Why Does My Cairn Terrier Stink



Ooo-eeeee! Does Fido ever stink! You've loved Cairn Terriers all of your life, and you've finally taken the plunge and purchased one of your own to love. You were well-prepared for all of Fido's crazy puppy antics; you even took the time to read up on what it would mean to own and attempt to train a Terrier. But the stink is something you were not prepared to encounter. None of the breed books mentioned it as a potential problem. Why does Fido smell so awful? Is this a problem that Cairns are predisposed to, or is there an underlying issue that you need to get to the bottom of? 

There is no doubt that all dogs can suffer from unpleasant odors. A thorough understanding of your breed as well as common canine illnesses and habits that can produce off-putting smells can aid you in your quest for the source of the stink. Though the solution may be as simple as Fido needing more frequent bathing, it is critical that you rule out any underlying health issues that might be plaguing your Cairn Terrier that are symptomatic of a more serious health condition that may require medical attention.

The Root of the Behavior

Taking the plunge into owning a Terrier is not for the faint of heart. The American Kennel Club describes the much-loved Cairn Terrier as "an active, game, hardy, small working terrier of the short-legged class." Originally bred to rid farmland of pesky rodents, the Cairn Terrier is a breed that is hallmarked by its tenacity, independent spirit, and fearlessness. They are well-suited to family living because of their sweet, outgoing natures. They shine in their devotion to children and are exceptionally affectionate companions who thrive on being near their "people." With many breeds, the coat can sometimes play a role in the amount of odor a dog emits. The Cairn Terrier is a far more low-maintenance breed when it comes to grooming. As with many other Terrier breeds of the working variant, the Cairn Terrier bears two coats. These coats are comprised of a harsh wiry outer coat and a softer layer of hair referred to as the "undercoat" directly beneath it. These two layers of hair provide a waterproof barrier for the Terrier to keep him dry and comfortable while working quarry. There is little doubt that a Cairn Terrier still employed in ridding his family's home of nuisance vermin would become exceptionally dirty and potentially stinky. However, the vast majority of Cairn Terriers today live in pet homes and rarely do the work they were originally bred to do, so it is unlikely the foul smell you are noticing is the result of this. 

Caring for the coat of a Cairn Terrier to keep it healthy and smelling clean is relatively simple. Expert groomers recommend consistent brushing on a weekly basis. Cairn Terriers are known for their unkempt appearance. To maintain this look for the show ring, Cairn Terriers should be hand stripped regularly. This is not necessary for the average pet owner, and it is increasingly difficult to find groomers skilled in this art today. It is important to note that though your Cairn Terrier should look a little like a ragamuffin; he shouldn't smell like he's been living on the streets and foraging for his meals. Though your Cairn Terrier should receive baths on an as-needed basis, too much bathing will strip your dog's coat of natural oils and ruin the correct texture of the wiry hair. If your dog rolls in mud or smells like a pig barn, it's time for a bath! Let your senses be your guide as to how frequently your Cairn Terrier could benefit from a little soap and water.

Encouraging the Behavior

Yes, your Cairn Terrier's coat might be the reason why he stinks. But you've tried bathing him repeatedly, and all you've got to show for it is an extremely ticked off Terrier who still smells like a feces factory. What else could it be? Cairn Terriers, on the whole, aren't any more prone to smelling worse than any other breed. Though there is nothing specific to the breed that could be causing the offensive odor, there are several things that are common to dogs in general that might explain the stink. One of the more perplexing canine behaviors is their love of all things disgusting. Our dogs are fascinated by things that turn our stomachs, and playing with, laying on, and eating gross things gives our dogs great delight. Dogs in the wild often rolled in things like dead animal carcasses or the feces of another animal as a means to camouflage their own scent thus providing them with needed protection from predators who might seek to make them and their pack part of a future meal. Our modern dogs have no need to do this, yet the instinct remains powerfully alive within them today. Fido's coat might not be producing foul odors on its own nor bringing back stinky smells from a hunt, but he just might have voluntarily changed his scent to something far less than pleasing to you. 

Allergies and skin infections can also play a role in the smell of your dog's coat. Some dogs can develop bacterial or yeast infections which give off unpleasant odors. If you suspect that your Cairn Terrier may be suffering from an allergy or skin infection, you should seek veterinary assistance. A simple skin scraping can be very effective to help you determine a course of action. Yeast infections in particular, which can also affect the ears, are painful and irritating to your dog. They are often evidenced by frequent scratching and an overpowering smell. If you happen to find your beloved Cairn Terrier scooting his bum along your favorite Persian rug or your freshly landscaped yard, his anal glands might be to blame. Some dogs lack the ability to express their anal glands without assistance. When the glands become full, they are uncomfortable for your dog and can even become infected. Dogs will attempt to release their glands themselves by rubbing their anus along textured surfaces. When the glands release, you will know it! They have a particularly noxious smell which is reminiscent of rotten fish. 

Other Solutions and Considerations

If you've ruled out the need for a bath, skin conditions, and anal glands, your dog's teeth could be to blame. A simple sniff test can let you know if you need to take Fido to the vet for further examination. Your dog's breath will never smell like a rose. But if it is particularly bad, it could indicate that it's time for your dog to have a dental examination. Regular tooth brushing and giving Fido raw, meaty bones to enjoy can reduce the buildup of plaque that also can contribute to stinky breath. Lastly, some odors can be the result of more serious medical conditions. It is important for your dog to receive regular veterinary visits. Many owners feel that a vet visit should be reserved for when something is visibly wrong with Fido. However, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. 

Taking Fido in for a yearly wellness examination can help you detect potential problems before they happen. This can save you time, money, and heartache down the road. A veterinarian will know which steps need to be taken to help your Cairn Terrier to get back to smelling like a dog and not a museum of amazing stinks worthy of a place in a P. T. Barnum exhibition. Treatment may be as simple as an antibiotic or a medicated shampoo. The first step is to make an appointment for a general examination. From there, your veterinarian can conduct further testing to pinpoint the source of the problem then recommend treatment and ongoing care options. Of course, some dogs just happen to smell less pleasantly than we would like. There might not be a single thing wrong with your Cairn Terrier and what you are smelling is simply Fido in all of his natural glory. If this is the case, you might want to make friends with someone who sells Scentsy. 


Is your Cairn Terrier stinky? Has bathing failed to reduce his overpowering scent? Consider a visit to your veterinarian for a wellness exam to help determine the source of the stink. The solution is likely very simple and armed with wise counsel from your veterinarian, you can get Fido back to smelling like a dog instead of your trash can.