If you’ve ever gotten back from a day of strenuous exercise or swimming with your canine companion, perhaps you’ve noticed that Fido is no longer wagging his tail. Instead of running around the house knocking things over with his whip like tail, it is hanging limp and he seems to be in pain. Fido may have a condition known as Limber Tail.
Limber tail, cold tail, dead tail or swimmers tail are all synonyms for the same condition in which dogs suddenly develop a flaccid tail. This condition most commonly occurs in sporting and hunting dogs, primarily Labradors, Retrievers, Beagles and Setters.
The exact cause of this is unknown, but is usually related to strenuous exercise, swimming or exposure to cold/wet weather. It has also been reported in dogs that have been confined in a kennel for prolonged transport (i.e.-show dogs or competition dogs driven to a show or trial). Again, the exact mechanism for why this occurs is unknown, but is likely related to muscle damage to the tail.
So what is seen if Fido has Limber Tail? The tail will usually hang down limply from the base of the tail, or will be held out straight at the base, and then turn downwards. Dogs may be painful, especially when touched near the tail base. Occasionally the hair on the top of the tail may be raised. Fido may also not want to eat, and may just want to mope around and sleep all day due to the discomfort associated with this condition. The onset of this condition occurs within hours to overnight, and if any of the above signs are noted, you should consider what activities Fido was engaged in beforehand.
Now that we think Fido has Limber tail, how do we treat it? The good thing about limber tail is that treatment is generally straightforward. Limber tail usually spontaneously resolves on its own in a few days to weeks. However, a visit to the veterinarian is always worthwhile, where a physical exam can rule out other causes of a limp or sore tail, such as tail fractures, anal gland issues, or a back injury. If we suspect limber tail, we usually recommend rest for 4-5 days and will often prescribe anti-inflammatory medication to help reduce pain and inflammation. (Always remember that human anti-inflammatory medications can be toxic and fatal for our pets!) If Fido is not too sensitive, warm compresses at the base of the tail may help relieve pain and stimulate blood flow to the area. Complete recovery usually occurs within a few weeks, but in some very rare cases, the tail may never return to its normal position.
Now that Fido is back to wagging his tail again, how can this be prevented from happening again? If you know what triggered the onset of the condition (i.e.-swimming, strenuous exercise), then this activity should be avoided. Gradually building up Fido’s fitness level will avoid over training or under conditioning, which are both implicated in the development of this condition. If travelling long distances, Fido should be let out of his crate to stretch at least every two hours. Avoid allowing Fido to swim in water that you yourself would find too cold, and avoid swimming on colder days.