristic ratings provided by veterinarian Dr. Sarah J. Wooten, DVM, CVJ, a veterinarian at Sheep Draw Veterinary Hospital in Greeley, Colorado; dog trainer and behavior consultant Irith Bloom, CPDT-KSA, CBCC-KA, CDBC, owner of The Sophisticated Dog, LLC, in Los Angeles; and certified animal behavior consultant Amy Shojai, CABC, in Sherman, Texas.

The health content was medically reviewed by Chewy vets.

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