Cairn vs Westie: Comparison of These Popular Breeds

By John Martin - February 15, 2024

Cairn and Westie laying on the bed

Are you a pet lover that is looking to adopt a little pup and gain a lifetime of cuddles? In that case, a Cairn Terrier or a West Highland White Terrier (Westie) may be the best choice for you.

Both these small and cute breeds are good with children and adults. How can you decide between them? Read ahead as we compare the two so that you can find the right breed for your home.

What is the Difference Between a Cairn Terrier and a Westie?

Both the Cairn and the Westie are loyal, loving terriers with a few differences between them. As you read ahead, you will find comparative snippets of the Cairn and the Westie.


The Cairn Terrier, West Highland White Terrier (Westie), and Scottish Terriers initially belonged to a group called the Skye Terriers. It was in the early 1900s that were registered with the Kennel Club of the United Kingdom as distinct breeds.

Cairn Terrier

This little terrier has its origins in the 17th century Scottish Highlands. This breed was popularly known to hunt vermin, foxes, and rats.

These little dogs are left-pawed and got their name when they were admitted to dog shows around the United Kingdom. As an extension of their hunting skills and their left-pawed feature, they are great at tracking scents.

In the 1900s, they were registered under the Kennel Club of the United Kingdom.

West Highland White Terrier (Westie)

Westies, on the other hand, are a product of the 15th century. Similar to the Cairn, they were also bred as hunting dogs for rats and vermin.

Westies have been an extremely successful breed in dog shows once they were recognized by the Kennel Club of the United Kingdom (UK).


While both these dogs are little, with double coats, there a few distinguishing features between each.

Cairn Terrier

These little pooches are about 23 to 33 cm tall and have very kind eyes. They generally have a shaggy, furry coat.

They come in red, black, wheaten, gray, and cream colors. Their outer coat is coarser and resistant to harsh weather.

West Highland White Terrier (Westie)

The Westie is slightly shorter than the Cairn, averaging at the height of 25 cm. However, they are slightly heavier than the Cairn pooches.

They are only available in pure white color. Similar to their Cairn friends, they have a coarse, weather-resistant outer coat.

Related: 17 West Highland White Terrier Mixes You Will Love

Grooming Efforts

This is where the Cairn and Westie Terriers differ quite a bit. As you will realize, this will mostly have to do with their coat color.

Cairn Terrier

Since this little pooch comes in a variety of colors, only average grooming effort is required. They do not have a white coat, and any dirt will not easily be available on their fur.

However, they do shed quite a bit, and regular brushing will do them good.

West Highland White Terrier (Westie)

The Westie pooches are white as snow, and any dirt is evident immediately on their coat. Hence, you will have to bathe them regularly to keep their coat clean and glistening.

Westies shed all around the year but not as much as the Cairn Terrier. Nevertheless, regular brushing should do them good.

Temperament and Attitude

For most pet parents, the temperament and attitude of your pooches matter most when they plan on adopting these little ones. There is a significant difference between their attitudes, and you may want to take note of this.

Cairn Terrier

They are affectionate, outgoing, friendly, and fearless little pooches. They have an average intelligence and obedience level.

They are fast learners but are extremely active. If they do not find enough activity to keep themselves engaged, they may come off as demanding.

Compared to the Westie, they are not as sensitive and emotional dogs. They are extremely affectionate, slightly more than the Westie.

West Highland White Terrier (Westie)

Just like their Cairn counterparts, Westie pooches are friendly, affectionate, and fearless. They may be just a tad less affectionate than the Cairn Terriers.

They’re mischievous little dogs and love the attention that they get from their owners. They love their family and are extremely attached to them.

They are more emotional as compared to your Cairn pooches.


Before you bring home your Westie or Cairn Terrier, you want to be sure that they will adapt to your space. Here is a comparison of how the two breeds adapt.

Cairn Terrier

The Cairn Terrier is extremely intelligent and is quite an easy breed to train. They are a moderately playful breed and require a whole lot of attention and company.

They rarely bite anyone but may nip at people playfully. If you have rats or rodents at home, rest assured, they will try chasing them.

Since they are active dogs, they do not adapt very easily to apartments. If you want to bring one home into your apartment, make sure to take them out for a walk a few times a day.

West Highland White Terrier (Westie)

These white pooches have average intelligence levels but are also very easily trainable. They are more playful than your Cairn Terriers but do not require as much attention.

They are not likely to nip at people and are even less likely to bite. Given their hunting backgrounds, they will chase after any species other than dogs and humans.

Your Westie is also not an extremely apartment-friendly dog. However, frequent walks will help if you plan on bringing one to your apartment.


The Cairn and Westie Terriers are both friendly dogs. They can be socialized with little effort and are very social.

Read ahead as we compare how these two breeds get along with humans and other dogs.

Cairn Terrier

If you plan on having guests often, you should know that Cairn Terriers are not as friendly towards strangers as Westies. Their friendliness with dogs is similarly average.

They are, however, very kid-friendly and get along just as well with the elderly. They are a great breed for first-time owners as they are extremely affectionate and friendly.

They can be your go-to office dog. Further, with cats, the Cairn Terriers display average friendliness.

West Highland White Terrier (Westie)

The Westie Terriers are relatively more affectionate and friendly towards strangers. They are, however, just as social as their Cairn counterparts.

If you are a new dog owner, do note that they are stubborn, and socialization may take some effort. They are also not very good as office dogs.

Just like the Cairn Terriers, they’re good with both kids and the elderly. They maintain an average level of friendliness with cats.


We looked at the Cairn Terrier Club of America and the West Highland White Terrier Club of America to bring you a peek into the health of the two breeds. On average, both dogs live for about 14 years. Read ahead to know more.

Cairn Terriers

Your Cairn pooches are likely to have more health issues than the Westies. However, with the advancement in medicine, most ailments can be treated.

For the most part, they may suffer from allergies and cataracts.

West Highland White Terrier (Westie)

With proper care, your Westie will live long and without too many ailments. Do take care of their nutrition and exercise needs.

Popularly, they are susceptible to aggression and inflammatory bowel disease.

Final Verdict

We’ve listed the various ways in which the Cairn and the Westie can differ. In addition to this, we’ve also shown you how the two breeds can be very similar.

In general, a Cairn Terrier may be a great pooch to bring home if you would like a sensitive, affectionate dog. However, they are not as great with strangers as your Westie may be.

If you often have guests at home, a Westie may be a better choice. Do note that Westies can be a high-maintenance breed who will need regular grooming on your part.

Having seen the comparisons above, you can now solve the Cairn vs. Westie debate for yourself.