Are Cairn Terriers Hypoallergenic?

Yes! The Cairn Terrier is a hypoallergenic dog breed that hardly sheds or drools.

  • small hypoallergenic dog
  • high energy dog
  • hypoallergenic dog
  • non shedding dog
  • low dander dog
  • apartment friendly dog
  • highly intelligent dog

Cairn Terriers are excitable, raggedy dogs with a keen mind and a big personality. These little spitfires are brave! While they are tidy house pets, due to their essentially non-shedding, hypoallergenic coats, they also love to dig. These dogs have an incredible prey drive, so they should always be walked on a leash, and their backyards should be securely fenced in. Though they possess that iconic “terrier temperament”, they are easier to train than most terriers. They do not, however, always get along well with children or small pets, or thrive in group dog settings such as dog parks.

The Cairn Terrier experienced a brief boom in popularity following the production of The Wizard of Oz, which starred a member of the breed as Dorothy’s dog “Toto”. Today, they are more unusual to see.

Cairn terriers originated in Scotland where they were bred as working dogs in the Scottish Highlands : the upper northwest area of Scotland. This breed, which is one of the oldest terriers, takes its name from structures called “Cairns” which were man-made piles of stone that were used to mark important locations, or help with hunting or defense. The short stature of these dogs helped them to navigate small spaces and made it easier for them to be surefooted on rocky, uneven terrain. Their small, foxy ears helped them retain heat in cooler climates. Even their coarse hair helped these dogs excel in their environment; their rough, shaggy top coat protects them from moisture and the elements, while their soft, downy undercoat holds in heat.

For a quick summary of the Cairn Terrier skip to our further down the page.

Click here to see more hypoallergenic dogs.

Cairn Terrier Quick Facts

Hypoallergenic Dog:



Low shedding





Breed Group:


12 – 15 years

Energy Level:




Family Dog:

Not for young children

About the Breed

The Cairn Terrier Physical Characteristics and Coat

Cairns come in a variety of colors such as black, brindle, cream, tan, and wheaten. Although they are similar in appearance to the Norwich Terrier, the outer portion of their low shedding double-layered coat is more shaggy. Norwich Terriers also have shorter legs, and they always have some amount of brown on their coat. Cairns have a soft undercoat that is protected by a rough, wiry top coat. Brindle varieties will often darken in color as they get older.

Cairn Terrier Temperament

These spritely little characters are hardy, fearless, and alert. Over the years, they have lost most of their usefulness for hunting vermin, but they are by no means less instinctual or more calm because of it! As with most terriers, these dogs have an incredibly high prey drive, so they aren’t the best candidates for houses with small children, cats, or other small pets that run freely. Keep in mind that a Cairn that spots prey is likely to become suddenly deaf to your commands and bolt like lightning. Therefore, these dogs usually can’t be trusted off leash in an area that isn’t enclosed. The little “Toto dog” is charming and inquisitive. It’s important that these guys are given plenty of opportunities to play, sniff, and explore. Their people-loving natures means that they don’t take well to alone time and may suffer separation anxiety if left alone too long.

For a fun insight into the Cairn Terrier, read our “Meet the Dogs” article Anonymous Note From A Cairn Terrier

Exercise & Training

Encouraging Good Behavior In Your Cairn Terrier

The Cairn Terrier is easier to train than most terriers. They are pretty smart, and they’re also more people-pleasing than most dogs in the terrier group. They do, however, still have that distinctive “terrier temperament”, which means that they can often exhibit a “what’s in it for me” attitude. This means that, although they may pick up on a new trick fairly quickly, they may decide it’s not worth doing when you ask them to. Even so, training your little terrier friend to do new tricks with the promise of an instant reward is a good way to exercise their minds and give them the special attention they crave.
People who are interested in owning this breed should be aware that, while they do tend to make good apartment dogs in general, they also bark – a lot! The time and effort you’ll save housebreaking your Cairn Terrier (they pick up on this very quickly) is likely going to be sacrificed in the effort to curb their barking. For tips on training dogs not to bark, click here (coming soon).

Exercise Needs

You may be the sort to hit the snooze button a couple of times before rolling out of bed. Your Cairn Terrier isn’t going to have that problem. You may need that afternoon cup of coffee to keep the ball rolling. Your Cairn Terrier has already had 5 mental cups of afternoon coffee and is wondering why you’re so slow. Needless to say, these dogs are quick of wit, fast-footed, and spunky. A good daily walk of about a half hour or more will make a decent dent in their exercise needs. However, these dogs thrive best in environments where they can sniff and explore. Their curious minds are always at work. A decently sized, securely fenced in backyard is really one of the best options for entertaining your pooch. However, various toys can also help keep your dog entertained if you live in an apartment without a yard.

Grooming and Care

Maintaining Your Cairn Terrier’s Coat

Fastidious owners or people who have allergic reactions to dogs will be happy to hear that the Cairn terrier is both hypoallergenic, and basically does not shed. Their coat’s rough exterior catches shed fur and the dander attached to it, so neither end up making it onto your floor, sofa, or clothes. Like most terriers, these guys don’t require as much grooming as other types of dogs. However, you will need to hand strip their coat. Hand stripping is a process by which the old, dead hair is pulled out from the rest of the coat, and dogs should be introduced to it at an early age. It’s important to learn how to hand strip a dog’s coat correctly to avoid discomfort because a bad experience can lead to negative associations that will make future grooming difficult. Never use clippers or shears on this breed, as it can damage their coat.


Cairn Terrier Health Issues and Care

Cairn Terriers are known for quite a few health problems, many of which are genetic. However, a lot of the issues that this breed faces can be avoided or minimalized by good health practices and awareness.

Many threats to Cairn Terriers can be helped by maintaining a proper weight. Getting plenty of exercise means that your dog can also eat normal, healthy amounts of food without becoming overweight, and is also likely to drink more water. Obesity in dogs can cause onsets of hip dysplasia, hypothyroidism, diabetes, and even cataracts. The quality of the food is nearly as important in maintaining your dog’s health as is their weight, because poor quality food can contain ingredients that can degrade your dog’s health over time.

Aside from preventing obesity and providing your dog with plenty of water and exercise, the other major action you can take to prevent health issues is to extensively research the breed of dog you plan to get, and the breeder themselves. Negligent breeding is responsible for a vast amount of hereditary health conditions being passed on through the generations. Stores that sell puppies are the worst culprits of poor breeding, and are often responsible for adult dogs being kept in inhumane conditions. Breeders that breed dogs without the proper experience or education – “backyard breeders” – often sell their dogs for less money, but often don’t have the knowledge to know whether they are breeding genetically healthy dogs. Your breeder should have years of experience with a track record of healthy litters, and the parent dogs should have had the necessary health tests to confirm that they are not passing on problems that are common to Cairn Terriers. The best way to find a great breeder is to call a variety of breeders, and ask them to explain to you how you should choose a good breeder, and why they believe their dogs are well bred.

Remember that buying a puppy from a store or from an unknowledgeable breeder is NOT the same as rescuing it. In fact, by doing so, you are supporting an industry that exploits dogs with little regard for their welfare, and the spot that you have opened up is bound to be filled by another unfortunate puppy. The less people who purchase these puppies, the less profitable the market becomes. Puppies who are not purchased end up in rescue facilities, so it is better to get one there so you know that you are really saving it and not simply creating the opportunity for another puppy to be exploited.
To rescue a Cairn Terrier, click here, or visit The Cairn Rescue of the USA, here!

Cairn Terrier Health Problems





Bronchoesophageal fistula Coughing after eating or drinking. Regurgitation Anorexia
Surgery In Cairn Terriers it is a congenital disease, meaning it is present at birth, but clinical signs may not appear until later.
Select a puppy that appears to be healthy and of a good weight, from a reputable breeder. Do not get your puppy from a store that sells puppies.
Cataracts A bluish, gray, or white layer in the eye.
A sudden reluctance to climb stairs or jump on furniture.
Eye irritation/redness, discharge or blinking.
Rubbing or scratching of the eyes.
Surgery (often not necessary) Diabetes is the main cause of cataracts in dogs, so maintain a healthy weight and well-exercised lifestyle for your dog
Corneal dystrophy There are three different types : epithelial (affects dogs ages 6 months to 6 years), stromal (affects young dogs), and endothelial corneal dystrophy (affects middle aged dogs and older).
Samoyeds are at risk for the stromal type.Stromal :
Oval or circular opacities: white, gray or silver
Doughnut-shaped opacity
The stromal type that Samoyeds are at risk of having does not usually require treatment. Select your dog from a breeder whose dogs have no history of corneal dystrophy.
Craniomandibular osteopathy (lion jaw) Usually occurs between the ages of 3 and 8 months

Pain with chewing
Loss or lack of appetite
Difficulty picking up food
Excessive drooling
Jaw swelling
Symptoms worsen over time

It will usually stop progressing around the age of one year, and possibly regress.

There is no treatment, but medication can alleviate symptoms.

There are no known methods of prevention, the causes are genetic.
Diabetes Excessive Thirst
Increased urination
Larger volume of urination
Weight Loss
Chronic Skin Conditions
Breath may smell strangely sweet
Special diet to help maintain insulin levels

Oral medication

Insulin injection administered daily by owner.

Maintain a healthy weight for your dog.
Do not overfeed them or allow them to become obese.
Entropion Excess Tears
Inner Eye Inflammation
Eye Tics
Discharge of pus from the eye
Eye inflammation
Ruptured Cornea
Treatment of underlying ailments
Select the dog from a reputable breeder

Always bring your dog to the vet to treat eye infections

Hip Dysplasia Decreased activity
Decreased range of motion
Lameness in the hind end
Looseness in the joint
Narrow stance
Weight Loss
Lifestyle Modification
Joint Injections
Specialized Physical Therapy
Maintaining a proper weight
Hypothyroidism Lethargy
Generalized weakness
Mental dullness
Unexplained weight gain
Hair loss (alopecia)
Excessive hair shedding
Lifelong oral replacement hormone administered at home by owner Maintain overall health of the dog with frequent vet visits
Krabbe disease (globoid cell leukodystrophy) (GCL) Symptoms emerge between 1 and 6 months

Weakness Incoordination
Loss of control of legs
Vision problems (sometimes)
Behavioral Changes
Lack of appetite
Inability to eat

Euthanasia Reputable breeders work to identify parent dogs that are carriers, and will not breed them.

Both parent dogs must carry the recessive gene for Krabbe Disease (GCL).

Ask your breeder how they work to prevent GCL from occurring in their litters.

Legg-Calve-Perthes Disease


Inability to walk sometimes
Limiting Exercise
The causes are unknown but there could be a genetic component so select a puppy who has proper breeding, and isn’t from a store.
Lens Luxation


Painful, reddened eye with diffuse corneal swelling
Trembling Iris
Trembling Lens
The clear part of the lens is positioned abnormally
Aphakic crescent – an area of the pupil is devoid of the lens
When breeds are prone to lens luxation the cause is usually genetic Purchase your puppy from a reputable breeder who has given the parent dogs a PLL genetic test, which tests for Primary Lens Luxation. Dogs that test positive should not be bred.
Patellar Luxation,
Luxating Patella
Intermittent lameness
Loss of range of motion in one or both hind legs
Abnormal function of one or both hind legs
Temporary paralysis of the knee joint
Pain when moving
Difficulty rising
Reluctance to run or jump
Swelling at or around the knee joint
Leg brace/bandage
Cage rest
Patellar Luxation is caused by trauma to the kneecap.
Small and toy dog breeds are often genetically predisposed.Purchase your puppy from a reputable breeder.
Ocular melanosis Eye inflammation

Pigment particles can be seen in the eye

There is no cure for ocular melanosis

Laser Surgery

Implantation of a shunt (gonioimplantation)

Removal of the eye

Dogs diagnosed with ocular melanosis should not be bred.

Select your puppy from a reputable breeder.

Ocular Melanosis is present at birth but clinical symptoms may not appear until later.

Portosystemic shunt
(portosystemic liver shunt)
Poor muscle development
Stunted growth
Staring into space circling or head pressing seizures
Surgery Parent dogs should not possess this disorder
Progressive Retinal Atrophy Night blindness that progresses to blindness in light as well.
Dilated pupils.
Inability to see clearly in bright light.
The pupil (opening of the eye) has abnormal reactions to light.
None The puppy’s parents should be screened for PRA.
Infected dogs should be registered with the Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF) and should not be bred.
Von Willebrand’s Disease Nosebleeds
Blood in the feces
Bloody urine
Bleeding from the gums
Bleeding from the vagina (excessively)
Bruising of skin
Prolonged bleeding after surgery or trauma
Blood loss, anemia if there is prolonged bleeding
Blood transfusions
There is no cure
Choose a puppy from genetically healthy parents


Cairn Terriers are a short-legged, foxy-earred terrier with an endearingly scraggy coat and a big-dog personality. Their furry, bright-eyed, cheeky faces and black button noses were cute enough to win the breed the role of Toto in The Wizard of Oz! These spicy little pups are full of curiosity and energy, and they love to play with their people. Despite the fact that they have a lot of the traits commonly associated with terriers (a high prey drive, frequent barking, digging, and the inability to be trusted off leash), they are easier to train than most terriers. Even so, they’re not the best choice for houses with small kids. These dogs don’t require a lot of grooming and their coat should never be trimmed, but they do need to be hand stripped to remove dead hair. They are known to suffer a variety of health issues, but many of them can be avoided or lessened by proper lifestyle choices, and by selecting the puppy from a good breeder.
If you are looking for a lively, courageous, adorable little pooch, the Cairn Terrier may just be the dog for you!

Cairn Terrier FAQ

Is the Cairn Terrier hypoallergenic?

Yes. The hair and dander they shed gets trapped in their coat, and so it rarely makes it off their body. That means that they are seldom a problem for people who suffer from allergies.

Is the Cairn Terrier aggressive or friendly?

Cairn Terriers are usually very friendly, but terriers in general can be snappy with little kids and other dogs so it’s important to monitor them.

How much does a Cairn Terrier cost?

While most sources online claim that Cairn Terriers are about $700 – $1,000, it is unusual to get a purebred dog from a well-established breeder so cheaply. Most properly bred purebreds, including Cairns, cost somewhere between $1,200 and $2000. This initial cost of the puppy does not include expenses such as necessary vaccinations and vet trips, dog food, toys, and other necessary supplies.

Do Cairn Terriers bark?

Yes! Cairn Terriers bark quite a bit. The best way to teach your Cairn not to bark is to find out what makes them bark and use that to teach them to bark on command. Then you can teach them the “Quiet” command! It’s better to start at an earlier age before barking becomes a bad habit.

Do Cairn Terriers shed a lot?

No. Properly groomed Cairn Terriers are essentially non-shedding and hypoallergenic. This is because the shed hair from their undercoat gets caught in their wiry overcoat. They do, however, need to have their coats regularly stripped of dead hair.

Do Cairn Terriers need haircuts?

No! It’s bad for a Cairn Terrier’s coat to cut their hair. Instead, Cairn Terriers need to have their coat’s hand stripped, which is a process whereby the dead hair is stripped out of their coat. You need to learn how to hand strip properly so that you don’t hurt them, and you should start hand stripping when your terrier is still a puppy so they can get used to it at an early age.

Do Cairn Terriers like to swim?

Most Cairn Terriers enjoy swimming. It helps that the breed is very courageous, so they don’t tend to fear the water as much as some other breeds do. If you would like your terrier to be a water-loving dog, the best way to go about it is to find a dog they can play with that also loves the water and bring them to a fenced in area where they can play in the water together.

Do Cairn Terriers change color?

Sometimes. Brindle colored Cairn Terriers often end up black when they get older. Some wheaten or red colors may darken a little with age.

Are Cairn Terriers good with cats?

No. Cairn Terriers are very instinctual and prey-driven and cats are extremely fun to chase. Don’t knock it ’till you’ve tried it! If cat-compliance is something that you really need in your Terrier, then it helps to get your Cairn Terrier as a puppy and raise it with your cat.

Are Cairn Terriers easy to housebreak?

Yes. They are intelligent, so they pick up on concepts quickly and they are more people-pleasing than most terriers. Therefore they are more likely to try to make you happy by using the doggy potty rather than peeing on your socks. Generally speaking, they’re not jerks like that.

Are Cairn Terriers prone to cancer?

No, as far as purebreds are concerned, Cairn Terriers are not prone to cancer. The exception to this are Sertoli cell tumors which can be an issue if a male dog’s testicles do not descend by the normal 6 to 8 week period. These dogs can still lead a normal life, but they should always be neutered to prevent the chance of developing a Sertoli cell tumor.

Cairn Terrier Facts Summary

Breed Cairn Terrier
Other Names? Toto dog, Cairn
Hypoallergenic? Yes
Height Male : 10 – 13 inches (25 – 33cm), Female : 9-12 inches (23-30 cm)
Weight Male/Female : 13–18 lbs (6–8 kg)
Lifespan 12 – 15 years
Temperament Hardy, Fearless, Assertive, Happy, Intelligent, Active
Colours Black, Brindle, Cream, Tan, Wheaten
Coat – describe the coat Coarse and shaggy with a double coat that is wiry on top and downy underneath.
How much grooming? Undemanding – Brush weekly and hand strip them three times a year.
How much shedding Non-shedding
Dander levels Low
dander level
Saliva – Do they Drool or Lick much? Low
Energy levels High
How much exercise do they need? Average, they thrive best with off-leash opportunities so a very secure fenced in yard with ample space is ideal.
Health problems ANSWER
Good for apartment? Yes, however they bark a lot.
Suitable for kids? Not with small children
How much do they bark? Quite a bit
Can they be left alone? May develop separation anxiety
Intelligent? Yes
Trainable? Yes, however they may be stubborn
How popular as a pet? Unusual : Ranks 70/194 with the AKC.
Any other important facts? Wizard of Oz dog breed – The Cairn Terrier achieved fame when it starred as Dorothy’s dog, “Toto” in The Wizard of Oz! They originated in the Scottish Highlands.