Can a dog’s tail be too happy? Limber tail (dead tail) discussed.

As spring arrives the dogs are out to play and swim once again. When you come home after an outing with the pup, the dog isn’t quite right – his / her tail is not wagging!

Is it broken? Is there a sprain? What’s going on?

We at District Veterinary Hospital frequently see a condition called limber tail, happy tail, or dead tail. It is a muscle injury caused by damage to the coccygeal muscles that attach the tail to the body. The tail simply is not working. They may not want to play, can be slow or lethargic, usually linger in bed and can even be reluctant to eat. Dogs may have pain when sitting or lying down. And most telling – the tail will not wag. Yes, there is a condition that can cause your Lab’s tail to not work. It can have several presentations: with the tail normal for a few inches then drooping all the way to the tail limp from its attachment to the body.

The condition is most frequently seen in the spring when dogs suddenly are out and running about. After the first few visits to the dog park or after the pup goes swimming in the creek or ocean are the most common predecessors to limber tail. It’s overexertion – the pup is not used to high-intensity exercise. But be aware, limber tail can happen at any time.

The condition can be seen in any dog with a tail, but is overrepresented in Labradors and golden retrievers, pit bulls, Staffordshire terriers, pointers, setters, beagles and foxhounds.

Limber tail resolves over the course of a few days to a few weeks and is aided in healing with anti-inflammatories and a bit of rest. We examine the dog to be sure there is no other cause of the problem, such as an anal gland problem, arthritis, tail fracture (they do happen), spinal problem, constipation or other etiology.

So why does it happen? We really aren’t sure, but believe that the tail is simply over-worked, leading to acute inflammation. It is not a sprain, as it involves muscles, not tendons and ligaments. Easing your pup into springtime activities and swimming over a few weeks is ideal. A couch potato needs a bit of a warm-up before running a marathon.

There are usually no long-term effects from limber tail and it may occur again. In dogs where it happens more than once, it is important to identify any triggers, such as a certain type of exercise or swimming at a particular time, and minimize these activities. Repeated episodes can lead to fibrous tissue forming in the tail and decreased tail function.

Should your pup have any tail problems, give us a call as soon as possible and we here at District Veterinary Hospital will be happy to perform an exam and fix up the pup.

Dan Teich, DVM
(c) District Veterinary Hospital, 2015

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