Caring for Your Cairn Terrier



All dogs, but especially the terriers, are den animals.  A basic, primal need of every Cairn is to have its very own enclosed, safe place to den.  A crate, or kennel, fulfills that need plus provides a safe mode of transportation when the dog travels in a car.  Therefore, it is essential that your Cairn sleeps and travels in a crate.  Just as you do not drive or ride in a car without a seat belt fastened securely for safety, so your Cairn must ride in his crate for safety.  Bungee cords can be used to fasten the crate securely into the vehicle.  He must also learn to go into his crate on command and remain there quietly with the door shut until such time as you let him out.  Houseguests who are allergic to dogs or who fear them will appreciate your thoughtfulness.  When forced rest is required due to an illness or injury in your Cairn, he will not be upset, because he knows his crate to be a familiar, welcome den.

Your Cairn will have already been introduced to a crate by the time you take him home with you.  You will simply continue his education in this artificial den you have provided for him.  Because a puppy does not want to soil his sleeping area, he will usually be able to go all night without having an accident in his crate by the time you take your puppy home.  An occasional accident is normal until the puppy is around twelve to fourteen weeks.  A medium sized crate of the approximate dimensions of 27”L x 20”W x 19”H will provide adequate space for an adult Cairn.  The “Pet Porter” by Petmate is an inexpensive crate that can be purchased at Walmart or any other discount department store.  A double-sided fleece pad (available from Walmart or the UPCO catalog) placed in the bottom of the crate with a thick, white towel folded in half and placed on top of the pad will serve as a comfortable bed.  Each morning, check the white towel for any signs of blood, vomit, discharge, or fecal material.   This provides a wonderful opportunity to perform a quick, daily health check on your Cairn.   If the towel hasn’t been soiled, turn it to a clean side for that night’s use.  Both the towel and the pad should then be washed with bleach frequently.  Spray disinfectant on all surfaces inside the crate and wipe out.  Where dogs are concerned, “cleanliness is next to Godliness”! 

The Cairn’s crate can be placed next to your bed so that he bonds well with you, and you can comfort him if he needs reassurance during the night as a new puppy.  After a few comforting words from you, if whining or barking continues, give a sharp rap on top of the crate and tell him in a firm, low voice, “No whine!” or “No bark!”.  When the puppy has quieted, raise the pitch of your voice and soothingly tell him, “Go-o-o-od puppy”.   We generally keep a puppy by our bed until it is about five months old, at which time it goes down to the dog room to sleep in its crate with the other dogs.

Puppies can be fed in their crates and can be left in their crates for up to two hours while you run errands, go to the store, etc.  Crates greatly aid in housebreaking and in reducing both separation anxiety and its resultant destructive behavior.  Leave a favorite toy or chew stick for the puppy to enjoy while you are gone.


Cairn Terriers are noted for being “easy keepers”.  In other words, they require a small amount of high quality food to maintain a healthy weight and vitality.  Because of this tendency, Cairns are not expensive to maintain -- they’re “recession-friendly” dogs.  Owners must beware, however, not to overfeed and create a “stuffed sausage” look to a dog that is meant to be lithe and agile.  Ribs should not be seen, but be readily felt.  No soft layer of fat should be detected between the thumb and forefinger when the skin over the rib cage is pinched gently together.  Normal sized adult hands should be able to span the waist area of a mature Cairn with the opposing thumbs just touching.  Keep these guidelines in mind while we discuss feeding your Cairn.   

Use only stainless steel feed pans and water dishes.  Stainless steel has no harmful chemicals in its composition and can be easily disinfected and run through the dishwasher for easy cleaning.  Water dishes need daily disinfecting before refilling, and feed pans should be run through the dishwasher after every feeding.

No discussion of diet is complete without stating that only pure water should be available to your Cairn at all times.  After oxygen, water is the most important nutrient required by any mammal’s body, both yours and your dog’s.  We can no longer take for granted that pure water comes out of our faucets.  Many municipal water sources are often polluted which necessitates sanitizing the water with the toxic chemical chlorine.  Well water often contains pollutants from a neighbor’s septic system or from contamination in the underground aquifer.  Distilled bottle water from the grocery store will serve as a short term solution, but the use of a reverse osmosis water purifier will go a long way toward ensuring that both you and your Cairn live long, healthy lives together.


Puppies’ stomachs are small, yet the rapidly growing puppy body needs much fuel to grow on, so frequent meals are required.  A typical 10 -- 12 week old puppy will eat three meals a day: breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  Many breeders will vary the content of these meals by giving a milky broth over the dry food for breakfast and meat with a bit of hot water over the dry food for lunch and dinner.  Soon, somewhere between three and four months of age the lunchtime ration can be eliminated from the puppy’s regimen.  Allow the pup himself let you know when it is time to discontinue a meal -- he will not be as interested in this meal, because he just isn’t that hungry due to increased volume of intake at breakfast and dinner.  Small puppies, still needing frequent feedings, will need approximately one sixth of a cup of dry food three times a day.  As the puppy grows, increase the amount of dry food while the number of times fed decreases.  By six months of age, a Cairn puppy will be eating just twice a day, breakfast and dinner, and consuming around one third cup of dry meal plus a large tablespoon of meat at each feeding.  Very young puppies demand specific nutrients for proper growth and bone density and so should be fed only dry kibble specially formulated for growing puppies.  However, at twelve weeks of age, the puppies should be transferred to regular adult ration to prevent diet-caused bone and joint problems from a too-rich diet. 


Many brands of all natural dry dog food exist, but choose one with human grade meat as its base, rather than a grain, and whose ingredients avoid corn, wheat, and soy products.  A good kibble should list no added synthetic preservatives or flavorings.   One of the best natural kibbles which is always on the “top ten” list in the annual Whole Dog Journal review of dry dog foods is Canidae.  This brand is readily available in our area from either pet supply stores or dog training facilities.  Instead of adding canned food to the dry kibble, we use a raw meat product that includes flesh, organs and ground bones – AFS raw canine diet.   Please note at the end of this handout are a number of helpful websites for you to peruse that deal with diet and health.


6 mons. to 18 mons. of age: 

Morning:  One third cup of Canidae and one large fork full of AFS raw food (mix with hot water)

Evening:  One third cup of Canidae and one large fork full of AFS raw food
˝ teaspoon of kelp, 1 wheat germ oil capsule (mix with hot water)

From 2 years to about 10 years of age and beyond:

Consult with a canine nutritionist and do your own Internet search for the appropriate senior diet for your Cairn.  Health issues may dictate how much protein and fat content in the diet will benefit  your older Cairn.  Remember to look at the dog, not the amount of food in his dish to determine whether or not he is eating the correct amount of food.   An elderly Cairn carrying too much weight will have both a shorter and sicker life than one in good lean flesh.  Continue adding the wheat germ oil capsule and ˝ teaspoon of kelp every day for the life of the dog.


At about nine months of age, a Cairn has reached its full height, although it will still “body up” or fill out in a maturing process later on -- sometimes not until two years of age.  However, pets that have been neutered gain weight very easily.  They should be placed on “low fat” kibble if weight gain becomes a problem, and they should be exercised more extensively. 


Cairn Terriers come from a legacy of hard working, no nonsense terriers.  Although not everyone cares to hike five miles a day and then send their Cairn into a badger den, every Cairn Terrier owner must understand the energy level of this breed and his need for daily, vigorous exercise.  Such physical activity benefits not only the dog’s body but also his mental health.  Cairns boast a keen intelligence that must be utilized, stimulated with positive activities lest that busy little brain create its own activities that you may not approve of at all!  Every Cairn should have a large, safely fenced back yard where he can race around in his daily “silly streaks”.  This yard should have toys, both bought and homemade, with which the Cairn can safely entertain himself. Of course, that yard provides much more fun if a human shares the good times with his dog.  In addition to the exercise yard, long walks at an extended trot to develop muscling, plus free runs in a safe area at least three to four times a week will create a calm, happy, healthy Cairn.  Many canine sports such as agility, earthdog trials, and fly ball fulfill exercise needs for both your dog and you.  As a nation, we in the U.S. face a rapid rise in obesity that seems to extend to our dogs as well.  What better way to become leaner and more fit than to have “the best little pal in the world” as your partner in the endeavor to live a longer, healthier life.


I call a Cairn “the lazy man’s terrier”, because compared with other terrier breeds, a Cairn’s coat is not at all difficult to maintain.  Even better, if you work a Cairn’s coat every two weeks, eliminating the longer hair that is ready to fall out, then shedding is practically nonexistent.  Because you made handling every inch of your Cairn’s body -- including his mouth -- part of the socialization process while he was still a puppy, grooming him will be simply an extension of that socialization.  You’ve already ordered and received from the UPCO dog supplies catalog the basic grooming tools you need as well as a grooming table, arm and noose to restrain the dog adequately while he is groomed.  Keep a bag of treats in your grooming box and reward your clever Cairn frequently while he is on the table so that he thinks of the grooming table as “fun place”.  The following schedule breaks down the grooming tasks required:

Once a week: 

  • Use a cordless nail groomer with a coarse sandpaper drum to file the nails to the correct short length.  This tool can be found in the craft section of  Walmart or any major discount store.  The cordless nail groomer eliminates sharp edges on the nails and allows you to maintain much shorter nails without bleeding or pain.

  • Using a spray bottle, spritz Biogroom Super Cream coat conditioner thoroughly through the coat.  Use a pin brush to brush against the grain of the hair first, then brush the hair down with the grain -- except on the head furnishings which should always be brushed forward and full.

Every two weeks:

  • Using a fine stripping knife and your index finger and thumb, “top off” the coat all over the body – including the legs and belly -- removing any long hairs and thinning out areas on the sides and front of the neck that tend to grow “a ruff”.

  • Strip off extra hair around feet with knife.  Scissor out hair on inside of pads of each foot  and between the toes.  A foot cleaned of hair in the underside will not collect weed seeds, mud, snow balls, etc. and will keep a tight foot.  Laying the bottom blade of the curved scissors on the grooming table, follow the outline of the foot to trim all the way around it.

  • Clean the hair off the top third of each ear until the soft “velvet” is left; then scissor the outside edges of each ear for a neat, prick ear.

  • Carefully scissor hair around outline of anus to keep that area clean.  On males,    carefully scissor hair around the sheath of the penis; on bitches do the same around the vulva and urethra area.  Hair left in these genital areas only serves to collect bacteria and cause foul odors and/or infections. 

Spray the dog all over with coat conditioner and brush out with pin brush.  Use this every two-week grooming session to examine every inch of the dog’s body, including eyes and ears for any wound, growth, or foul smell that might indicate a health problem. Clean inside ears with an antiseptic “baby wipe”.

WARNING:  Do Not Wait More Than Two Weeks For This Grooming Session!!  A Cairn’s Coat Grows Very Thick And Long Quite Quickly.  It Will Rapidly Become A Horrendous Job If You Put It Off !!!

Once a month:  

With a double sided dental tool, thoroughly scrape all tarter and plaque from the dog’s teeth. The dental tool cannot damage the tooth enamel, no matter how hard you have to push.  Run the sharp tip of the dental tool up   under the gums all along the gum line to break up any bacterial growth between the teeth and gums.  Don’t worry if you see a bit of blood oozing from the gums -- that’s normal. Yours bleed a bit also when the dentist cleans your teeth. Use an antiseptic “baby wipe” to clean the tool as you scrape and end by wiping all gum and tooth surfaces with this cloth.

Drain anal glands -- There are two anal sacs, one on either side of the anus that gradually fill with a brown, smelly fluid.  In prehistoric times, some of this fluid passed out of the dog’s body with each bowel movement and contributed to the marking of the dog’s territorial boundaries.  Our modern dog foods do not contain    the roughage necessary to naturally drain these anal glands, so humans must literally lend a hand.  Lift the dog’s tail with one hand, while with the other hand, hold a paper towel over the anus.  Using your forefinger and thumb on the anal sacs, squeeze firmly in and toward the center of the anus.  The anal fluid can exit rather explosively; hence the need for the paper towel.   Due to the foul smell of the anal fluid, some baby powder applied to the anal area will make your Cairn sweet smelling again. Contrary to “old wives tales” about worms, dogs scooting their bottoms on the ground are really trying to drain their uncomfortably full anal glands.  As dogs age, the anal fluid becomes increasingly viscous, often causing the glands to become impacted, leading to infection.  Therefore, older Cairns should have their anal glands drained as frequently as every two weeks.


The CTCA publishes a very helpful booklet, “Cairn Terrier Grooming Start to Finish” for $2.00 which can be bought through the club secretary.  She can be contacted through the CTCA website,  This booklet gives useful information accompanied by drawings to help you properly groom your Cairn Terrier.  There is also a grooming video produced by the Cairn Terrier Club of Greater Detroit that sells for $30.00, available through Pat Holmes, 8070 Sheraton Park, Fenton, MI 48430-9313.


Regular preventative care to keep your Cairn Terrier free of both external and internal parasites greatly depends on the geographical area in which you live.  Consultation with your veterinarian can inform you quickly on which parasites you need to protect your dog from in your part of the country.  Keep in mind that when you travel with your dog, you may need to take additional precautions to protect your Cairn from parasites endemic to the states you plan to visit.  Because heartworms have currently spread to nearly all of the U.S., a regular, monthly preventative for that parasite should be given to your dog.  A product such as HeartGuard Plus also includes protection against roundworms, one of the most common parasites. 

When making the routine, annual visit to your veterinarian for a Cairn’s physical exam and booster vaccinations, it’s a good idea to also take along a fresh fecal sample from your dog for analysis.  Within just a few moments, results of a microscopic examination of the fecal material will tell you what, if any, parasites need eliminated from your Cairn’s body.

Common external parasites to guard against on a Cairn are fleas and ticks.  Control of these dangerous parasites has improved dramatically in the last few years, so talk to your veterinarian about the safest and best of the current products available.   Please note that Cairn Terriers usually have a severe reaction to even one fleabite.  They suffer from extreme itching which may cause them to scratch and/or bite the hair completely out of the general area of the fleabite.  For months after being bitten by a flea, the Cairn’s skin will “crawl” or “creep” whenever it is touched in that region of the bite.  Therefore, if you live in an area where fleas are a problem, please take the most rigorous precautions in preventing these external parasites from attacking your Cairn Terrier.

Ticks carry a number of potentially deadly diseases, the most notorious of which are Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.  Although a current vaccine does exist for Lyme disease, controversy surrounds its effectiveness and its side effects in dogs.  Once again, consult with your veterinarian on what is the best and most effective tick preventative for your region of the country.



The Whole Dog Journal --

Canidae Dog Food –

AFS Raw Food –

Dr. Larry Bernstein, VDM, has list of downloadable articles on various topics –

This site has list of ready-made, commercial raw diets –

A great site for homeopathic remedies –

Web site of Australian vet, Dr. Ian Billinghurst, who developed the B.A.R.F. Diet:

Canine nutrition advice from Ph.D Certified Nutritional Consultant –

A Seattle-based site, but a great compilation of references for easy access –

UPCO Wholesale Dog Supplies – 


You can always call or email me at any time to answer a question or help you with the feeding, care, and training of your Cairn Terrier. 

Sandra Murray
Cairncroft Kennel
P.O. Box 279
Woodland Park, CO  8086
(719) 686-9362