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What is Happy Tail Syndrome?

When dogs are happy, they tend to show their happiness with a wagging tail. Some dogs, usually larger dogs with long tails and short fur, wag their tails a little too hard, and if the tail is too near a hard surface while they are wagging, the force of the wag can actually cause the thin skin at the tip of their tails to split open. This is called happy tail syndrome, and because of the placement of the wound and the natural tendency of the dog to continue wagging its tail, it can be difficult to treat.

Dogs that wag their tails too vigorously against hard objects may cause the tail to split open and bleed, and this problem might become chronic.

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Symptoms of Happy Tail Syndrome in Dogs

In some situations, the end of the tail bleeds just a small amount, but in other cases, the tail can bleed rather profusely, and the source of the bleeding is often fairly obvious. Other symptoms or behaviors you might see include:

  • Bald spots on tail
  • Biting at tail
  • Raw patches on tail

Types 

Although almost any dog can develop this, dogs that have long, whip-like tails and a powerful wag are at a much higher risk for developing happy tail syndrome. This is particularly true if the dog has shorter hair and relatively thin skin. Dog breeds that are prone to developing this disorder can include:

This is not commonly seen in smaller dogs or dogs with naturally bobbed tails and thicker or longer fur seems to provide some protection from this kind of damage.

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Causes of Happy Tail Syndrome in Dogs

This disorder occurs because the dog is wagging its tail with enough force to cause hematomas, cuts, or injuries to the skin to occur when the tail makes contact with a hard surface. It is less common in smaller dogs as they are typically unable to wag their tail with enough force to damage it, although dogs with thicker fur and thicker tails are afforded some protection due to the musculature of the tail and the padding caused by the fur.

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Diagnosis of Happy Tail Syndrome in Dogs

Your veterinarian will most likely check the patient’s overall health and well-being by performing a general physical examination. This will include checking the dog’s respiration, heart rate, and temperature. They will clean and examine the wound on the tail thoroughly to determine how critical the damage is and to see if there are any external signs of infection such as a foul odor or discharge.

If an infection is suspected then standard blood tests, such as a complete blood count and biochemical profile, might help reveal to if an increased white blood cell count is present, indicating that an infection is present. The wound may also be swabbed, and a culture might be done to determine what sort of infection is present. In situations where severe damage has occurred, the veterinarian may choose to image the area using x-ray and possibly ultrasound technology in order to check for damaged ligaments or tendons or broken vertebrae.

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Treatment of Happy Tail Syndrome in Dogs

Treatment will depend on the severity of the wound as well as the frequency of reoccurence of the syndrome. In even the mildest of happy tail cases, the tail will need to be wrapped to keep it from getting damaged again, and in moderate situations, a suture or two may be required. The wrapping of the tip of a dog’s tail is a task that is easier said than done due to the shape and motion of the appendage, but your veterinarian can help walk you through the steps.

Many dogs require an Elizabethan collar to keep them from chewing on or removing the bandage, and in some cases, your veterinarian may recommend a special appliance designed to keep the dog’s tail relatively still with as little discomfort as possible. When either a bacterial or a viral infection has been discovered, the examining doctor will prescribe the appropriate antibacterial or antifungal medication. In very rare cases the dog may have actually broken some of the vertebrae in the tail, and a cast may be needed to ensure it heals properly.

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Recovery of Happy Tail Syndrome in Dogs

Happy tail syndrome can take several weeks to heal, and during this time it is important to ensure that the bandages stay clean and dry. If the bandage on the tail becomes wet at all, it needs to be removed and reapplied immediately, and even when it remains clean and dry, it should be removed, checked for infection, and rewrapped every two to three days to prevent new infections from developing. Some dogs injure their tails repeatedly, leaving them at risk for dangerous infections. In situations that have become chronic, amputation of all or part of the tail may be suggested.

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Happy Tail Syndrome Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

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Mocha

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Pit Boxer mix

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1 Year

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Mild severity

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40 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Mild severity

Has Symptoms

Bleeding

I just got my dog today and her recent owner told me that she has very bad happy tail. I looked at it and I see 2 cuts on her tail. I already used hydrogen peroxide to help it but I'm worried because every time she hits her tail on something, it opens up again and she bleeds everywhere.

May 16, 2018

Mocha's Owner


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40 Recommendations

This is a constant issue in cases of happy tail and can be difficult to keep under control because they hit the tail regardless of the trauma to it; try to use something different to hydrogen peroxide like chlorhexidine as hydrogen peroxide can actually inhibit healing of body tissue. Wrapping the tail is normally a an exercise in futility since any dressing normally flies off relatively quickly. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

May 16, 2018

My chocolate lab recently had his first bout of happy tail after being shaved at the groomers. I tried numerous types of wrapping and bandages and he never kept one on over two minutes. The best thing was to leave him outside where he wasn't constantly whacking it on everything. That was too sad and as soon as I let him back in he would whack his tail on the wall and it would start all over. Then I came up with a solution that worked immediately. I melted plain, unscented canning wax and let it cool (like the paraffin you dip your hands in at the manicure place) and just dipped the end of his tail in. You have to hold his tail still for a bit or he'll wag it off, but after about 30 seconds - wow! Miracle cure! I had to do it about every three days for two weeks but we never had the problem again.

Aug. 19, 2018

Rita C.

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Emi

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Boxweiler

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1 Year

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Serious severity

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4 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Oozing
Smell

My dog has happy tail. She has already been diagnosed and prescribed medicine and antibiotics. Her wound is pretty severe. We have it covered with pipe insulation. However, it keeps oozing and smells pretty bad. Is this reason to worry or part of the head process. We continuously change the saturated gauze about 3 times a day to keep it dry

May 1, 2018

Emi's Owner


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4 Recommendations

It sounds like a severe case of happy tail; the smell and the oozing is not normal, if this is a new symptom you should return to your Veterinarian as they may need to thoroughly flush the wound and assess the margins of the wound to see if they are healthy or not. Your Veterinarian may choose a different treatment option since the wound is leaking. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

May 2, 2018

You should be very worried and get her to a vet ASAP! A healing wound should never smell bad! Any nasty odor can be signs of a serious infection and your dog needs to go back to the vet immediately before the infection becomes worse. An infection bad enough to ooze and smell can quickly move to your dogs bloodstream and cause sepsis which often leads to organ failure and death. It sounds as if she may need to have the infected portion of her tail docked (amputated), to get rid of the infection and prevent re-injury.

May 2, 2018

Danielle H.

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