Health Related Concerns
Of The Cairn Terrier


Cairns are known for their hardiness, but like every other breed they do have some health issues to be aware of. Many are treatable if caught in early stages. The CTCC along with many other clubs around the world are working hard to eliminate these problems. The CTCC has set up a Health Fund to assist the researchers with their studies of these diseases. We have also established a list of tests that are available to breeders for screening these diseases. Recommended Health Testing

In 2010 a Health Survey was done by the Cairn Terrier Club of America. The summary of these finding were:

The leading percentages of respondents reporting health conditions in dogs owned, or dogs bred but not owned, in the last 5 years, are as follows: patella luxation (21% ); vaccine reactions (16%); crooked tail (14%); heart murmur (13%); cataracts at more than 4 years (13%); portosystemic vascular anomaly (12%

Some of the more common conditions followed by links for more information:

Luxating Patella occurs in many small breeds of dogs, including Cairn Terriers. It is an inherited disorder in Cairns and diagnosis is made by x-ray and palpation by your vet. In this disorder, the knee cap slips in and out of the trochlear groove. The condition usually becomes evident by the age of 4 to 6 months. It can occur in one back leg, or both. Grade 1 cases can be very mild, with occasional limping in one back leg. In mild cases, dogs will do such things as: pick up a leg for a few steps when moving over irregular ground (Gravel or long grass), lope or gallop rather than trot. Grade 3 and 4 cases are much less common and may require surgical correction if the dog has difficulty walking or suffer from pain. This condition does weaken the integrity of the joint, predisposing it to eventual arthritis and traumatic injury.

Heart Defects - All forms of congenital heart disease can occur in dogs. In Cairn Terriers, there is not one predominate problem that can occur. The best time to screen puppies for congenital heart defects is when they are 6 to 8 weeks of age, before being released to their new homes. Screening is done by carefully listening for murmurs with a stethoscope over the four valve areas. Murmurs heard at this age may not be associated with disease; some will disappear as the pup matures. If the murmur is present at 16 weeks, however, the puppy should be screened using cardiac ultrasound. Dogs with minor heart defects have good prognosis and do not benefit from surgery. However, many dogs do benefit from surgery to correct more severe defects. Many of these surgeries will require referral to a large veterinary center.

Portosystemic Vascular Anomaly (liver shunt) - Occurs in many breeds of dogs, including Cairn Terriers. The condition involves an abnormal blood vessel, which connects the portal vein to the general circulation, diverting the circulation around the liver. Thus, the liver cannot cleanse the blood as it normally would.

Microvascular Dysplasia is an associated condition in which there are abnormal "mini-shunts" within the liver itself.

These conditions may occur separately or in combination. Some shunts can be surgically corrected, while dogs with MVD are typically managed medically.

When present at birth, both conditions are thought to be genetic, although the exact mode of inheritance is not clear. Research to determine a genetic marker is ongoing. Shunts may be acquired later in life as a result of another illness, therefore it is recommended that dogs should be screened early in life with a simple test which measures the level of bile acids in the blood stream. Those with elevated levels may then require further investigation by means of a urine test and an ultrasound of the liver to determine if the dog has either PVSA or MVD and a recommended course of treatment.

Canine Cataracts - are one of the most common forms of eye problems affecting dogs. They can affect all ages and breeds of dogs, including Cairn Terriers, but certain types of cataracts show up more frequently in certain breeds. Cataracts cause the dog's eye to become white or cloudy. Note that it not unusual for older dogs eyes to become slightly blue-gray. Called nuclear sclerosis, this usually occurs in dogs over 6 years of age and normally doesn't affect their vision, so treatment is not usually necessary. Canine cataracts may be quite small and not significantly affecting the dog's sight. However, if the condition is left untreated and the cataract becomes dense enough, the dog may eventually go blind. there are may causes of cataracts in dogs, including inheritance, disease, trauma, drub reactions nutritional deficiencies and old age.

Ocular Melanosis  - is a disease of the eye previously known as pigmentary glaucoma. Changes occur in the eye that causes a build up of fluid which in turn increases the pressure in the eye. It usually develops later in life. If caught early a treatment can be recommended to delay the progression of this disease. Research is currently being done to determine mode of inheritance.

Dogs can be screened for cataracts and other diseases of the eye by a simple examination be a veternarian ophthalmologist. This screening should include the glaucoma test. The results may be registered with the Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF), which provides a certificate that is valid for one year from the date of the exam. CERF recommends annual re-examination for any animal directly involved in a breeding program.

Legge-Perthes– This is a disorder of the hip joint. Over time femur head will become deformed. Usually shows up before 1 yr of age. Surgery is usually required.

Craniomandibular Osteopathy– This disease usually affects the lower jaw bone and inner ear. Can be very painful. Usually shows up within the first 6mths. Treatment may include use of anti-inflammatories.

Vaccine Reactions - It is relatively uncommon to see problems after the administration of vaccines to our Cairns, however, vaccine reaction can certainly occur and you should be aware of these when planning to have your pet vaccinated. Although serious side affects can occur and could even be life threatening, vaccination safety is generally quite high and concerns about the adverse effects of vaccines should not be used as grounds to avoid immunizing your Cairn. Typically there may be some joint or muscle soreness and possibly some lethargy or mild fever may be present for a day or two. These reactions are not serious and often go unnoticed. The diseases that we are protecting them from (especially canine parvpvirus, canine distemper virus, canin adenovirus and hepatitis virus) can be far more disastrous than the typical risk of vaccination reaction. Based on recent research, it has been found that dogs are protected mush longer than previously believed by the vaccines given and current vaccination protocols have changed to reflect this. In most cases, annual vaccination is not considered necessary and more often a schedule of once every three years after initial series of "puppy shots" is considered optimal. It is important to discuss a vaccination schedule with your breeder and your veterinarian. All puppies should have been examined to ensure their general health and vaccinated by the breeder's vet prior to sale.

Related Links on health issues and research projects: