The Breed History
A highly valued working terrier type dog was developed on the Isle of Skye in Scotland that possessed courage fending off unwanted pests, including foxes and otters larger than themselves. In the 1870s, the Dandie Dinmont and Skyes (included Westies, Scotties, and Cairn) were split off into separate types, and by 1912, the Cairns had their own registry and classes. AKC registry began in 1913. From that decade forward, no intermingling of the Westies and Cairns took place. The name cairn means a rock pile used to mark landmarks, and the Cairn terriers would effectively clear these of vermin. As "Toto" in the Wizard of Oz, this likeable dog became a popular pet.
Breeding for Function
A hardy, courageous terrier-type, it was bred to control vermin and this is still emphasized in the breed. They are now valued as a companion dog. The breeding community favors retention of the historical type.
Height at Withers: female 9.5 " (24 cm), male 10" (25.4 cm) Weight: females 13 lb (6 kg), males 14 lb (6.4kg). Coat: The double coat may be any color but white, with the outer coat being wiry, and the undercoat soft. Dark points are preferred. Longevity: 12-15 years.
Points of Conformation: Though short-legged, their movement is free and powerful, and the medium back, deep ribs, and powerful muscles of the hindquarter produce exuberant but balanced activity. A short wide head with black nose, alert deep-set hazel eyes, small pricked up ears, and a tail carried up but not over the back characterize this breed.
Recognized Behavior Issues and Traits
Peppy, spirited, loyal, independent and friendly are some terms used to describe this breed. They are easily trained but need stimulation because if bored, they can chew, bark, or dig. They are low shedders but the coat should be groomed regularly to prevent matting. They have average exercise requirements and do well in city or country. They are good alarm barkers.
Normal Physiologic Variations
Hip Dysplasia and Legg-Calve-Perthes Disease: Polygenically inherited traits causing degenerative hip joint disease and arthritis. Both disorders are reported at high frequencies by OFA, but too few Cairn Terriers are screened to determine accurate frequencies. Reported 17.9x odds ratio for Legg-Calve-Perthes versus other breeds.
Patella Luxation: Polygenically inherited laxity of patellar ligaments, causing luxation, lameness, and later degenerative joint disease. Treat surgically if causing clinical signs. Too few Cairn Terriers are screened by OFA to determine accurate frequencies. Padgett reports a frequency of 3.2% in the breed. Reported at a high frequency in the 2005 CTCA Health Survey.
Ocular Melanosis and Glaucoma: Cairn terriers can have a familial form of ocular melanosis that slowly progresses to melanocytic glaucoma and blindness. The disease is characterized by diffuse intraocular infiltration of heavily pigmented melanocytes. Age of onset 2-14 years. Diagnosed in 1.82% of Cairn terriers presented to veterinary teaching hospitals. Pedigree studies suggest an autosomal dominant mode of inheritance. CERF does not recommend breeding any Cairn Terrier with ocular melanosis.
Portosystemic Shunt (PSS, liver shunt)/Hepatoportal Microvascular Dysplasia (MVD): Abnormal blood vessels connecting the systemic and portal blood flow. Vessels can be intra- or extrahepatic, or microvasular. Causes stunting, abnormal behavior and possible seizures. Reported at a frequency of 0.9%. One study reports an odds ratio of 10.7x versus other breeds. Breeding studies show PSS in Cairn terriers is autosomal and most likely polygenic or monogenic with variable expression. Test with bile acids and blood ammonia levels.
Craniomandibular Osteopathy (CMO): Autosomal recessive, painful non-neoplastic proliferation of bone on the ramus of the mandible and/or the tympanic bulla. Affected dogs present between 3-10 months of age, with varying degrees of difficulty prehending and chewing food, secondary weight loss and atrophy of the temporal and masseter muscles. In most cases, affected dogs are normal after bony remodeling. Padgett reports a frequency of 0.9% in the breed.3 Elbow Dysplasia: Polygenically inherited trait causing elbow arthritis. Too few Cairn Terriers are screened by OFA to determine an accurate breed frequency.
Globoid Cell Leukodystrophy (Krabbe disease): A rare autosomal recessive lysosomal storage disease causing severe neurological symptoms including seizures, hypotonia, blindness, and death in young affected dogs. Padgett reports a frequency of 0.1% in the breed. A genetic test is available.
Pyruvate Kinase Deficiency (PK): A rare, autosomal recessive disease of red blood cells causing exercise intolerance with a persistent, severe, and highly regenerative anemia, splenomegaly, and progressive osteosclerosis. A genetic test is available.
Cryptorchidism (Retained testicles): Can be bilateral or unilateral. Padgett reports a frequency of 9.5% in Cairn terriers. Reported at a high frequency in the 2005 CTCA Health Survey.
Persistent Pupillary Membranes: Strands of fetal remnant connecting; iris to iris, cornea, lens, or involving sheets of tissue. The later three forms can impair vision, and dogs affected with these forms should not be bred. Identified in 7.57% of Cairn Terriers CERF examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005.
Cataracts: Posterior and equatorial intermediate cataracts predominate in the breed, though anterior, nuclear, and capsular cataracts also occur. Adult-onset cataracts are reported at a high frequency in the 2005 CTCA Health Survey. Identified in 4.14% of Cairn terriers CERF examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005. CERF does not recommend breeding any Cairn Terrier with a cataract.
Temperament Issues: Aggression and shyness are reported at a high frequency in the 2005 CTCA Health Survey.
Heart Murmur: Reported at a high frequency in the 2005 CTCA Health Survey (specific diagnosis not identified).
Kinked Tails (caudal hemivertebra): Congenital disorder reported at a high frequency in the 2005 CTCA Health Survey.
Hernias: Padgett reports 4.1% of Cairn terriers with umbilical hernias and 2.3% with inguinal hernias.
Hypothyroidism: Inherited autoimmune thyroiditis. 3.9% positive for thyroid auto-antibodies based on testing at Michigan State University. (Ave. for all breeds is 7.5%).
Dental Issues: Padgett reports 3.0% of Cairn terriers with missing teeth, 1.7% with undershot bites, and 1.3% with overshot bites. Undershot bites are reported at a high frequency in the 2005 CTCA Health Survey.
Atopy/Allergic Dermatitis: Presents with pruritis and pyotraumatic dermatitis (hot spots). Cairn terriers have a significantly increased risk for atopy versus other breeds. Dorn reports a 1.67x odds ratio versus other breeds. Padgett reports a frequency of 2.6% in the breed. Reported at a high frequency in the 2005 CTCA Health Survey.
Diabetes Mellitus: Cairn terriers are a breed at increased risk of developing diabetes due to immune mediated destruction of the pancreatic beta cells. Related to immuno-regulatory cytokine gene IL-4. Treat with insulin injections, dietary management, and glucose monitoring. One report showed a 6.5x odds ratio versus other breeds.
Primary (narrow angle) Glaucoma: Ocular condition causing increased pressure within the eyeball, and secondary blindness due to damage to the retina. Diagnose with tonometry and gonioscopy. Diagnosed in 1.82% of Cairn Terriers presented to veterinary teaching hospitals.
Immune-Mediated Hemolytic Anemia: Autoimmune disorder where the body produces antibodies against its own red blood cells. Treatment with immunosuppressive drugs. There is generally a female preponderance with this disorder. One study found a 5.3x odds ratio in Cairn terriers versus other breeds.
Persistent Hyaloid Artery (PHA): Congenital defect resulting from abnormalities in the development and regression of thehyaloid artery. Does not cause vision problems by itself, but is often associated with other ocular defects. Identified in 1.35% of Cairn Terriers CERF examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005.
Hyperadrenocorticism (Cushing's disease): Caused by a functional adrenal or pituitary tumor. Clinical signs may include increased thirst and urination, symmetrical truncal alopecia, and abdominal distention. Dorn reports a 2.32x odds ratio versus other breeds.
Seborrheic Dermatitis: Skin condition due to overproduction of the sebaceous glands in the skin. Unknown mode of inheritance. Dorn reports a 1.24x odds ratio versus other breeds.
Chronic Hepatitis: Cairn terriers are reported to be overrepresented with a histopathological diagnosis of chronic hepatitis.
Oxalate Urolithiasis: Cairn terriers are a breed with increased risk to develop oxalate-containing bladder stones.
Sertoli Cell Testicular Tumor: Testicular tumor that produces estrogens, causing gynecomastia. Treat with castration. Cairn terrier males have a greater risk of developing sertoli cell tumors than other breeds.
Progressive Neuronopathy: A disorder causing progressive hind limb weakness and ataxia in young (1-1-1/2 year old) Cairn terriers, which deteriorates with exercise. The clinical signs progress over several months to tetraparesis. Histopathology demonstates extensive chromatolytic degeneration of neurons and moderate secondary Wallerian-type degeneration in the spinal cord and brain stem. Can be differentiated clinically from globoid cell leukodystrophy by the exercise-induced deterioration of the neurological signs. Unknown mode of inheritance.
Multisystemic Chromatolytic Degeneration: Seven cases have been reported in the published literature. Onset is usually around 3-4 months of age. Clinical signs range from mild episodic paraparesis, to bouts of cataplectic collapse. Pathology reveals widespread chromatolytic degeneration in the brain and spinal cord as well as spinal, autonomic, and enteric ganglia. Unknown mode of inheritance.
Factor IX Deficiency, Hydrocephalus, Pancreatitis, Progressive Retinal Atrophy, Retinal Dysplasia, Vitamin A Responsive Dermatosis, von Willebrand's Disease, and Wry Mouth are reported.
Isolated Case Studies
Juvenile Polycystic Kidney and Liver Disease: Three related puppies with abdominal distention caused by nephromegaly and hepatomegaly had gross and histologic polycystic lesions in the kidney and liver.
Pseudohermaphrodite: A 6 1/2-month-old Cairn terrier, considered to be a bilateral cryptorchid male, was presented with dysuria and urinary incontinence. This was found to be due to a congenital communication between the urinary bladder and uterus and resulted in distention of the uterus with urine which could not be voided. An ovariohysterectomy was performed. The dog was found to be a genetic female with what resembled external male genitalia.
Anury (congenital taillessness): Two related Cairn Terriers were born without tails, and abnormality of the sacral and caudal vertebra. Both dogs had fecal incontinence. A mating of the two dogs produced two normal offspring.
Multiple Myeloma/Plasmacytoma: A 13 month old female Cairn terrier was diagnosed with multiple myeloma. Radiographically, pelvic tumor masses and characteristic systemic osteolysis were found.
Bronchoesophageal Fistula: A 1-year-old male Cairn terrier was evaluated for chronic coughing that was aggravated by eating or drinking. Radiography revealed an esophageal diverticulum, regional megaesophagus, and focal interstitial densities in the right caudal and middle lunglobes. Radiographic diagnosis was bronchoesophageal fistula. This report references two other cases of bronchoesophageal fistula in the breed.
Tests of Genotype: Direct test for Globoid Leukodystrphy is available from the Jefferson Medical College (215-955-1666) and HealthGene.
Direct test for Pyruvate Kinase Deficiency is available from PennGen.
Tests of Phenotype: Recommend hip and elbow radiographs, patella examination, CERF eye examination, thyroid profile including autoantibodies and cardiac evaluation.
- Breed name synonyms: Short-Haired Skye (historical), Cairn
- Registries: AKC, CKC, UKC, KCGB (Kennel Club of Great Britain), ANKC (Australian National Kennel Club), NKC (National Kennel Club)
- AKC rank (year 2008): 51 (2,161 registered)
- Internet resources: Cairn Terrier Club of America: cairnterrier.org
Cairn Terrier Club of Canada: cairnterrierclub.ca
The Cairn Terrier Club (UK): thecairnterrierclub.co.uk
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