What is Limber Tail Syndrome in Dogs?

By Linda Cole

My dogs wag their tails a mile a minute every time I talk to them. Even a playful stare from me can get their backside wiggling in happiness. Thankfully, my dogs have never lost their ability to show me their contentment by wagging their tail, but some dogs can develop a syndrome called Limber Tail. This is a condition that can affect any dog whose tail hasn’t been docked, but it’s mainly seen in hunting dogs like pointers, retrievers, foxhounds and beagles.

Limber Tail syndrome is also known as broken wag, cold tail, dead tail, limp tail or rudder tail. It’s when a dog’s tail hangs limp, like it’s broken, and it can be painful. No one really knows for certain how a dog actually develops this condition, but they do know it’s brought on by overexertion, swimming in water that may be too cold or too warm, cold and wet weather conditions, an out-of-shape dog, or being confined for long periods of time in a crate when traveling. Even something as simple as a cold bath can affect a dog that’s more sensitive to temperatures than other canines.

It’s also possible the condition could be due to a poor diet. That’s another reason why providing a premium quality dog food like CANIDAE can help your dog maintain his good health. Poor circulation may also be a culprit for a droopy tail.

When a dog is swimming in water, he works his tail like a rudder. If he has been sitting around during the off season for hunting or has been relatively inactive during the winter months, and isn’t in shape when he hits the water for a swim or to retrieve something from the water, he can injure his tail and develop Limber Tail because his muscles weren’t properly conditioned before the workout. When the tail is overworked, the muscles at the base of a dog’s tail swell, causing connective tissue to tighten and cutting off blood flow to the tail.

For the most part, Limber Tail syndrome isn’t a big deal, and it will correct itself in two to seven days. The condition can be mild where the tail is held just below a horizontal level, severe with no wag and hanging limp, or something in between. The tail can be permanently affected, but it’s not usually a problem. Sometimes, the dog will hold the tail out just a few inches before letting it sag down. You may see raised hairs at the base of the tail, which is due to swelling, and the swelling can make sitting or lying down more difficult for some dogs, depending on their tolerance for pain.

Besides the obvious drooping tail and pain, other symptoms are crying when sitting or lying down, trying to find a comfortable resting position, pacing, needing to go outside to do their business, or straining when trying to go.

Although Limber Tail syndrome is more common in sporting dogs, it is a condition all dog owners need to be aware of. We’re used to seeing our dogs hold their tails in a confident manner over their back or in a relaxed, calm position. If your furry friend lets his tail droop, that can indicate the dog isn’t feeling well or is feeling anxious about something. Because Limber Tail isn’t something commonly seen in most non hunting dogs, it’s easy for a vet who isn’t familiar with this syndrome to misdiagnose it. However, if you don’t know why your dog is letting his tail hang, a vet exam is in order because a droopy tail can also be caused by some serious ailments, like prostate disease, impacted anal glands, spinal injury, spinal cord disease or a broken tail. Keep in mind, a dog’s tail is an extension of his spinal column.

Most dogs that experience Limber Tail are not more apt to have it happen again, although some dogs are more susceptible to reoccurring episodes, and it can cause permanent damage to the tail if enough scar tissue has a chance to form, and if there’s a loss in muscle fibers.

When traveling long distances with your dog, make sure to stop and give him some breaks to stretch his legs. Before starting any physical exercise, like jogging, swimming, biking or hiking with your dog, make sure he is in good physical shape and capable of keeping up with you.

The canine tail is multi-functional, and an important part of his body language that tells us when he’s not feeling well. Limber Tail syndrome isn’t a life threatening condition, but it can be uncomfortable and painful for the dog, and for his owner who misses his happy tail wagging. After all, an excited wiggling behind puts a smile on any dog lover’s face.

Photo by TheGiantVermin

Read more articles by Linda Cole

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The personal opinions and/or use of trade, corporate or brand names, is for information and convenience only. Such use does not constitute an endorsement by CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods of any product or service. Opinions are those of the individual authors and not necessarily of CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods.

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