Is My Dog’s Tail Broken? by Sandra Fikes

It’s show time! The dog has been groomed, you’re packed and ready to set off. You jump out of bed, ready for the day, but what’s this? Your dog has his tail clamped between his legs and whimpering like it’s broken! You can’t believe it! EEEK! Should we rush to the vet? What to do? Why now?

If this has happened to you in the past, you may have thought the dog somehow injured his tail, but he overcame it in about 3-4 days. Now think – did you bathe the dog the day before? Or did you go for a run and let them jump in water, whether it was the ocean, river or a pond? It may have been a nice day, but was the water cold?

There is a syndrome called “Limp” tail/cold water tail/Labrador tail - it goes by many names. The dog typically demonstrates pain and either has the tail clamped down between his legs or the tail is held horizontally out for a few inches, then it droops like a wet rag. They usually slowly get over it over the course of a few days – the tail slowly becoming less painful and getting more rigid or upright. It happens in many Sporting and Hound breeds and RRs are one of them. In my experience, if a dog experiences it once, it’s likely to happen again if they are avid tail waggers.

Researchers in the Sports Medicine Program at the College of Veterinary Medicine, Auburn University, Janet E. Steiss, DVM, Ph.D., and J.C. Wright, DVM, Ph.D, conducted a survey about this condition in hunting breeds. They found that the limp tail syndrome is associated with damage to the tail muscles. Dogs that were examined early in the course of the disease showed elevations in serum creatine phosphokinase, a muscle enzyme. There are similarities between this condition and "delayed onset muscle soreness" in humans.

Although there is no clear cut idea about why this happens, you can take precautions and give the dog anti-inflammatory medication if it happens at the onset to lessen the pain. Bathing in warm water, toweling the dog dry and keeping him warm until he’s dry may help. If your planning on showing, bathe the dog at least 4 days beforehand – just in case!

broken tail sample Limp tail syndrome usually resolves itself in 2-3 days. A broken tail does not.

Here is an example of what a broken tail looks like. Similar in looks to a kink, but characterized by a "bump and dropped" looked to the tail.

As there is not enough tissue surrounding the break, surgery is possible, but rarely successful and may result in the tail having to be amputated.