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When dogs’ tails lose their wag

Published: 
Sunday, April 29, 2018

Acute caudal myopathy is the scientific term, but other more common slangs for the same syndrome include dead tail, swimmer’s tail, limber tail, cold tail, broken tail, sprained tail, sprung tail and broken wag, amongst others. But, what is it? Limber tail syndrome is when your dog’s tail suddenly goes limp.

Apart from being painful and physically distressing for the dog, this syndrome affects the ability of the dog to move and to communicate. Dogs use their tails for balance when walking, running and turning corners, and they use them as rudders when they are swimming so without a working tail, these simple activities become challenging for the dog. Additionally, dogs speak to us with their tails. We can read that a high, rapid tail wag is a sign of friendliness and wanting to play; an erect, rigid tail is a sign of aggression; a slowly wagging tail is a sign of anxiety or wariness; and a tail tucked between the legs is a sign of fear.

It is hard for the dog to express his emotions to us if his tail no longer wags.

Any dog can be affected by this syndrome, but it is found to be more common in breeds such as Pointers, Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, and Beagles, particularly if they are working dogs. Males and females are equally affected. Genetics may be at play, as dogs that suffer from limber tail are more likely to be related to each other, and reputable breeders will take this into account.

The symptoms of limber tail can vary slightly between individuals. In some cases, the tail is completely limp and just droops between the rear legs from the base; in others the first part of the tail sticks out while the rest hangs limply. The fur over the top of the tail may be raised which can be a sign of swelling underneath. Your dog may have difficulty in getting up because he needs his tail for balance. The condition is very painful, and he may whimper, whine, or lick and chew at the tail.

The cause of this condition is a sprain or strain of the muscles used to wag and support the tail. Overuse of the tail causes trauma to the bony vertebrae of the tail and the surrounding muscles and ligaments. It can look as if the tail is broken, but the damage is to the tail muscles, not to the tail bone. Dogs who develop limber tail usually have a history of recent intense physical exertion involving the tail. Swimming appears to be of the biggest risk factors because dogs use their tail in the water more than they usually do when they are on land. Other risk factors include prolonged cage transport and exposure to cold weather or very cold water. Your veterinarian will be able to diagnose this syndrome by careful palpation of the tail, radiographs to rule out a fracture, and a detailed history provided by you.

The good news is that the syndrome usually resolves itself within a few days to a week. The most important aspect of treatment is rest, until the tail returns to normal. Your veterinarian may prescribe mild painkillers to ease the soreness in the tail. Never give your pet medication that has not been recommended by a veterinarian!

You can help to prevent limber tail syndrome by ensuring that your dog is not a couch-potato. Get your dog accustomed to some level of physical activity to keep the muscles flexible and toned; the exercise will also be beneficial for you.

Copyright © Kristel-Marie Ramnath 2018

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