Cairn Terrier Breed Information and Buying advice

Cairn Terrier

Are You Looking to Buy or Adopt a Cairn Terrier?

Quick Cairn Terrier Facts

Average Size of Adult
Small (2/5)
Puppy Puppy Puppy Puppy Puppy
Grooming Requirement
High (3/3)
Puppy Puppy Puppy
Medium (2/3)
Puppy Puppy Puppy
Average Life Span
12-14 years (5/8)
Exercise Requirements
Medium (2/3)
Puppy Puppy Puppy
Medium (2/3)
Puppy Puppy Puppy
Low (1/3)
Puppy Puppy Puppy
Child friendly
Yes (1/2)
Medium (2/3)
Puppy Puppy Puppy
Breed Group
Terrier (4/8)
Yes (1/2)

Scotland proudly boasts some of the world’s most famous sheepdogs and terriers, most of which are hardy and robust. Despite their size, the diminutive Cairn Terrier lives up to this reputation with its spirited and eager temperament. Many Scottish dog breeds also have a reputation for beautiful coats of hair designed to withstand the rugged landscapes and climate. The Cairn Terrier fits this description well with its fashionable good looks. Perhaps no Cairn Terrier was as famous as Toto from the 1939 film adaptation of The Wizard of Oz, but many have also been shown on television and film both here in the UK as well as internationally. Cairn Terriers are excellent puppies for many great reasons such as their cute and adorable looks as well as their kind, gentle disposition. They’re ideal for first-time puppy owners and are versatile and adaptable to many environments while having easy grooming and maintenance requirements.  

Why Cairn Terriers are Great

Some highlights of Cairn Terriers:

  1. Adaptable: Cairn Terriers are able to adapt to many different climates and environments, ranging from small apartments to large homes in the country.

  2. Family-friendly: this breed is known to get along well with owners and their families.

  3. First-time owners: since Cairn Terriers are so easy to maintain and care for, they make an excellent puppy choice for first-time owners.

  4. Exercise: although all breeds require ample exercise, Cairn Terriers aren’t as demanding in terms of daily exercise as most other breeds.

  5. Shedding: Cairn Terriers don’t shed too much hair and aren’t a huge hassle to clean up after.


Things to Consider when Looking at Cairn Terriers for Sale

Some downsides to the Cairn Terrier:

  1. Grooming: this breed has fairly high grooming requirements in order to keep a healthy coat of fur.

  2. Isolation: Cairn Terriers don’t much like being left alone for too long.

  3. Digging: as with many terrier breeds, Cairn Terriers may dig up flowerbeds if left to play in gardens unsupervised.

  4. Health: this breed is known to suffer from a wide range of hereditary diseases.


History of the Cairn Terrier

The Cairn Terrier originated in 17th century Scotland in the Western Highlands and the Isle of Skye. This breed was used to hunt vermin around cairns, ancient stone piles common in Scotland, hence the name. It was originally called the Short-haired Skye Terrier at their first appearance in dog shows in the UK in 1909, but this name was discarded due to conflicts with Skye Terrier breeders. This breed was officially recognised as a distinct breed from the Skye Terrier and West Highland White Terriers when it was introduced to the Kennel Club of Great Britain in 1912. Since then, it has soared in popularity and remains amongst the more popular breeds in the UK as well as worldwide.  


Over the centuries, the Cairn Terrier has retained much of his rugged looks. This breed is small yet agile, alert, and natural in its appearance. They can be distinguished easily by their weather-resistant double coats of fur that give them a cuddly and cute appearance, especially as puppies but also as adults. Cairn Terriers have been famous in film and entertainment from the 20th century on and are thus easy to identify due to their popularity, such as Toto in The Wizard of Oz. They most resemble Norwich Terriers in appearance.  

How big is the Cairn Terrier?

Cairn Terriers are small-sized dogs. Males and females both grow on average to 23-33 cm in height.  

How heavy is a Cairn Terrier?

Fully-grown adult male and female Cairn Terriers weigh between 4.5-7 kg on average.  

What colour is the Cairn Terrier?

This breed has the following commonly-accepted coat colours:

  • Cream;

  • Wheaten;

  • Grey;

  • Near-black.

  Brindling of each of these colours is acceptable as well. Solid black, white, or black and tan are undesirable. The ears and muzzle typically have dark spots.  


Cairn Terriers appear hardy and active without any fear in their hearts. Although they are often assertive, they are not an aggressive breed. They love nothing more than to run around and are excellent at chasing prey, which is the reason why they were originally bred. As with most terriers, Cairn Terriers tend to be highly intelligent but have a mischievous side as well. Proper training is therefore required in order to curb naughty behaviour and to foster an obedient and loyal companion. Luckily, they don’t require much training compared to other breeds and are therefore a great choice of puppy for first-time owners, especially those with families and children.  

Do Cairn Terriers make good guard dogs?

Cairn Terriers make poor guard dogs since they are small and not aggressive. They do make acceptable watchdogs, however, since they are quick to alert their owner to any suspicious activity.  

Do Cairn Terriers bark a lot?

Most Cairn Terriers are prone to barking, sometimes excessively. This stems from their inclination to chase and catch vermin and to alert owners to their whereabouts. Proper training can reduce compulsive barking, but they may still bark more than desired.  

Are Cairn Terriers easy to train?

In general, Cairn Terriers are easy to train thanks to their high intelligence. They can be stubborn at times and should be trained as puppies in order to avoid bad habits from developing.  

Are Cairn Terriers playful?

This breed enjoys playing to its heart’s content. Cairn Terriers are also known to behave mischievously and therefore require obedience training as puppies.  

Are Cairn Terriers good with children?

Most terrier breeds get along well with children, and the Cairn Terrier is no exception. They love playing with children of all ages and tend to be gentle.  

Are Cairn Terriers good with other pets?

Cairn Terriers generally get along well with other pets. As with most terriers, small pets such as rodents will naturally trigger their prey drive and should be kept separate from the Cairn Terrier at all times.  

Can I leave a Cairn Terrier alone?

This breed doesn’t tolerate being left alone for more than a moderate amount of time. They are happiest when their owner or a family member is home to keep them company.  

Do Cairn Terriers like water?

Some Cairn Terriers love to swim and play in the water, but some won’t. This comes down to the individual Carin Terrier’s decision. Since they tend to be fearless, allow them to gradually dip their paws into the water and never force them to go swimming.  


How long do Cairn Terriers live? 

Generally, Cairn Terriers are expected to live anywhere from 12-17 years.  

How much exercise does a Cairn Terrier need?

This breed requires a moderate amount of exercise. Since Cairn Terriers are energetic and playful, keep them mentally and physically stimulated with a good hour’s worth of exercise every day.  

What are a Cairn Terrier’s common health issues?

Cairn Terriers have a high chance of contracting a range of hereditary diseases and are prone to many common health issues, including:

  • Bronchoesophageal fistula;

  • Cataracts;

  • Lion jaw;

  • Krabbe disease;

  • Corneal dystrophy;

  • Diabetes;

  • Entropion;

  • Hip dysplasia;

  • Hypothyroidism;

  • Legg-Calvé-Perthes syndrome;

  • Von Willebrand’s disease.



How much space do I need for a Cairn Terrier? 

Cairn Terriers are highly adaptable and can live comfortably in apartments and houses of all sizes. They are also ideal for urban life as much as they are for country life.  

What should I feed my Cairn Terrier?

A fully-grown Cairn Terrier should be fed ½ to 1.5 cups of high-quality dog food every day, divided into two meals. Adjust as necessary to promote good health and to prevent overfeeding.  

How much grooming do Cairn Terriers need?

Although Cairn Terriers are a small breed, their coats of fur are harsh and require professional grooming at least twice per year. Furthermore, they should be brushed every day in order to promote healthy growth and to eliminate tangles and knots.  

Do Cairn Terriers shed?

This breed sheds moderately, but since they’re such a small breed cleaning up isn’t too difficult or demanding.  

Average Costs

How much does it cost to keep a Cairn Terrier?

As a rough guide in pricing:  Cost to buy: roughly £400-500 for a well-bred Cairn Terrier puppy Other costs (Vet, Food etc): £65-100 per month  

Specific Buying Guide

You can read our general buying guide here, with the most important thing being going to view your Cairn Terrier puppy, seeing it with its mother, and checking the quality of the breeder.  More specifically, here is some Cairn Terrier puppy buying advice:

  1. Cairn Terriers are prone to many hereditary diseases and health problems. Ensure that your Cairn Terrier puppy is in good health and that all medical documentation can be provided by the dealer. Also, take your Cairn Terrier puppy to a veterinarian after purchase to have a full medical examination.

  2. As a popular breed in the UK, Cairn Terriers may be sold by questionable dealers who engage in unethical breeding practices. Ensure that your Cairn Terrier puppy comes from a reputable dealer and was bred according to Kennel Club standards.


Other Reading, Adopting Cairn Terrier Puppies and Rescue Organisations

A big thank you to the following sources who helped to shape this article: Cairn Terrier Relief Fund:  The Cairn Terrier Club:  Kennel Club of Great Britain:  UK Dog Trust: Blue Cross: Federation Cynologique Internationale: