How to Groom a Cairn Terrier

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If you own a Cairn Terrier, you probably know how shaggy and untidy they can get without proper grooming. The problem is, grooming them can be a bit overwhelming, especially for new owners. That’s why I’ve prepared this guide to help you learn how to groom a Cairn Terrier like a pro.

How to Groom a Cairn Terrier

Grooming a Cairn Terrier requires plenty of patience. You can choose to do it weekly, monthly, or every few months depending on your schedule. In this guide, I take you through the best ways to groom your little companion based on my own experience and recommendations from the American Kennel Club 

Cairn Terrier in need of grooming

Monthly Grooming

A Cairn Terrier needs proper grooming once or twice every month. For most owners, monthly grooming takes a considerably long time. The process is also tiring both for you and the dog. So, you do not want to do this regularly.

Monthly grooming methods include: 

  • Rolling the coat 
  • Emptying the anal glands

Rolling the Coat 

Rolling or stripping the coat is physically removing the dead hair from the hair follicles of a Cairn Terrier to make them look clean and healthy. Unlike other dog breeds, the hairs of the Cairn Terrier do not shed. Instead, the dead hair hangs on to the hair follicle. 

If you are not sure how to go about it, I recommend that you talk to a professional groomer. Below is a step by step guide on how to roll the coat of a Cairn Terrier.

Step One: Calm Your Cairn Terrier and Hold Them Still

Before you begin the process, you need to decide whether you will be using your hands or a stripping knife. It is also important to lay out the whole process so you don’t spend too much time on it. 

Depending on how much grooming your dog needs, you can either do it yourself by holding the dog or have someone hold it for you. 

Step Two: Brush You Cairn Terriers Coat First

Before you put the stripping knife to work, prepare the coat. Gently use a slicker brush to brush it to follow the path of hair growth. This is an important step that will ensure that the hair grows in the right direction.  

It is important to note that a Cairn Terrier has two coats; the soft and fluffy undercoat, and one-course topcoat. This means that you will have to spend a bit more time brushing. 

Step Three: Pinch the Hair of Your Cairn Terrier

This step needs you to be very careful. You do not want to pinch the hair too much that it is painful for the dog, and at the same time, you want a good grip for significant results.

Use your index finger and thumb to pinch a small part of the hair. At the same time, use your other hand to stretch the skin in the other direction to support you while you roll the coat. Your thumb should be on the underside and the knife on top of the pinched hair.

Step Four: Pluck the Dead Hair Out

Gently pluck the dead hair out in the direction of hair growth and leave the newly growing hair in place. Do not force the hair out; if the dead hair is still hard to pluck, leave it, and try the next. Also, do not bend your wrist when pulling because the hair could break and remain on the follicle. 

You should always begin the rolling process at the back of the neck and gradually proceed down your Cairn Terrier’s back. The skin at the belly is susceptible, so be very gentle when rolling that section.

White Cairn Terrier
Step Five: Work on The Tail and The Facial Hair Last

These two places should be last because they need specialty. Cairn Terriers do not like it when people touch their tails. This will also allow you to carefully and effectively pull the hair around the eye. 

Emptying the Anal Sacs 

When your dog begins licking and chewing around their tail, you should take this as a sign to get rid of accumulated fluid on their butt. This process will be unpleasant for both you and the dog so you might want to get professional help if you can’t trust yourself to do it. 

Dogs have anal glands on either side of their anus. Occasionally these sacs get filled with uncomfortable residue that needs frequent removal. Doing this will help your Cairn Terrier stay comfortable, clean, and healthy. 

Below is a step-by-step process on how to do this. 

  1. Hold Your Cairn Terriers Tail Up and Squeeze the anal Sac: Hold the tail of your dog up and hold a paper towel over their anus. Use your thumb and index figure to squeeze in toward the anus.
  2. Wipe the Anus Clean: After the fluid has come out, wipe your dogs behind with a baby wipe to eliminate any bacteria and smell. Older dogs that have cases of impacted gland need regular emptying of the anal sacs.

Weekly Grooming

If you think a whole month is too long to wait for your dog’s grooming, you can do it on a weekly basis. This is less hectic and takes a shorter time compared to monthly grooming. 

Here is how to groom your Cairn Terrier on a weekly basis.

Brushing your Cairn Terriers Coat

As much as this exercise is less time consuming, you need to take your time and ensure you do a thorough job. 

Here is what you will need for this job: 

  • Stiff-bristled brush
  • Slicker brush
  • Healthy oils
  • Fine comb 
  • Coarse comb 

After getting everything you need, follow the procedure below to properly brush your Cairn Terrier. 

Step One: Begin with the Coarse Comb

Before you begin brushing, first use a dangling spray on the coat then apply the healthy oil. I recommend you use the stiff-bristled brush on the rough weather-resistant hair since it is a great choice for twisted and untidy hair. 

When you reach the belly and the legs, try to be gentle as you comb. 

Step Two: Carefully Remove the Mats

Cairn Terriers have lots of twisted and tangled hair (mats). This mostly happens when they go for long without grooming. These hairs are not easy to comb, so you need to be careful and patient when working on them. 

If the mats are very tiny, you can use your fingers to break them up before you start combing them; begin from the tip. You can use a pair of scissors to vertically split it into small sub-sections.

Use a slicker brush to comb your way through the mat gently. Try not to cause pain to your Cairn Terrier. Once the hair is nice and tidy, use the slicker brush to distribute some coat conditioner on the coat.

White dog enjoying the sea

Brushing Your Cairn Terriers Teeth

Just like humans, these canines need proper dental care. You should always brush their teeth every week with no anesthesia.  

First, you need to train your dog to accept foreign objects like toothpaste and toothbrush in their mouth. It will take time for your dog to get used to this so occasionally throw in some treats.

Apart from doing domestic care on your dog, you should include occasional veterinary cleaning. However, it would help if you did it on an infrequent occasion under the recommendations of your vet depending on physical examinations. The process is done under general anesthesia and involves;

  • Scaling the tartar from the gum line (below and above)
  • Making the teeth more resistant to tartar by polishing 
  • Bacteria removal
  • Coating the teeth by use of fluoride
  • Teeth extraction (very rare)

Other Grooming Chores That You Can Perform on Your Cairn Terrier

Apart from the above normal grooming chores, your Cairn Terrier might occasionally need their nails clipped. It would make them look tidy and it would prevent them from injuring themselves and those around them.

Once in a while, you could bathe your dog to get rid of the dirt that you cannot brush off the coat. Always stick to dog shampoo when bathing a Cairn Terrier because other shampoos could age their skin faster.

Also, use a cotton ball and an ear cleaner to remove the wax and dirt from your pet’s ears. If you are not so conversant with any of the above grooming chores, I suggest that you seek help from a specialist.

Should You Shave Your Cairn Terrier?

It is very tempting to shave your dog, especially when they have messy hair and tangled mat. However, shaving is not a great idea when it comes to this breed of dogs. 

Professional groomers do not recommend the idea of shaving the Cairn Terriers because they are double-coated. By shaving your Cairn, you could damage their fur. Shaving could also have a severe negative effect on the new hair growth. 

It could also cause your dog skin issues and interfere with how they control their body temperature. Because of these underlying issues, always contact your veterinarian or professional groomer when you feel like shaving your Cairn Terrier.


Cairn Terriers need regular care and grooming to keep them healthy and good looking. While some of the grooming chores for this breed are not easy to execute, you need to learn and perform them effectively. If you still need help, you could also do with help from a professional groomer.