Linda Simon
Dr Linda Simon (MVB MRCVS, University College Dublin)
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As both the Cairn Terrier and the Maltese have earned reputations for being sweet and loyal companions to their families, it makes sense that their progeny, the Cairmal, would make an equally delightful pet. Cairmals thrive on the bonds they form with their owners and will become absolutely dedicated to them.

A small and compact dog with a wiry coat that is often tan in colour (but can be white, grey or red), cheerful eyes and a ‘smiling’ face, the Cairmal is attractive, as well as personable. In line with their size, the Cairmal does not have excessive exercise needs and adapts well to life in small quarters.

About & History

The Cairmal is one of the many new hybrid dogs that has appeared on the scene within the last few decades. The step away from purebred pedigrees has allowed for a much wider gene pool to develop and, when done responsibly, has the potential to create healthier and happier dogs.

The Cairn Terrier

Cairn Terriers tend to display the typical tenacity and plucky nature of other Terriers and were bred to control vermin levels and hunt small prey. While rarely used for this purpose today, they do retain a high prey drive, which may pass on to any offspring, even cross-breeds. Interestingly, the word ‘cairn’ refers to man-made piles of stones that have been used for many centuries as landmarks within Scotland.

The Cairn Terrier would hunt quarry while running through these cairns on the Scottish Highlands, earning them their name. As the breed matured, they were also used by hunters to assist them when pursuing larger prey for sport, such as rabbits and foxes. Most agree that the Cairn Terrier played a big role in the history of both the West Highland White Terrier (‘Westie’) and the Scottish Terrier (‘Scottie’). It is believed that the Cairn Terrier has changed little in appearance since its incarnation – an impressive quality that does not hold true for most modern-day dogs.


Maltese dogs are known for their desire to spend all day long around their owners and they do not enjoy being left alone, which can easily trigger separation anxiety. Though it would be fair to assume that they originated on the island of Malta, experts now think that the Maltese comes from the island of Meleda (or ‘Mljet’), off the coast of Croatia.

Unlike the Cairn Terrier, the Maltese was never bred for a specific purpose other than to be a friend and companion. Due to this, they tend to be quite laidback in comparison and get on well with other pets of all shapes and sizes. They are recognised within the Toy Group of the UK Kennel Club.


Cairmal dogs are a small breed that should be built in proportion and do not have any exaggerated features. Though most will inherit the pendulous ears of the Maltese, some retain the erect, triangular ears of their Cairn Terrier parent. Their eyes are a very dark brown and circular in shape. Their muzzle is relatively small but not to the extent where it should affect their normal breathing. They have a compact body with a good abdominal tuck-up. Their tails are medium in length and may either be held erect or will flop forward over their back.

Measuring from 25cm to 31cm, the Cairmal tends to be taller than the petite Maltese. As they are not particularly densely muscled or bulky, they will usually weigh between 4.5kg and 7kg once mature. The medium length, wiry coat of the Cairmal has a slightly unkempt appearance and is typically white or light tan. Less commonly, dogs can have red or even grey fur.

Character & Temperament

Loving and confident, the Cairmal is easy to get along with. Typically, more energetic than the Maltese, they don’t make the quietest of companions and can have spurts of quite boisterous behaviour. Some individuals can be standoffish with other pets or young children so owners should make a conscious effort to thoroughly socialise them from the moment they are brought home as puppies.

The Cairmal dislikes being ignored for long periods or being left home alone, so is not best-suited to a family that works away for most of the day. In fact, if not around people for the majority of the day, most become anxious and can develop nuisance behaviours.

While the Cairmal is a big fan of people, they are above all loyal to their own family and will be quick to bark at any new arrival to the home. For some, this feature as a ‘burglar alarm’ is an attractive quality, while others simply find it irritating.


Though not as obedient as many other small breeds, the Cairmal does like to make others happy so will often go along with the cues given to it in order to please their beloved owner. However, some can be headstrong and may require a patient owner who is persistent in their training techniques.


The majority of Cairmals are hardy little dogs that do not suffer from chronic health issues, but it is important to monitor the population for emerging, heritable conditions.

Portosystemic Shunts

A portosystemic shunt is an abnormality of the circulation that basically means the liver is bypassed and so the blood is not processed as it should be. Affected breed members will typically display stunted growth and symptoms, such as anorexia (reluctance to eat), diarrhoea and behavioural abnormalities.

A vet may initially suspect the condition after examining the dog and performing some basic blood and urine tests, but advanced imaging will often be required to confirm the problem.


Not just a condition in humans, dogs can develop diabetes too. A simple blood and/or urine test can detect the condition within minutes. The symptoms are hard to ignore and consist of excessive thirst, an insatiable appetite and a sudden, unexpected weight loss. While lifestyle changes, such as diet changes, can help to control blood sugars, dogs will inevitably require insulin to regulate the condition adequately.

Patellar Luxation

A dislocated knee cap can occur secondary to trauma but is also a well-known, heritable issue in smaller pedigree and hybrid dogs. When the kneecap pops out of place, the dog will automatically hold the leg up and may skip as they walk and run. The management for this condition can consist of exercise restriction and weight management, though some will require a surgery to fix the issue.

Mitral Valve Disease

The most common heart condition seen in our pet dogs, mitral valve disease tends to be an issue in middle-aged and older small dogs. Initial signs can include a reduced willingness to exercise, panting and a persistent cough.

For some, they show no symptoms and the condition is detected during a regular check-up when a heart murmur is heard by the vet. After diagnosis, many dogs will live for several years and their life expectancy increases if they are started on medication early.

Exercise and Activity Levels

Given their moderate exercise requirements, the Cairmal is content with a few short walks a day and does not necessarily need a back yard. In fact, this small dog is a good choice for those who live in apartments. These dogs do like to sniff and explore so enjoy the opportunity to dig and run about in the local park.

Cairmals enjoy spending time with family and joining in with games and activities. They are free spirits that don’t take themselves too seriously and aren’t too self-conscious to get down and dirty on a rainy, muddy day.


As most individuals have pendulous ear flaps, owners should familiarise themselves with what the ‘normal’ ear canal looks like, watching out for any early signs of infection. Those with fur within the ear canal may require regular plucking and any dog who is prone to waxy build-ups should have their ears cleaned out as needed with a specific doggy ear cleaner.

The wiry fur of the Cairmal should be brushed with a wire brush on a regular basis, focusing on the longer fur on their face, belly and tails, which can become matted. Grooming them on a daily basis is recommended. Most of the time, these dogs do not shed much.

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