What is limber tail in dogs?

Why did my dog’s tail stop wagging?

If you notice that your dog has a limp tail and is not wagging happily when you walk through the door, she may have a condition known as limber tail. This sad state of tail has many names, including cold-water tail, broken wag, swimmer’s tail, frozen tail, and sprung tail. 

What causes limber tail?

Limber tail is often due to a muscle sprain or strain in a dog’s tail. These injuries are associated with overuse, but can also be due to:

  • Swimming
  • Prolonged crate confinement
  • Exposure to cold weather
  • Excessive exercise without proper conditioning
  • Climate changes

Swimming is the most common cause of limber tail, possibly due to chilly water conditions and abnormal exercise. While swimming, dogs use their tails to help with balance and steering, resulting in overexertion compared with their dry-land activities.

Any dog can suffer from limber tail, but certain breeds are more affected due to their lifestyles. The following hunting breeds are more prone to a limp tail:

  • Retrievers
  • Pointers
  • Hounds
  • Beagles
  • Setters

Limber tail often affects hunting dogs at the season’s beginning, especially if they’re improperly conditioned, or after a long working day.

What are some of the signs of limber tail?

Limber tail signs can vary from dog to dog, and may be confused with some form of trauma, especially if your dog has been hunting or swimming. If your dog is afflicted with overworked tail muscles, you may notice the following signs:

  • Completely limp tail, from base to tip
  • Partially limp tail, held horizontally out from the base, with the rest hanging down
  • Absence of wagging
  • Discomfort or pain, especially if you try to move the tail
  • Lethargy
  • Whining or whimpering
  • Licking or chewing at the tail
  • Raised fur along the top of the tail

Other conditions can mimic limber tail, and your dog may be suffering from one of the following issues instead:

  • Trauma to the tail
  • Prostatitis
  • Tail fracture
  • Tail cancer
  • Impacted anal glands
  • Intervertebral disc disease
  • Cauda equina syndrome

Many of these conditions threaten your pet’s health, and a thorough veterinary examination is needed for a correct diagnosis.

How is limber tail diagnosed and treated?

Limber tail is often easy to diagnose. Your veterinarian will perform a thorough examination to rule out other causes and may take X-rays to ensure there’s no fracture or tumor.

Treatment for limber tail is also straightforward and calls for plenty of rest to rejuvenate the tail’s overworked muscles. Avoid placing your pup in a too-small crate that does not allow her to relax comfortably, since that can lead to limber tail. If your pet’s discomfort is severe, your veterinarian may prescribe anti-inflammatories and muscle relaxers to alleviate her pain, and recommend ice or heat packs to reduce any swelling or inflammation. Also, avoid excitement—you don’t want your enthusiastic pooch to wag her tail while it’s healing.

How can I prevent limber tail?

Limber tail may occur repeatedly in some dogs. Prevent repeat events by slowly leading up to extensive physical activity to allow your dog to build endurance and stamina. Begin with short training sessions before engaging in all-day activities. Also, allow for frequent stretch breaks if your dog is confined to a crate during a competition or hunting event.

Losing the wag is a worrisome, painful condition in a dog. Contact your veterinarian for help in getting to the root of your dog’s tail trouble.