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What’s Wrong with My Dog’s Tail? Facts About Limber Tail Syndrome


Dogs who like to swim, or those who spend long periods of time in cold, wet weather, can be at risk for a condition called limber tail syndrome. There are many names for limber tail syndrome including swimmer’s tail, broken tail, broken wag, and cold-water tail. The official name for this medical condition is acute caudal myopathy. Read more about the signs, diagnosis, and treatment of limber tail syndrome in dogs here!

Signs of Limber Tail Syndrome in Dogs

  • The tail hangs straight down, as if paralyzed
  • Soreness around the tail and hind end
  • Reluctance to sit down
  • Lethargy
  • Decreased appetite
  • Difficulty urinating or defecating due to pain when the dog squats or postures

Causes of Limber Tail Syndrome in Dogs

Limber tail syndrome is relatively common in hunting breeds like retrievers and spaniels but can occur in any breed. This condition is thought to be caused by restriction of the blood supply (ischemia) to the tail muscles. The muscles that allow a wagging or side-to-side motion of the tail seem to be most affected. When the blood supply to these muscles is restricted, it may result in pain, swelling, muscle damage, and paralysis.

Limber tail is most often associated with hunting or other strenuous activity where long periods of time are spent swimming in cold water. It may also result from other types of exercise if the dog is not properly conditioned. Prolonged kennel confinement also seems to be a risk factor for limber tail syndrome.

It’s important to rule out other possible causes of these signs. Damage to the lower back or tail, neurologic disorders, or nutritional factors may also mimic symptoms of limber tail. Your veterinarian will be able to perform a neurological exam and may recommend x-rays to rule out other problems.

Preventing Limber Tail

  • Plan an appropriate conditioning program for your dog
  • Avoid over-exercise
  • Limit the time your dog spends in the water during extreme temperatures
  • After swimming, dry your dog thoroughly
  • During cold weather, provide your dog with an area to stay warm and dry
  • On long trips, schedule rest stops to allow your dog to move and stretch his legs

Treatment of Limber Tail Syndrome

The prognosis for limber tail syndrome is excellent. A complete recovery is usually seen in a few days to weeks.

  • Make sure your dog has plenty of time to rest.
  • Allow only short leash walks until your dog is fully recovered.
  • Apply warm compresses to the affected area.
  • Contact your veterinarian if your dog’s condition seems severe or is not improving in a day or two. Anti-inflammatory medication may be recommended.

When to Visit Your Vet

  • If you notice signs of limber tail and your dog is in pain or discomfort
  • Your dog has not recovered from limber tail syndrome after one to two weeks. Other diseases or injuries will need to be ruled out.
  • Your dog is experiencing weakness in the hind legs or anywhere else in the body
  • If your dog is having difficulty with urination or defecation

Read more:

Nothing to bark about! Causes of Limping in Dogs (and what you should do!)

First Aid for Broken Nails

3 Great Outdoor Activities to Enjoy with Your Dog

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