There are many different opinions on the best way to feed your dog and fads and heavy marketing have major influences on consumer choices around pet feeding.  We recommend that you discuss feeding protocols with your breeder and your veterinarian.

Cairn Terriers generally do well on a good quality dog food. The World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) has developed standards for dog food production to ensure that both formulation and production of food yields safe and nutritionally complete diets . Traditional dog food companies (Purina, Royal Canin, Hills, Eukanuba and Iams) meet these standards. Over several decades, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of new dog food brands entering the market and many people have opted to switch to these new brands based on marketing claims of health benefits and superiority over traditional brands based on products being grain free, gluten free, organic and / or exotic protein based. Many of these boutique brands are produced by companies that do not have veterinary nutritionists on staff.  Many do not test the nutritional content of food once manufactured but instead rely on 'as formulated' analysis to show that they meet AAFCO guidelines. They do not undertake feeding trials to document the actual nutritional outcome of feeding the product to dogs of various ages.  Grain free formulations have become highly popular but the emergence of Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM) as an increasing health issue in many different breeds has been associated, at least in part, to grain free foods - possibly related to the replacement of grain with large amounts of peas, lentils and potatoes. While the jury is still out on the precise cause of DCM, using a WSAVA compliant food is recommended unless there are specific circumstances that warrant a different choice.

Puppies should be fed with a specific puppy formulation or food that is specifically approved as an “All Life Stages” formulation.

Consider adding an omega 3 (fish oil) supplement to your dog’s daily food. For information on use of fish oils see: https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/nutrition/fish-oil-for-dogs/ and https://www.dog-swim.com/clinical-services/nutritional-supplements/fish-oil

Adding a bit of coconut oil to the diet can be helpful for dogs with itchy skin and is useful for busy young dogs that need some extra calories in their diet to maintain a healthy weight. Too much coconut oil can cause loose stools.

Raw feeding has seen increasing popularity in recent years and many dogs do seem to do well on raw diets. If you choose to follow a raw diet, do educate yourself thoroughly on food safety as there are risks of pathogen transmission to humans with incorrect handling. Some raw diets have also been found to be deficient nutritionally so it is important to consult with a qualified veterinary nutritionist to be sure your raw diet is meeting all the needs of your dog.


Adding raw meaty bones to your dogs regular diet, even if you do not routinely feed raw, will help keep teeth clean and tartar free. Never feed cooked bones as these are prone to splintering. Be sure the bones are appropriate to the size of your dog. While young puppies enjoy smaller bones such as elk rib bones, older dogs (stronger chewers) will be able to break off and swallow large chunks, with risk of intestinal obstruction. Knuckle bones and marrow bones are good choices for older dogs.

Free Feeding vs. Scheduled Feeding

Free feeding means filling the food bowl and letting the dog graze and feed at will, while scheduled feeding means providing a predetermined amount of food at scheduled intervals and removing any food not consumed within 15-20 minutes. The advantage of scheduled feeding is that you have better control of the amount fed with less risk of obesity – a major health issue for many dogs today. It also allows you to monitor your dog’s food intake and quickly recognize if they are off their food – which may be the first or only sign of a health concern. Any wet food will be at risk of spoiling if left out through the day. Another advantage of scheduled feeding is that your dog will be more highly food motivated when it comes to training treats; as food is a more valued resource if it is available only at scheduled times and training sessions.

Should you let your Cairn eat ‘human food’?

There is no harm in allowing your dog to eat DOG-SAFE human foods. Many human foods are healthy as supplements, training treats or food toppers. Carrots, peppers, blueberries, broccoli, cauliflower and celery heart are common favourites. Remember that not all human food is safe for dogs. Common foods that cause serious toxicity in dogs include: chocolate (especially dark chocolate), grapes, raisins, macadamia nuts, pits and seeds of many tree fruits, onions, garlic, sugarless products sweetened with xylitol (gum, peanut butter etc.) and more – always check before giving something to your dog that was not specifically intended for canine consumption.

Veterinary Care

Be sure to take your new Cairn to a veterinarian as soon as possible after you bring him home. If you have a vet you know and like, and with whom you have good rapport, plan ahead so you can get a timely appointment. If you do not have an established veterinarian, look for a “Fear Free” certified veterinary office, or get recommendations from other dog owners or your breeder. While there are differences of opinions regarding frequency of immunization and a transition to longer intervals between vaccines, you should be attentive to immunization needs and either follow a recommended protocol or do titres to determine when immunization is needed. You will also want to discuss deworming and ectoparasite prevention with your veterinarian.  Often veterinarians will want to discuss spay and neuter plans even when puppies are still very young, recommending spay or neuter at 6 months.  Be aware that there is  growing scientific evidence that early spay / neuter has significant detrimental affects on dogs.  Your breeder will likely have recommendations regarding the timing of spay / neuter and may include specific spay / neuter obligations and timing recommendations in your purchase agreement.  A helpful resource summarizing the evidence both pro and con for spay / neuter is Should I Spay or Neuter My Dog: The Secret Life of Sex Hormones, by Jane Killion, available through https://shoppuppyculture.com/products/puppy-culture-spay-neuter-booklet

Teeth and Toenails

Teeth and toenail care and maintenance are challenges for many pet owners. Starting early and using positive reinforcement will help make this less of a battle and a more pleasant task. Cooperative Care techniques are a great way to help your dog learn to love these sometimes challenging tasks. https://fall2018.iaabcjournal.org/2018/10/25/cooperative-care/
Many different products are advertised to help keep your dog’s teeth clean. Few of these have any scientific support to prove their efficacy. Talk to your vet about what products might be best for your dog. Be wary of products that may cause GI tract obstruction - if your dog is able to bit off chunks of any product, he may be at risk.


Cairns generally do not require frequent bathing. In fact too frequent bathing can soften the coat and reduce the water and dirt repellency. If you do bathe (usually needed because the dog has rolled in something disgusting!) be sure to use a Crisp Coat or Terrier Coat shampoo and dilute appropriately. For muddy dogs a quick spray with water over the feet and belly will usually suffice.

Brushing your dog’s coat regularly will help keep it healthy and mat free. Be sure to pay attention to the areas most at risk of matting (the arm pits, belly, around the genitals and anus). It is a great idea to have on hand some detangling spray which can make the process of getting rid of mats easier and more pleasant for your dog. Keeping the hair trimmed short around the anus can prevent ‘cling-ons’.

The grooming tab has more details on grooming techniques and tools and the members’ section has advanced grooming videos available to members.