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What is Limber Tail Syndrome?

Limber tail syndrome is one of several names for the medical condition, acute caudal myopathy. It is also commonly known as cold tail, swimmer’s tail, and broken wag. The tail of an affected dog will either hang down limply or will extend out straight for two to three inches and then drop down. This condition generally resolves within just a few days, however, it also mimics other disorders with more serious consequences, and evaluation by a veterinary professional is recommended.

Limber tail syndrome is another name for acute caudal myopathy, a temporary condition where the dog is unable to lift its tail and it hangs down limply.

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Symptoms of Limber Tail Syndrome in Dogs

Symptoms of limber tail typically happen within twenty-four hours of strenuous activity, particularly swimming or activity that occurs in a cold environment. The tail either hangs limp or sticks out straight for two to three inches and then hangs down. Additional signs that your dog has acquired this disorder include: 

  • Difficulty defecating
  • Loss of appetite
  • Pain at base of tail
  • Reluctance to sit 
  • Swelling at base of tail
  • Whimpering or vocalizations

Types

Although any dog can develop a case of acute caudle myopathy, it is much more common for active working dogs and sporting dogs, particularly hunting dogs. Dogs that spend a great deal of time playing or working in water, particularly cold water, are much more likely than others to develop this disorder, giving it its alternate name of swimmer’s tail. Dog breeds that are overrepresented with this condition can include:

  • American Water Spaniel
  • Basset Hound
  • Beagle
  • Brittany Spaniel
  • Chesapeake Bay Retriever
  • English Pointer
  • English Setter
  • Flat-coated Retriever
  • Foxhound
  • German Shorthaired Pointer
  • Golden Retriever
  • Irish Setter
  • Labrador Retriever
  • Springer Spaniel
  • Vizsla

Causes of Limber Tail Syndrome in Dogs

This syndrome is caused by pain and swelling at the base of the tail, either due to overwork or stress injuries. It is believed that the pain and swelling of this condition is caused partially due to restricted blood flow to the muscles that control the tail. There are circumstances that can trigger this syndrome including:

  • Cold water bathing
  • Cold, wet weather
  • Hunting
  • Long-term confinement to crate
  • Swimming

Diagnosis of Limber Tail Syndrome in Dogs

While limber tail is often a disorder that can be managed at home, canines with the symptoms of this disorder should be seen by the veterinarian as it can mimic more serious disorders. As such, the diagnosis of limber tail syndrome is generally a diagnosis of exclusion.  The examining veterinarian will want to evaluate 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, as well as getting a full history of the dog, both a medical history and an account of the patient’s recent activities. The anal glands will be examined to ensure that there is no infection or inflammation, and in order to determine the condition of the bones in the tail and lower back x-ray imaging will be employed. This will help rule out skeletal disorders such as a broken tail, osteoarthritis, or a diseased intervertebral disk.

Treatment of Limber Tail Syndrome in Dogs

Limber tail syndrome typically clears up on its own in just a few days with a period of rest, although it tends to be quite uncomfortable for the dog until it heals. By reducing the amount of activity and keeping the patient calm and quiet the discomfort will be somewhat mitigated, however, there are a few other methods that can be used to ease both the pain and swelling. The simplest way of relieving the pain and discomfort is often a warm compress periodically applied to the base of the tail, which helps to stimulate blood flow to the area.

Your veterinarian may also recommend anti-inflammatory medications, usually in the form of NSAIDs like Rimadyl and Deramaxx formulated for canines. Occasionally, corticosteroids are also injected at the base of the tail in an attempt to alleviate the symptoms that this disorder causes as well as shortening the duration of the inflammation.

Recovery of Limber Tail Syndrome in Dogs

Dogs with limber tail have an excellent prognosis, and even dogs that are effectively untreated tend to recover in a short amount of time and the condition doesn’t have a tendency to become chronic. There are a few things that you can do to help prevent it from happening in the first place. These methods can include things such as avoiding icy water (particularly for dogs who are not in top condition), ensuring that your dog is not left in a crate for too long, and making sure that the animal is not pushed too hard, particularly after a long period of reduced activity.

Limber Tail Syndrome Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Sadie
German Shepard Hound mix
3 Years
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

Swollen tail.

Can you give anything for pain? Our pup has always been swimming with us. We go out on the boat and she swims and chases fish. Her tail is constantly wagging, for 5-6 hours. She tends to sleep the whole next day. Her tail is swollen, sticks out about 3 inches and hangs down. She gives us the look...ears tucked, sad eyes. I know she is in pain. This is not the first time she has had this either. It typically goes away within a day or two.

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
2507 Recommendations
NSAIDs may be given to help a dog with limber tail but you should get this from your Veterinarian, most human NSAIDs are toxic to dogs and shouldn’t be used; typically when this occurs after being in cold water it resolves after a day or two. Try to prevent Sadie from being in the water in future if this has happened before. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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Grizzly
Lab mix
1 Year
Mild condition
1 found helpful
Mild condition

Has Symptoms

Limber tail

We aren’t sure if this is what grizzly has.. but before any of this happened, we had taken him a bath with cold and warm water mix and dried him off throughly. That same day we spent New Years outside with family with grizzly by our side and he was perfectly fine it was cold but we were mostly sitting by a fire place. He cried alittle only because he wanted to explore the new neighborhood. But he was happy and wagging his tail just fine like usual. Then when we got home he went straight to his bed and laid there and fell asleep for a little then randomly started crying all night & we didn’t know the reason why? Until we realize his tail was down && and when we tried to touch it he’ll look and walk away like it hurt .. we are very worried & not sure what to do or if we should take him to the vet .. if anyone can help explain what they are suppose to act with limber tail symptom. Because all he’s been doing is acting very sick .. like walking not wagging stares and sleeps most of the time. But he is able to poop,pee,eat, & drink. He can kind of sit but not all the way down. We just want the happy grizzly back. Thank you.

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
2507 Recommendations
Limber tail may occur due to cold water, sitting too long on a cold surface, repeated trauma (happy tail) among other causes; this condition can be very painful but may be confused with fractures, dislocation among other conditions. You should give Grizzley some rest and visit your Veterinarian when they open for an examination and some anti inflammatories. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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Dahlia
Labrador Retriever
2 Years
Mild condition
0 found helpful
Mild condition

Has Symptoms

Extends a few inches then drops
Tail looks limp and is sore

I think my 2 year old Lab has limp tail. I noticed it this morning and the symptoms seem to fit well. She’s in a bit of pain but is still able to sit and go to the bathroom. She is a very hard tail wagger and was in her cage for about 3 hours yesterday while we were at thanksgiving dinner. Do I need to take her to a vet right away or see if it resolves itself?

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
2507 Recommendations
In these types of cases, if it doesn’t look like there is any pain or discomfort you can take a wait and see approach to see if it resolves itself in the meantime; if you are not seeing any improvement over the next for days you should visit your Veterinarian for an examination. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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Bruno
Lab mix
3 Years
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

Nothing more

Medication Used

none

My dog is showing the suigns of limber tail. He was at his day camp and happened to be in boarding all last week (he has been drinking water)
He just ate a little last night but the boarder said he did not eat anything Saturday night or Sunday morning

My biggest concern is he has not gone to the bathroom #2 since he's been home Is this normal should I be concerned
The vet we go to is closed Sunday and Monday should we look to take him someplace else ? He seems to be in allot of pain what canwe do
Do him until we get him to. The vet tomorrow Or should we find
Another vet Please reach out to me in my email [email protected]

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
2507 Recommendations

Limber tail is an acute caudal myopathy of the tail due to hard hitting of the tail, swimming in cold water or general overexertion. The loss of appetite may be related to the pain that Bruno is feeling and the lack of defecation may be due to pain in the tail whilst assuming the position. I cannot say for sure whether or not the two are connected, but you could try to encourage eating with some moist wet food which may also encourage a bowel movement too. If there is a Veterinarian open in your area, I would urge you to visit to just confirm a diagnosis and to get some supportive care for Bruno. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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