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Cairn Terrier Breed Guide and Insurance Plan

By Christy True and medically reviewed by Cathy Barnette, DVM
published: October 10, 2023 • 5 min. read
Cairn terrier with ball

Introduction to Cairn Terriers

Cairn terriers are alert and cheery dogs with excellent temperaments and unique qualities that make pet parents quickly fall in love with them. These dogs originated in the Scottish countryside and were once used to hunt prey in rural areas. But today, they are beloved family members in households and wonderful companions who are endlessly loyal and entertaining.

If you want to learn more about the Cairn terrier breed, explore this Healthy Paws breed guide with information to know before you adopt or purchase one as a new pet.

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Size of Cairn Terriers

The ideal weight of an adult Cairn terrier dog is 14 pounds for a male and 13 pounds for a female. Adult males stand 10 inches tall, and adult females are approximately 9.5 inches tall. Most Cairns stop growing by 10 to 12 months of age.

Here’s how big you can expect your Cairn terrier to get as the dog grows from puppyhood to adulthood. Male weights are on the high end of these ranges, and female weights are on the low end.

Weight Chart3 months6 months8 months10 months12 months
Male and female Cairn terriers5.5 – 6.6 lbs.8.8 – 11 lbs.11 – 13.2 lbs.13.2 – 15.4 lbs.14.3 – 16.5 lbs.

Characteristics of Cairn Terriers

Cairn terriers are known for being alert and curious in terms of demeanor. They are small, shaggy dogs that have shining eyes and significant intelligence. Many people love Cairn terriers because they make equally great lap dogs for indoor cuddling and outdoor dogs for playtime in the yard. However, these dogs are known for their love of digging holes, and their terrier instincts may lead them to chase small animals and not get along instantly with every cat and dog they meet.

Some Cairn terriers are vocal and require training to prevent excessive barking. But if you are looking for a family-friendly and playful dog that doesn’t shed too much, a Cairn terrier might be just what you’ve always wanted in a small dog. Their playful energy can be a great fit for a family with older kids, though they may be a bit rowdy for a family with very young children.

As you get to know a Cairn terrier’s personality, here’s what you can expect based on his or her breed characteristics:

Breed CharacteristicLevel (High, Medium, Low)
Affectionate with PeopleMedium
Good with KidsMedium
Good with PetsMedium
Need for ExerciseMedium
Energy LevelMedium
Intelligence LevelHigh
Able to Be TrainedMedium
Amount of BarkingMedium
Amount of SheddingMedium
Cairn terrier white

History of Cairn Terriers

Numerous terrier breeds of dogs have existed for centuries in various parts of the world. The Cairn terrier hails from farms in Scotland, and breeders established them as a unique breed in the late 1800s. The name “Cairn terrier” first appeared in print in 1887, even though this type of dog existed well before that. Historians believe the dog’s origin dates back to at least the late 1600s on the Isle of Skye and in the Western Highlands.

The name “Cairn” refers to a mound of stones used to mark a boundary or grave. In the Scottish Highlands, these dogs dug beneath rock piles to hunt for prey living beneath them. There have been many Cairns exhibited at British dog shows over the years. The American Kennel Club first recognized the Cairn terrier breed in 1913. One of the most famous Carins was featured as Toto in the 1939 movie, “The Wizard of Oz.” J. Edgar Hoover, the first director of the FBI, loved the Cairn terrier breed, which other famous people have also favored over the years.

Cairn Terrier Standard Information

Active, hardy, short-legged, and well-proportioned, the Cairn terrier has many distinguishing characteristics. These characteristics also include having a weather-resistant coat, a short and broad head, and a foxy expression.

To learn more about these physical characteristics, here is an overview of the breed standard information for Cairn terriers:


Cairn terrier black
  • Broad skull
  • Strong but not too long or heavy muzzle
  • Small and pointed ears
  • Black eyes
  • Large teeth
  • Neither undershot nor overshot jaw

Tail and Body:

  • Tail in proportion to the head
  • Well-muscled, strong, and active body
  • Level back of medium-length

Shoulders, Legs Feet:

  • Sloping shoulder
  • Medium length of leg
  • Forefeet larger than hindfeet
  • Legs covered with hair
  • Pads thick and strong


  • Hard and weather-resistant
  • Double-coated with profuse, harsh outer coat
  • Undercoat is short, soft, and furry


  • May be any color except white
  • Dark muzzle, ears, and tail tip are desirable

Caring for Cairn Terriers

It is relatively straightforward to care for a Cairn terrier, especially with regard to grooming. However, grooming is definitely a great way to establish a strong bond and trust with your pet. Cairns are adaptable dogs that can live and be happy in various environments. They are excellent all-around dogs that need moderate exercise and have moderate energy levels.

Here are some general tips for taking the best care of a Cairn terrier:

Best Living Environments:

  • Versatile dogs that can thrive in apartments, farms, and nearly anywhere in between
  • Homes with plenty of time with family members

Type of Exercise:

  • Moderate amount of exercise per day
  • Try dog sports to expend energy in young dogs
  • An hour of exercise per day
  • Several daily walks
  • Playtime in the backyard

Mental Enrichment:

  • Keep the mind active with obedience training and agility tests
  • Cairns enjoy herding, tracking, and earthdog activities
  • Playtime with children
  • A backyard sandbox to channel digging tendencies, if necessary

Training Strategies:

  • Intelligent dogs that may test their limits
  • Obedience training is recommended
  • Cairns learn quickly and easily
  • Teach Cairns not to dig or chase small animals

Grooming Tips:

  • Brush the coat weekly
  • Use a soft, slicker brush and comb for grooming
  • Trim nails regularly

Common Health Problems of Cairn Terriers

The life expectancy of a Cairn terrier is 13 to 15 years. However, it is not uncommon for a Cain terrier to live for even longer than 15 years with good care and a healthy diet and exercise regimen. Because of how this dog has been bred over the years, the national breed club recommends the following health tests for Cairn terriers: patella evaluation, liver portosystemic vascular anomaly and microvascular dysplasia, globoid cell leukodystrophy cardiac exam, kidney ultrasound for missing kidney or deformed kidney, and ocular melanosis eye exam.

These are some of the most common health issues that arise with Cairn terriers:

  • Atopic dermatitis (skin allergies)
  • Cataracts
  • Craniomandibular osteopathy
  • Cryptorchidism
  • Epilepsy
  • Globoid cell leukodystrophy
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Legg-Calve-Perthes disease
  • Patellar luxation
  • Ocular melanosis/secondary glaucoma
  • Portosystemic liver shunt
Cairn terrier running

Diet and Nutrition for Cairn Terriers

Fully grown adult Cairn terriers need about ½ cup to one cup of dry dog food daily, depending on the diet you are feeding. Puppy Cairn terriers should be fed specific puppy formulations. The Cairn Terrier Club of Canada also suggests adding an omega-3 fish oil supplement to your Cairn terrier’s daily food to reduce the risk of skin problems.

Where to Adopt or Purchase Cairn Terriers

The Cairn Terrier Club of America is the national breed club for these dogs and a resource for finding a Cairn terrier to bring into your life. You can search for a breeder by state on the club’s website. There are also many Cairn terrier rescue organizations with city-specific and regional focuses, including the Cairn Terrier Club of Denver, Cairn Terrier Clubs of Northern California and Southern California, and the Potomac Cairn Terrier Club.

Related Breeds

Terriers are among the most common dogs in the world, and there are additional kinds of terriers that you may be interested to learn about if you enjoy the Cairn terrier breed. Here are a few examples:

Pet Insurance for Cairn Terriers

At Healthy Paws, we are committed to helping you take the very best care of your Cairn terrier, which includes covering your pup from head to paw with a dog insurance plan. We have offered the #1 customer-rated pet health insurance plan for seven years in a row and enrolled over 560,000 pets, giving pet parents peace of mind and Cairn terriers the medical care they need. Our Cairn terrier insurance plan allows you to visit any licensed vet you choose, including emergency animal hospitals and specialists. Whether your Cairn terrier is a puppy, a senior dog, or somewhere in between, pet health insurance is worth it, especially with our flexible premium and deductible options.

See what the cost would be to cover your Cairn terrier with a Healthy Paws plan by requesting your online quote today.

Christy True and Tomas
By Christy True

Christy has been writing about pets for Healthy Paws for 28 dog years. She also coordinates media requests and manages the Healthy Paws Foundation. A background in journalism may be why she enjoys writing about offbeat animal studies and the latest viral pet trends. She has been owned by several dogs, and she volunteers with a local dog rescue. Outside of work, she can usually be found sliding down a mountain near her home in Bend, Ore.

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cathy barnette
By Cathy Barnette, DVM

Cathy Barnette, DVM (Doctor of Veterinary Medicine), is a veterinarian and freelance writer based in Punta Gorda, FL. She graduated from the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine, then headed to North Carolina, where she spent fifteen years working in small animal general practice. Cathy recently returned to her home state of Florida and now dedicates her working hours to creating educational content for pet owners and veterinary team members for Healthy Paws Pet Insurance LLC & the Healthy Paws Foundation. Cathy is passionate about making complex medical information accessible to pet owners, allowing them to partner with their veterinarians to make informed decisions about their pets' health. Cathy is a member of both the American Veterinary Medical Association and the American Medical Writers Association. In addition to her human family members, she shares her home with one dog, two cats, and a dove. Cathy Barnette on LinkedIn

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