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Norwich Terrier vs Cairn Terrier: The Differences (With Pictures)

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By Nicole Cosgrove

Norwich Terrier vs Cairn Terrier

Terriers are extremely popular pets, being known for their good looks, high energy, and distinct character. Their name comes from the Latin terra, meaning earth, and refers to their love of digging, especially for prey. As you may already know, terriers originated in rural England and Scotland, where they were bred specifically to deal with rats, foxes, weasels, and other agricultural predators.

Many distinct breeds have been around for hundreds of years, bred for different characteristics such as size, personality, and appearance. Two similar breeds of interest to many potential owners are Norwich Terriers and Cairn Terriers.

Undoubtedly, one of the most famous terriers anywhere is Terry, who portrays Dorothy’s companion Toto in 1939’s The Wizard of Oz.

Somewhat lesser-known breeds, these two types of terriers may appear quite similar, but there are numerous characteristics that make them each their own dog. We’re going to look at both the similarities and differences, to help you decide which is best for you.

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Visual Differences

Norwich Terrier vs Cairn Terrier sidexside
Image Credit: Left: Norwich Terrier (Lenkadan, Shutterstock); Right Cairn Terrier (Marina Plevako, Shutterstock)

At a Glance

Norwich Terrier
  • Average height (adult): 9 to 10 inches
  • Average weight (adult): 11 to 12 pounds
  • Lifespan: 12 to 15 years
  • Exercise: 30 minutes a day
  • Grooming needs: Moderate
  • Family-friendly: Yes
  • Other pet-friendly: Yes
  • Trainability: Relatively easy
Cairn Terrier
  • Average height (adult): 9 to 10 inches
  • Average weight (adult): 13 to 14 pounds
  • Lifespan: 13 to 15 years
  • Exercise: 30 to 60 minutes a day
  • Grooming needs: Moderate
  • Family-friendly: Yes
  • Other pet-friendly: Often
  • Trainability: Average

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Norwich Terrier Overview

Norwich Terrier puppy
Image Credit: Natalia Fedosova, Shutterstock

Personality / Character

Norwich Terriers are great pets for kids, get along well with other dogs, and, with basic training, are even friendly to strangers. They’re fearless, alert, affectionate, and cheerful companions.


While Norwich Terriers are quite easily trained, their inherent intelligence and energy can make them stubborn and aggressive. They need to be shown, through ongoing consistency, who is in charge.

They need regular exposure to other folks and unexpected sights and sounds, or else they may end up shy and overreactive.

Health & Care

Along with their amenable character comes a ton of energy and near-constant drive to be physically active. Left home alone for long hours, they’re not going to do well. Your Norwich Terrier requires plenty of exercise to stay trim and happy.

While they’re generally healthy, common health issues can include skin conditions, epilepsy, hip and elbow dysplasia, and, like many terriers, eye problems.

tiny brown Norwich terrier
Image Credit: Wirestock Creators, Shutterstock


While Norwich Terriers will need grooming fairly often, there’s some disagreement over this, with some owners contending that terriers shouldn’t be clipped, preferring hand-stripping (dead hair pulled to promote new growth) to avoid softer coats more prone to matting. In many people’s opinion, however, stripping is overly time-consuming and uncomfortable for the pet. Many pet owners think clipping is fine.

Suitable For:

Norwich Terriers are good family dogs. They love their humans and are good with kids, but they’re also usually among the most successful terriers to co-exist with other pets too.

These little guys are happiest around their people, so they’re terrific companions wherever you go. Active and intelligent, they’re not crazy about being alone for long, preferring to be in on whatever’s happening. Physically and mentally, they’re well suited to busier lifestyles.

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Cairn Terrier Overview

a black cairn terrier dog sitting on grass
Image Credit: Marina Plevako, Shutterstock

Personality / Character

Cairn Terriers are intelligent and loyal, making them terrific family members. While they’re adaptable to most environments, they remain true to the terrier family and are extremely active dogs. Since they may be prone to excessive barking and can be voracious diggers, they’re probably not great choices if you’re after a quiet lap dog.


While Cairns are very clever, their independent nature can result in them being pretty strong-willed. Frequent traits such as excessive barking may require specific training to mitigate. Regular positive reinforcement is needed to keep your Cairn out of trouble, with basic obedience lessons starting at about 8 weeks old. Dog sports like agility training can help to use up excess energy and establish solid bonds with owners.

Health & Care

Cairns are, overall, healthy dogs with a better-than-average life expectancy. Even so, as purebreds, they do present certain genetic health issues.

One condition sometimes occurring in Cairns is liver shunt, a situation in which blood vessels bypass the liver, impairing its operation. Symptoms such as stunted growth, neurologic deficits, seizures, and low blood sugar can result. The malady, if diagnosed and addressed early, can be reversed, allowing the afflicted terrier to still enjoy a long, healthy life.

Other health conditions of concern include those endemic to terrier breeds, such as skin and joint issues and eye problems.

7Cairn Terrier
Image Credit: hazelw90, Pixabay


The Cairn Terrier sheds only minimally, with weekly brushing sufficient to maintain their coat. Note that, since their fur grows quickly, it can obstruct vision and tangle easily if not attended to. Cairn Terriers are subject to the same hand-stripping considerations as their Norwich Terrier cousins.

Suitable For:

Cairn Terriers are just the right size for lap snuggles and sufficiently robust to love a spirited romp in the yard. They thrive on abundant close family contact. They’re a perfect choice of pet for those who truly appreciate proven terrier characteristics of gameness, independent thinking, and steadfast loyalty, and their combination of cute appearance and lively personality are equally endearing.

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Quick Comparison

Norwich Terrier (out of 5) Cairn Terrier (out of 5)
Friendliness ⭐⭐⭐ ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Exercise Needs ⭐⭐⭐⭐ ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Health Issues ⭐⭐ ⭐⭐⭐
Barking Tendencies ⭐⭐⭐⭐ ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Grooming Needs ⭐⭐ ⭐⭐
Shedding Level ⭐⭐ ⭐⭐⭐
Training Needs ⭐⭐⭐ ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Good with Kids ⭐⭐⭐⭐ ⭐⭐⭐
Good with Cats ⭐⭐⭐ ⭐⭐
Good for Apartments & Small Homes ⭐⭐⭐⭐ ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Biting Tendencies ⭐⭐ ⭐⭐⭐
Energy Level ⭐⭐⭐⭐ ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Good with Other Dogs ⭐⭐⭐⭐ ⭐⭐⭐
Playfulness ⭐⭐⭐⭐ ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Good for First Time Pet Parents ⭐⭐⭐⭐ ⭐⭐⭐

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Which Breed Is Right for You?

Both Norwich and Cairn Terriers are typical terriers, of similar size and appearance, and possessing many behavior attributes. While they both look like terriers, they do each have specific facial and physical characteristics, and you may find one or the other to be more appealing.

Beyond that, Norwich Terriers are somewhat better suited to larger families, being more easily trained and comfortable around kids and other pets. Cairn Terriers do better with smaller families, like couples, and in environments presenting fewer incidences of other people or animals turning up unexpectedly.

In either case, you’re assured of having an enjoyable time with one of these clever, energetic, and entertaining little dogs in your life.

Featured Image Credit: Left: Norwich Terrier (Natalia Fedosova, Shutterstock); Right Cairn Terrier (Marina Plevako, Shutterstock)

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