What Is Limber Tail In Dogs?

Is anything sadder than your dog losing their wag? If your normally excitable pup fails to greet you with a whirling tail of excitement when you come home, that’s a sure sign something is wrong. The problem may be a condition called acute caudal myopathy, which goes by many other names.

Acute caudal myopathy, also known as:

  • Limber tail
  • Swimmer’s tail
  • Cold water tail
  • Limp tail
  • Rudder tail
  • Broken wag
  • Flaccid tail syndrome
  • Sprained tail

While limber tail is not life-threatening, seeing your dog lose their wag is alarming. Plus, limber tail is uncomfortable for your pup. Learn what may have caused your dog’s condition and how you can help their tail become a happy whirlwind again.

What causes limber tail in dogs?

Large-breed working or hunting dogs, like retrievers, pointers, setters, and hounds, are most commonly affected by limber tail, but any dog can develop the condition. A muscle sprain or strain in the tail, triggered by overexertion or strenuous activity, typically causes the tail to become limp.

Common scenarios that may lead to limber tail include:

  • Intense physical activity — Vigorous activities, such as swimming, excessive play, or strenuous or abnormal exercise, can strain the tail muscles and cause limber tail.
  • Cold weather exposure — Exposure to exceptionally cold weather or swimming in frigid water can cause a limp tail.
  • Extended crate confinement — If your dog is crated for long periods during a competition, travel, or postoperative recovery, their tail may become limp.

Swimming, especially in cold water, is the most common cause of limber tail in dogs, because the tail has to work hard to help them steer and maintain balance, which can put too much stress on the tail muscles.

Hunting dogs also often develop limber tail at the beginning of a season, especially if they are improperly conditioned, or they work long days.

What signs will I see if my dog has limber tail?

The telltale sign of limber tail in dogs is a limp, flaccid tail. The tail may be completely or only partially limp, in which case the tail appears stiff and horizontal at the base, but hangs down at the tip.

Other limber tail signs in your dog may include:

  • Inability to wag their tail
  • Whining or whimpering
  • Discomfort or reluctance if you try to move the tail
  • Lethargy
  • Licking or chewing at the tail
  • Difficulty squatting to urinate or defecate

How will my veterinarian know if my dog has limber tail?

A limp, painful tail can be caused by conditions other than limber tail, so a thorough physical exam and discussion of your dog’s history are necessary for an accurate diagnosis. Depending on your AAHA-accredited veterinarian’s exam findings, they may recommend X-rays of the spine, pelvis, hind legs, and tail to rule out a tail fracture, intervertebral disc disease, cauda equina syndrome, or arthritis. Other conditions that can mimic limber tail include tail trauma, impacted anal glands, prostate disease, or skin infection or inflammation around the tail.

How can I treat limber tail in my dog?

Limber tail usually goes away with rest and anti-inflammatory medication in a few days to a week. Your dog may also be prescribed muscle relaxants and sedating anti-anxiety medication to help with a smooth recovery. Ice or heat packs may also help alleviate inflammation and discomfort, so ask your veterinarian about a management plan that will keep your dog comfortable.

How can I prevent limber tail in my dog?

While limber tail cannot always be prevented—and will likely recur without the proper precautions—you can reduce your dog’s risk by:

  • Taking breaks — The most physically fit dog still requires breaks during exercise and play, so enforce regular rest periods.
  • Warming up — When you take your dog for a swim or on a hunt, ensure they have a gentle warm-up period to help prevent muscle strain.
  • Building endurance — Slowly build up your dog’s stamina to ensure they are properly conditioned before any vigorous activity.
  • Monitoring temperature — Be mindful of the temperature and avoid exposing your dog to cold water or frigid weather for prolonged periods.
  • Purchasing an appropriately sized crate — Ensure your dog has plenty of room in their crate to comfortably stand, lie down, and turn around.

If your dog no longer wags their tail in delight when they see you, something is surely amiss. Schedule an appointment with your AAHA-accredited veterinarian to determine why your pup’s tail is limp.



Subscribe to Your Pet