Why Do Cairn Terriers Smell?



With a name like Honey, you would expect your Cairn Terrier to smell sweet, but this is not the case. In fact, your cute and fluffy Honey often stinks up your house. Sometimes you attribute this to her tendency to roll around in poop on your daily walks. Other times you're not so sure why Honey smells like a dirty washcloth. And the odor doesn’t just emanate from her fur. You catch a whiff from her ears, mouth, and butt too. Do you want some answers to the following questions that haunt your mind? Is this common for Cairn Terriers? What causes the foul odors? Can you prevent the stench? Most importantly, are there times when Honey’s far from honey smell should be a concern?

The Root of the Behavior

Bred in Scotland, the Cairn Terrier was encouraged to ward off vermin - like rats and moles - and did so by cornering the rodents in dens or cairns so that the farmers could take care of the nasty part. How does this relate to a Cairn Terrier’s stench? There are a couple of reasons. One, this breed loves a good chase, and although they get quality exercise, running causes your furry friend to sweat. And unlike humans, doggies don’t wear deodorant. Two, Cairn Terriers were bred to dig for pesky creatures in dirt, mud, grass, etc. and worms do not smell like lavender. Also, Honey’s paws are designed for digging. They have these super-padded front paws for getting down in the dirt, but these enlarged paws also are splendid homes for bacteria and more. And what else does digging have to do with Honey's raunchy smell? It's also possible that Honey gets crud into her eyes when eagerly scooping up dirt. This can cause some nasty eye leakage and infections that certainly don't smell like roses. 

So blame the first Cairn Terrier breeders for Honey’s digging and tireless energy that contribute to her not so pleasant smell. Another reason Honey works up a stench has to do with her double coat of fur. The outer layer presents a shaggy jacket while the smooth inner layer insulates your pooch even more. This makes Honey hotter than a sizzling pancake during warm summers. Honey’s fur also covers some of her ears. This sometimes causes Cairn Terriers to have dirt and wax buildup. And a non-fur related problem for this particular breed is bad breath due to tartar build up. Cairn Terriers are also prone to skin problems, so Honey may have some increased sensitivity to fleas, ticks, and more. Plus, this breed tends to have clogged pores, all of which could contribute to Honey’s foul odor.

Encouraging the Behavior

You obviously don't want Honey stinking up your house. But you also don't want to deny her of her innate need to dig. This is why you decide to make a sand digging area for your Honey in your backyard. At least this will keep her away from the dirt and worms. Your vet also informed you that Honey has some difficulties with her anal glands. Although this took you aback at first, you found out this is a common problem with this breed. It turns out that Honey's pores in her anal sacs are just not large enough to let all of the malodorous liquid fully leave her little furry body as she poops. 

Your vet encourages you to get her anal glands expressed, which is a fancy way of saying that she needs them squeezed by a professional. This should help with some of Honey’s smell around her butt. Also realize that Honey may have some skin allergies, common in Cairn Terriers. So you make sure that you buy some oatmeal and sensitive skin shampoo. Now, you make an extra effort to comb her daily to remove any dandruff on her fur. You further discover that it’s important to trim your Cairn Terrier’s dead coat of fur that retains smells. These actions should help Honey smell better than rotten feet.

Other Solutions and Considerations

There are even more ways you can make sure you help Honey smell her best. Since she's prone to dental problems, buy her a doggie toothbrush and brush those canine teeth daily. Also make sure she eats a quality diet (lay off the garlic), and refrain from feeding her junk food. And be mindful of your Cairn Terrier’s double coat. Although protective and warm during cooler climates, Honey’s adorable scruffiness can make her hot during warmer months. This is why some owners give their Cairn Terriers regular haircut or hire a groomer. This double coat also makes it easy for dirt and other substances to hide, so make sure to regularly brush and bathe her. 

And don't forget about Honey's large paws (essential for her digging but harborers of stink). A little bit of coconut oil goes a long way. And when it comes to Honey's ears, buy an appropriate ear cleaner (your vet can offer recommendations) put it on a cotton ball and massage Honey's ears. She will enjoy the extra attention, and you will enjoy the cleaner smell emanating from those eardrums. Integrating these habits into a grooming routine should lessen Honey’s stench.


After learning about all of the reasons why Cairn Terriers smell, you have paid more attention to Honey's skin, double coat, diet, teeth, tuchus, and ears. Although you have to spend more time on grooming, Honey now smells better than ever. Furthermore, your house no longer reeks like stinky socks. Now the words of the most famous Cairn Terrier, Toto, do apply: “There's no place like home” with your Honey of course.