Scratch Dog or Not – Are Cairn Terriers Hypoallergenic?

Owning a dog that doesn't make you break out in hives or spend their days sneezing doesn't mean you are limited to a small frou-frou breed like a Toy Poodle or Bichon Frise.


The feisty, alert, little cairn terrier is anything but. That's all very well I hear you say but do Cairn Terriers shed? The good news is; although they shed minimally it is usually not enough to have you reaching for the tissues.

If you want a small dog with a big personality, then they don't come much better than this diminutive working dog. Hailing from Scotland and one of the oldest breeds of terriers, these courageous, independent, friendly dogs make excellent companions for people suffering from allergies both young and old.

Is It True, Are Cairn Terriers Hypoallergenic?

While no dog is 100% allergy free there are some breeds that are non-shedders and produce little dander, keeping allergen levels low enough to not trigger a reaction. These lovely little dogs are one of these breeds so the answer is yes, Cairn Terriers are hypoallergenic.

What does hypoallergenic actually mean?

There is much confusion as to the meaning of this word, many thinking it means; doesn't cause an allergic reaction. In fact, it developed in the cosmetics industry around 60 years ago, promoting products for sensitive skin and means a lesser or reduced risk of causing a reaction. Although that is no means guaranteed and the same applies to dogs.

3 Reasons Why the Cairn Terrier is a Choice Breed Among Allergy Sufferers

  • Their dense wiry double coat sheds minimally and are not as high maintenance as some of the other hypoallergenic breeds requiring only a weekly brush and stripping twice a year.
  • With regard to the Cairn Terrier shedding this breed are small and the smaller the dog, the less allergens are going to be floating around your home, making it easier to keep under control.
  • They are an adaptable small hypoallergenic breed that can live almost anywhere, as long as they get exercise and mental stimulation to keep those typical terrier traits under control.

Cairn Terriers and allergies - What should I do?

Even though the Cairn Terrier is considered a low-shedding breed, reactions can still occur and it is recommended the breed is suitable for people with low to moderate allergies. If you are one of the millions of Americans who suffer from allergies it would be wise to spend some time with various hypoallergenic breeds to see which are the most compatible and suited to your lifestyle.

Once you have made the decision the Cairn Terrier is the breed for you there are some options, try before you buy, if you like. After all, the last thing you want, is to bond with your new best friend only to find they make you ill.

  • Talk to friends, neighbors and local professionals such as dog groomers, day care providers and offer to babysit or volunteer your services if they have a Cairn Terrier.
  • Contact the Cairn Terrier Club of America who can put you in touch with local groups where you may be able to foster a dog or attend one of their breed events.

5 Ways to Reduce the Risk of an Allergic Reaction from Your Pooch

  • Wooden, tiled and linoleum floors trap much less dander (the microscopic bits of skin shed by dogs) than carpets and rugs and are also much easier to keep clean so restricting your pooch to rooms with hard flooring can reduce those sneezes and streaming eyes.
  • Have a designated toilet area for your pooch, the protein that causes an allergic reaction can be found in your dog's urine so keep this area well away from the house and if they do pee in the yard hose the area regularly.
  • Keep your bedroom pet free you spend as much as a third of your time in the bedroom so keeping it allergen-free will help you breathe more easily.
  • Wash pet bedding and any soft toys weekly at 60 degrees to reduce the build-up of allergens.
  • Groom your four-legged friend regularly preferably outside. If possible, get someone who does not suffer from allergies to do it for you.

All about the Cairn Terrier - Origin of the Breed

The Cairn Terrier has a long history being referred to as far back as the 16th century. descending from the indigenous Scottish Highland breeds this tough little dog was used as pest control and varied in size and shape quite significantly depending on the quarry they were after such as rabbits, badgers, otters or rats and the terrain they covered.

In the mid-19th century separate breeds began to evolve and the Westie, which was a variation of a white Cairn Terrier, Skye Terrier and Scottish Terrier became breeds in their own right. Originally, they were called short -coated Skye Terrier or prick-eared Skye's but in 1910 they officially became known as they are today, named after Cairns which are the piles of rocks in which their prey was often found.

Cairn Terriers were first imported to America in 1913 and as in the UK initially could be bred with the West Highland White Terrier although this practice was stopped in 1917 when the Cairn Terrier Club of America was granted membership to the AKC.


The most famous Cairn Terrier was a bitch called Terry a veritable Hollywood superstar she is best known for playing Toto in The Wizard of Oz and as any Cairn Terrier owner will tell you with one of these little characters in the family there is definitely no place like home.

General Appearance

The hypoallergenic Cairn Terrier is a sturdy little dog bred for working attributes and not appearance. They should be between 10 - 12 inches at the shoulders and a Cairn Terrier weight should be between 11-15 pounds. They are a scruffy looking dog, double-coated, with a soft dense undercoat and a wiry weather-resistant topcoat which can come in a variety of colors except white.

Whether you have a black Cairn Terrier, a gray Cairn Terrier or a brown one their fox-like faces will have an alert and sometimes comical expression and they have large eyes twinkling with mischief. They are currently ranked #70 in the American Kennel Club's list of popular breeds.


A typical terrier the Cairn puts barking, digging and chasing things at the top of his "fun things to do" list The Cairn Terrier personality is a big one, he is an active little fella with a fearless disposition that can get him into trouble with larger dogs if not kept on the leash.

He is alert and makes an excellent watchdog in fact they can be a bit yappy so teaching them the word "quiet" from an early age is a must. The Cairn Terrier is intelligent and easy to train but like all terriers they do have a stubborn streak.

Are Cairn Terriers good with children? Usually yes, they love kids and are very playful. However as with all dogs a child should never be left unsupervised.

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The Cairn Terrier lifespan is a long one and they can live well into their teens. There are, however, some inherited health issues associated with the breed including:

  • Lion Jaw (Craniomandibular osteopathy)
  • Hip Dysplasia
  • Luxating Patella
  • Ocular Melanosis
  • Cataracts
  • Krabbe Disease
  • Legg-Calvé-Perthes Disease
  • Corneal Dystrophy

Nearly all Cairn Terrier have an allergic reaction to flea bites so it is essential to issue regular preventative treatments. Of course, the last thing you need as an allergy sufferer is the exposure to more chemicals so you could try homemade natural flea repellents.

Like their human counterparts many terriers including the Cairn can be susceptible to inhalant allergies obviously if you suffer from allergies yourself you will be doing everything possible to keep dust mites, mold spores and chemicals to a minimum in your home but you may well find you and your new best friend with runny eyes and itchy skin after a summer's evening stroll.


Cairn Terriers require a small amount of premium quality food to ensure a long and active lifespan. Puppies should be fed frequently and as they need different nutrients to an adult dog should be fed a quality small dog puppy food.

Choose a kibble for your Cairn which has human grade meat as one of the primary ingredients and avoid ones with soy, wheat or corn. A quality dried food should have no synthetic flavorings or additives.

It is important not to overfeed these agile little dogs so keep an eye on those treats. You should not be able to see the ribs but you should be able to feel them through a thin layer of fat.

Only use stainless steel bowls for both food and water as this has no harmful chemicals in its make-up and is easy to keep clean.


Finding A Good Cairn Terrier Breeder

As with any dog finding a good breeder with Cairn Terrier puppies for sale is the key to getting a healthy pup with a great temperament. A responsible breeder will follow AKC recommended breeding guidelines, conduct the relevant health screening tests, provide information regarding the puppy's diet, socialization, shots etc.

For potential owners of the hypoallergenic Cairn Terrier it is always best, as a precaution, to choose a breeder that offers a written contract with the opportunity for you to return the pup if you develop a chronic reaction. This saves the puppy being rehomed or handed over to a shelter.

To find a reputable breeder you can speak to owners of the breed for personal recommendations in online groups and forums or you could contact either the Cairn Terrier Club of America or the AKC (American Kennel Club) both of which have a list of assured breeders.

3 Red Flags to Look Out for When Searching a Cairn Terrier Breeder

  • Beware of any breeder that tells you the breed is perfect, different dogs suit different people and anyone who doesn't list their breeds' not so attractive traits is usually only in it for the money.
  • Never, ever buy a puppy without seeing it with its mother and preferably litter mates. Seeing a puppy with its siblings will give you an idea of its character, it is advisable not to pick the one beating up his brothers and sisters or the one sitting in a corner on its own.
  • Never pay upfront, it is perfectly reasonable for a breeder to want a deposit but the balance shouldn't be paid until you have visited the premises and seen your chosen puppy.

Adopting a Cairn Terrier from a Rescue or Shelter

Is there any more rewarding experience than giving an unwanted dog a second chance of a loving home? Check out your local animal shelter I guarantee they will be overflowing with dogs both puppies and adults. You might have to wait a while to get a Cairn Terrier but you can let them know you're interested.

You could also try rescue websites which showcase thousands of homeless dogs across the USA. A recent search on produced 388 Cairn Terriers and Cairn Terrier mixes looking for a new home. It could be worth considering a mix especially if the other breed is another small hypoallergenic breed like a Yorkshire Terrier or Shih-Tzu.

Another bonus of adopting a Cairn Terrier is the shelter will be happy for you to spend time with your chosen canine companion ensuring you do not break out in hives once you get him home.

Although some dogs that are given over to animal rescue charities have been neglected, suffered trauma or have some behavioral issues with a little time and patience most make wonderful pets.

How Much Will a Cairn Terrier Set You Back?

The humble Cairn Terrier is not an expensive breed either to purchase or to care for. You can expect to pay between $500-$1000 for a puppy. For this you should receive a healthy dog that has been wormed, the parents will have been screened for any health problems and the litter vet-checked. They should have had their first vaccination against hepatitis, parvo, distemper, parainfluenza and coronavirus. Most puppies will come with information on their diet, socialization and temperament along with a sales contract and insurance to cover the first few weeks.

Of course, if you decide to adopt your hypoallergenic Cairn Terrier from an animal shelter it will be less expensive, you can expect to pay an adoption fee of between $50-$250 depending on which state you live in, age and sex of the dog. Whichever you choose, the addition of one of these playful, happy little dogs with the added benefit of not bringing you out in hives is priceless.


It's a Wrap

The good news is the Cairn Terrier is not a scratch dog. They may shed minimally but being so small, the low amount of allergens they produce should only affect the most sensitive of allergy sufferers.

They are full of energy, very adaptable and make excellent little watch dogs. They are a fantastic family dog and the fact you can be in the same room as your pooch without an attack of the sneezes or breaking out in a nasty rash, makes them an excellent choice for the millions of Americans who suffer from allergies.

We've answered the question "Are Cairn Terriers hypoallergenic?" but we've only touched on what a fantastic little breed the Cairn Terrier actually is.

John Devlin

Husband, father and avid dog lover. Currently the proud owner of George a pedigree Golden Retriever that barely leaves my side. However, cute this sounds a little break from the dog hairs every now and then would be nice!

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