Arthritis in a Cairn Terrier

Cairn terriers were bred to hunt foxes and badgers.
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Cairn terriers, the unruly natives of the Scottish Highlands, are friendly and dedicated companions. This high-energy breed loves to get exercise, but constant activity can put a lot of strain on the dogs' legs. Terriers have a high chance of developing hereditary bones problems that gradually cause arthritis.

Legg-Perthes Disease

Legg-Perthes is a "small dog disease" prevalent in cairn terriers and other tiny dogs. It's caused by a deformed femur in your dog's hind legs that prevents blood from flowing properly. The lack of blood flow causes the muscle to atrophy over time. Most dogs with this hereditary deformity show signs before they are a year old, according to Cairn Terrier Club of Denver. Terriers suffering from Legg-Perthes have poor control over one or both of their hind legs, causing them to limp. Your pup may also whimper or whine in pain as he walks around.

Luxating Patella

Cairns are also among the group of small dog breeds prone to a genetic knee problem called luxating patella. Terriers can inherit a condition that allows their kneecaps to slide completely out of place. The degree of luxation, or movement, is graded into four categories depending on how severe it is. Grade 3 and 4 cases often require surgery to fix, while minor deformities may not need medical attention, according to the Cairn Terrier Club of America.

Development of Arthritis

Patella luxation and Legg-Perthes put stress on the bones and joints in your dog's legs. The damage can eventually lead to permanent arthritis in the affected joints. The pain and lameness caused by leg problems encourage your dog to be more sedentary, which increases the risk of arthritis throughout his body. Cairns tend to be active and mobile, so sudden weight gain, sleepiness and difficulty standing up are signs that something is wrong. Dogs of all breeds can develop arthritis as they get older, so your terrier may have developed arthritis despite having healthy joints in his youth.


Take your terrier in for regular checkups and schedule a visit if he's limping or walking funny. If your vet can diagnose and treat Legg-Perthes or other joint problems early, it greatly improves your pup's chances of making a full recovery. Surgery may subdue your pet for a few weeks, but it will save him from a lifetime of discomfort. Your vet may prescribe medication to ease the inflammation if your dog has arthritis. Don't give your pet drugs meant for people. Some substances are effective for humans and canines alike, but always check with your vet before giving any supplement, human or canine, to a dog.

Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.

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