Cairn Terrier

Canis Lupus

Last updated: March 17, 2023
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff
© Nick Chase 68/

Toto from "The Wizard of Oz" was a female Cairn Terrier named Terry.


Cairn Terrier Scientific Classification

Scientific Name
Canis Lupus

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Cairn Terrier Conservation Status

Cairn Terrier Locations

Cairn Terrier Locations

Cairn Terrier Facts

Fun Fact
Toto from "The Wizard of Oz" was a female Cairn Terrier named Terry.
Common Name
Cairn Terrier
Intelligent, lively and strong!

Cairn Terrier Physical Characteristics

Skin Type
14 years
6kg (14lbs)

Cairn Terrier as a Pet:

General Health
Energy Level
Tendency to Chew
Family and kid friendliness
Yappiness / Barking
Separation Anxiety
Preferred Temperature
Average climate
Exercise Needs
Friendly With Other Dogs
Pure bred cost to own
Dog group
Male weight
14-14 lbs
Female weight
13-13 lbs

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View all of the Cairn Terrier images!

Toto from The Wizard of Oz was a female Cairn Terrier named Terry.

The Cairn terrier existed long before 1909. It is that year, breeders brought them to the United Kingdom and named them Short-haired Skye Terriers. Because of opposition from Skye Terrier breeders, the original name for this breed was not acceptable to the Kennel Club. Cairn terriers was suggested and has stuck ever since.

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Cairn terriers are small dogs with a weatherproof outer coat that ranges in colors from red, black, cream, or brindled. This breed is hypoallergenic and sheds very little. They have a fearless and assertive temperament and get along well with other dogs if properly trained. Cairn terriers are commonly left-pawed. This unusual characteristic has also been correlated to strong performance in scent-related goals like ratting and tracking.

Cairn Terrier standing in the grass
Carrier Terriers were bred to hunt rodents in the Scottish Highlands.

©Nick Chase 68/


Cairn terriers originated within a group of small dogs (Scotch terriers) bred to hunt rodents in the Scottish highlands. They are known to have lived and worked in Scotland since the 1600s. A “cairn” was a mound of rocks used to mark a grave. Scotch terriers were bred to dig under the rocks and root out rodents. The smallest of these dogs came to be known as the Cairn terrier. These spirited little dogs were later trained to work in packs to hunt foxes and other smallish predators. By the 1900s, British terrier fanciers began to separate the Scotch terriers into four distinct breeds – the Cairn, Skye, Scottish, and West Highland white terriers.

Owning A Cairn Terrier: 3 Pros And Cons

Hypoallergenic: These dogs don’t shed much, so you won’t have to worry about pet hair everywhere.Stubbornness: Getting a Cairn Terrier to listen is a job within itself. These are very stubborn dogs.
Pet Friendly: Unlike most terriers, the Cairn Terrier is willingly more friendly with other pets.Barking: This terrier breed is very sassy and scrappy. Be prepared for a lot of barking.
Excellent watchdog: These dogs will alert you when any activity is going on. Not that they’ll rescue you from an intruder, but they will alert you. They bark at everything and nothing at all.Potential Health Problems: Joint problems, epilepsy, and cataracts are a few health problems Cairn Terriers are prone to have.
A Cairn Terrier standing in a field.

The Cairn Terrier can make a great family pet. They get along with children and are fantastic guard dogs.


Size And Weight

The Cairn terrier is a small dog. Dictated by breed standards, a male terrier’s adult weight reaches 14 pounds, while females grow to be 13 pounds. Several factors can change the weight of the breed norm, such as:

Health and Entertainment for your Cairn Terrier

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  • Illness
  • Hyperactivity
  • Underfeeding
  • Overfeeding
  • Lack of exercise

Both males and females from the chest to where the body meets the tail are 15 inches long. Males are 10 inches tall, while females are 9 ½ inches tall.

Male height:10 inches
Female height:9 1/2 inches
Male weight:14 pounds
Female weight:13 pounds
cairn terrier
Cairn terriers are generally healthy but are prone to cataracts and skin allergies.

©Eric Isselee/

Common Health Issues

Before contacting breeders to buy a Cairn terrier puppy, there are some health issues you need to understand. Some of the diseases in this breed are hereditary. Not all illnesses are high-risk. Some are environmental illnesses, and owners can prevent them with proper care and attention.

Cataracts in Cairn terriers are prevalent. Cataracts mean that your dog’s eye lenses are unhealthy and unable to focus light on the retina. Veterinarians recommend a yearly CAER examination.

Allergies are second on the list. The three forms of allergies are inhalant, contact, and food. Most of these allergies are either seasonal or chronic. Because of the side effects, Glucocorticoids should be used as a last resort to treat your terrier’s condition.

Heart defects occur in every pure-bred breed. Your puppy’s examination at six weeks by a veterinarian helps to detect any congenital heart dangers. Although predominant diseases aren’t associated with Cairns, murmurs do occur.

To summarize, the common health issues in Cairn terriers are:

  • Cataracts
  • Allergies
  • Heart defects
Types of terrier dogs
Cairn terriers are outgoing and happy with great personalities.


Temperament And Behavior

Cairn terriers are outgoing and happy dogs. They have great personalities and are well-behaved. They are fearless and brilliant. Compared to other breeds, Cairn is more independent. Taking this dog hiking, camping, or on journeys where they can explore is heaven to them.

Although they are not aggressive towards their family members, they are very stubborn. To avoid this behavior, training them early in their life is essential.

How To Take Care Of A Cairn Terrier

A Cairn terrier is cute as a puppy but even more adorable, and fully grown. To ensure your pet is properly cared for, satisfying their basic needs and regular training are all a part of caring for your Cairn.

Cairn Terrier standing in the snow
Cairn terriers don’t mind the snow. They love to be outside and active.

©Eve Photography/

The Best Dog Food for Cairn Terriers

Feeding your terrier is easy. These dogs only need a small portion of quality food to remain happy and healthy. This breed is prone to food allergies, so consider a limited-ingredient diet of dog food optimized for allergy control.

Once you choose high-quality dog food for your terrier, knowing what food allergies your pup has are next. Additives like corn, wheat, and soy can trigger allergies.

Choose quality food that has meat as one of the first ingredients. Avoid foods with BHA & BHT. These are synthetic preservatives.

Feeding your pet between 1/2 and 2/3 cups of food is enough for the whole day. Feed your Cairn twice a day. Also, change the water bowl daily. When Cairns has an empty stomach, they may vomit. Feed your dog too much, and it may become obese.

Considering the breed’s individual nutritional needs, A-Z Animals says the best dog food for Cairn Terriers is Natural Balance Limited Ingredient Diet | Small-Breed Adult Grain-Free Dry Dog Food.

This dog food excludes grains, the usual allergy-inducing suspects. Additionally, there are no legumes such as peas and lentils, to avoid triggering any heart problems in this breed. Instead, there’s quality chicken, beef, salmon, or duck protein with taurine for heart health.

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Best Overall
Natural Balance Limited Ingredient Diets Grain-Free Dry Adult Dog Food
  • Dog food with real salmon, sweet potato, and canola oil
  • Balanced nutrition for healthy bones, heart, digestion, skin, and teeth
  • Great for dogs with sensitive stomachs or allergies
  • 12lb bag
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Maintenance And Grooming

Cairn terriers don’t shed. Once your pup’s hair dies, it stays in the follicle. If you decide to groom your terrier, rolling the coat will keep the coat healthy. Rolling the coat can be done by hand or with a grooming tool.

Opting to have someone else do it may be best. Contacting a professional groomer is a good idea to ensure experts execute the technique correctly.

Rolling the coat should be done once a month unless your terrier is a show dog.


Training Cairn terriers is easy because they’re lively, intelligent, and loyal. The most challenging behavior to train may be getting your pet not to bark. Some say Cairn terriers are unreasonable, but with the right techniques, it’s reasonably easy.


Cairn terriers need lots of exercise to fit their active lives. Taking them walking twice a day for 20-30 minutes keeps them mentally and physically healthy.

This breed is naturally curious so keep your pup on a leash. If not, Cairns runs off to explore. Only take the leash off in enclosed areas where they can’t escape.

Playing catch, going for runs, and long/short walks are all excellent ways to keep your Cairn terrier active. Overall, try to mix up your exercise regimen to give your pup new challenges.

Because Cairn terriers are so small, they’ll quickly adjust to living in an apartment. The best setting for a Cairn terrier is a home full of love.

Cairn Terrier puppy running down the road

Cairn terrier puppies have a great deal of energy and love to play!



Cairn Terrier puppy development spans one year and four months from birth to maturity. Don’t exercise your puppy too hard before eight months. The diet needed for your pup should include:

  • Omega fatty acids
  • Animal proteins
  • Minerals
  • Carbohydrates
  • Vitamins

To maintain long-term health, these are the nutrients your dog needs. At eight months, make a transition to adult food by mixing adult and puppy formula. When you mix the formulas, it gives the Cairn a chance to get used to eating adult food.

Cairn Terrier And Children

Some people say that a Cairn terrier shouldn’t be in homes with small children, while some owners say Cairn terriers naturally love little children. If your children are well-behaved, your pets will usually be well-behaved.

One suggestion for the safety of your children and Cairn terrier is never to leave them alone together. You don’t want to have to rescue your child from your Cairn or your Cairn from your child. Overall, Cairn terriers make excellent family pets.

Dogs Similar To Cairn Terriers

  • Bedlington Terrier: Like Cairn terriers, Bedlington terriers have a bold and confident temperament. Due to them being hyperactive, train your pet at an early age. These dogs are highly active and intelligent.
  • Bolognese Dog: Like Cairn terriers, Bolognese Dogs are small in size. They’re typically ten to twelve inches tall and weigh between five and a half and nine pounds. They’re hypoallergenic and make great family dogs.
  • Chihuahua: Besides being a small dog, the Chihuahua has similar characteristics to a Cairn terrier. They both share huge personalities, and the Chihuahua loves being around its family and loved ones. They’re very loyal and feisty like Cairns. Despite their small frame, Chihuahuas make excellent guard dogs. Some breeders do a Cairn and Chihuahua mix. A Cairn and Chihuahua mix is called a Toxirn. The Cairn and Chihuahua mix combines the traits of both dogs. A loving lap dog mixed with a working dog.
Toto from the “Wizard of Oz” was played by a Cairn terrier.

©John / Creative Commons

Popular names for Cairn terriers are:

  • Duncan
  • Ross
  • Finley
  • Sheona
  • Maisie
  • Kristin
  • Dexter
  • Jack
  • Kiko
  • Brisco

Famous Cairn Terriers

Throughout history, this breed has had some star power. The most notable Cairn is Terry, who played Toto in the Wizard of Oz. Liza Minelli may be the most famous person to own a Cairn. Growing up, Liza had a Cairn terrier named Lily. The love she had for her dog came from Judy Garland, her mother, who played Dorthy in the Wizard of Oz and grew to love Terry (Toto).

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What's the right dog for you?

Dogs are our best friends but which breed is your perfect match?


If you have kids or existing dogs select:

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How much energy should they have?

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About average energy.
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About the Author

After a career of working to provide opportunities for local communities to experience and create art, I am enjoying having time to write about two of my favorite things - nature and animals. Half of my life is spent outdoors, usually with my husband and sweet little fourteen year old dog. We love to take walks by the lake and take photos of the animals we meet including: otters, ospreys, Canadian geese, ducks and nesting bald eagles. I also enjoy reading, discovering books to add to my library, collecting and playing vinyl, and listening to my son's music.

Cairn Terrier FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Are Cairn Terriers herbivores, carnivores, or omnivores?

Cairn Terriers are Omnivores, meaning they eat both plants and other animals.

What Kingdom do Cairn Terriers belong to?

Cairn Terriers belong to the Kingdom Animalia.

What class do Cairn Terriers belong to?

Cairn Terriers belong to the class Mammalia.

What phylum to Cairn Terriers belong to?

Cairn Terriers belong to the phylum Chordata.

What family do Cairn Terriers belong to?

Cairn Terriers belong to the family Canidae.

What order do Cairn Terriers belong to?

Cairn Terriers belong to the order Carnivora.

What genus do Cairn Terriers belong to?

Cairn Terriers belong to the genus Canis.

What type of covering do Cairn Terriers have?

Cairn Terriers are covered in Hair.

What is an interesting fact about Cairn Terriers?

Cairn Terriers are intelligent, lively, and strong!

What is the scientific name for the Cairn Terrier?

The scientific name for the Cairn Terrier is Canis Lupus.

What is the lifespan of a Cairn Terrier?

Cairn Terriers can live for 14 years.

How do you groom a Cairn Terrier?

The Cairn Terrier does not get shaved. Brush your pet’s coat to remove tangles and dead hair. After brushing, use a technique called Rolling the Coat.

Are Cairn Terriers good pets?

Cairns are excellent family dogs. For pet lovers, they’re ideal. What makes this breed a good family dog is they’re children-friendly, great companions, and affectionate.

How much do Cairn Terriers cost?

On average, Cairn puppies cost between $350-$800. The price is dependant on:
Geographical location
The breeder
Quality of Cairn
The price for a Cairn Terrier over a year old is between $100-$500. If the dog is show quality, look to spend $1,000. If those prices are too high, try going to a rescue group where prices are lower.

Are Cairn Terriers cuddly?

No. Because they love to stay on the go, Cairn Terriers aren’t particularly cuddly.

Do Cairn Terriers shed?

Yes, they do shed. All dog breeds do, but because the Cairn is hypoallergenic, it sheds minimally.

Is Cairn Terriers good with kids?

Cairn Terriers are excellent with children. They are fun-loving and energetic. These qualities make them a superb playmate for kids.

What are the key differences between West Highland Terriers and Cairn Terriers?

The key differences between West Highland Terriers and Cairn Terriers are their weight, color, and personality.

What are the key differences between cairn terriers and Norwich terriers?

The key differences between cairn terriers and Norwich terriers include size, color variations, coat textures, and body proportion.

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