"Cairn terrier hereditary health and wellness
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"Cairn terrier hereditary health and wellness

Dogs
Health & Safety

The Cairn terrier is a small dog breed that hails from the Scottish Highlands, and that falls within the terrier grouping. Recognised as one of the oldest of all of the UK’s terrier breeds, these small, lively dogs stand up to 13” tall at the withers and can weigh up to 15lb. They have rough, shaggy topcoats with a much softer insulating undercoat with a downy texture, and can be seen in a range of colours including black, grey, cream, red and brindle.

The breed’s earliest origins show that the Cairn terrier was first developed on the Isle of Skye, and they were in fact first referred to as the short-haired Skye terrier. However, the breed was later re-named, to make the distinction between them and the true Skye terrier, which is a totally separate breed in its own right.

As one of the oldest and best established of all of the terrier breeds, the Cairn terrier is considered to be a robust, healthy dog that is generally fit and well and not prone to suffering from a wide range of health problems. However, like all pedigree dog breeds, the Cairn terrier has a hereditary predisposition to a few health issues and irregularities, and all potential Cairn terrier owners are advised to research these before committing to a purchase. In this article, we will look at the longevity, health and hereditary breed issues of the Cairn terrier in more detail. Read on to learn more.

Cairn terrier longevity

The average longevity of the breed as a whole provides a fairly wide ranged figure, being between 12-17 years. The lower end of this scale tends to reflect dogs of the breed whose lives are shortened due to certain hereditary health problems, while other breed lines that do not possess such a predisposition tend to live to significant old age in good health.

Genetic diversity and breed health testing

The coefficient of inbreeding statistic for the Cairn terrier breed as a whole is 6.8%, which is considered to be low enough not to produce a wide range of problems in and of itself. Cairn terrier breeders are advised to calculate the coefficient of inbreeding for their own breed lines, and keep their figures as low as possible.

The British Veterinary Association runs a breed-specific health scheme for the Cairn terrier to test for the presence of diffuse ocular melanosis, which causes abnormal pigmentation of the eye. DNA testing is also available for parent dogs of the breed, to identify the presence of certain hereditary flaws and health conditions, including:

  • Haemophilia B, a blood clotting disorder.
  • Krabbe disease, or globoid cell leukodystrophy, which is a degenerative condition that affects the nervous system and ultimately causes premature death.
  • Pyruvate kinase deficiency, which is a deficiency of a red blood enzyme that can lead to haemolytic anaemia.

Bile acid testing of Cairn terrier puppies is also recommended by Cairn terrier breed clubs and organisations.

Other health conditions within the Cairn terrier breed

There are also a significant number of other health conditions within the Cairn terrier breed that have a hereditary element to them, but for which no pre-breeding tests are currently available. Some of these are potentially serious, and may shorten the lifespan of affected dogs significantly. Such conditions include:

  • Hepatitis, a chronic autoimmune liver disease.
  • Von Willebrand’s disease, a blood clotting disorder that is similar in effect to haemophilia.
  • Patellar luxation, which causes dislocation of the knee caps due to a weakness of the muscle and cartilage that fixes the kneecaps in place.
  • Legge-Calve-Perthes disease, which is a progressive degeneration of the hip joints, leading to the destruction of the femur over time. This condition is very painful, and causes significant problems for the dog in terms of their normal range of movement.
  • Atopic allergies, which come about due to a severe hypersensitivity to certain proteins including pollen particles, which cause the skin to become very itchy and lead to affected dogs scratching themselves obsessively. This in turn can cause redness and broken skin, which may then progress to infection and skin damage.
  • Dermatitis, a generalised irritation and soreness of the skin is also known to occur within the breed, and has a tendency to flare up time and again over the course of the dog’s life.
  • Type one diabetes, a hereditary condition that requires supplementary insulin administration.
  • Certain types of cancer also crop up within the breed more regularly than within other breeds, including cutaneous melanomas and sebaceous adenomas.
  • Eye conditions including glaucoma and cataracts may occur in the Cairn terrier.
  • Abnormal development of the jaw bones, known as cranio-mandibular osteopathy, is a hereditary defect known to present itself within the breed.
  • Various neurological disorders have been identified, some of which are very serious.
  • Liver and kidney problems, including polycystic disease leading to liver failure may occur.
  • Portosystemic shunt, which is caused by the heart failing to pump blood correctly via the liver may occur within the breed.
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