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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.

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
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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
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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.

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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.

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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.

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Limber Tail Syndrome Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Need pet health advice? Ask a vet

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Ask a Vet

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Mutt

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6 months

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Unknown severity

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0 found helpful

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Limp Tail, Bleeding Tail, Painful Tail

My dog had happy tail so we wrapped it but we went to unwrap it and the dog helped and screamed and now the tail looks broken and looks like it’s bleeding

Aug. 7, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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0 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. Without seeing the tail, I cannot comment on what might be going on, but your dog definitely needs to be seen by a veterinarian. If the wrap was too tight or placed badly, it may have cause damage, and your dog may need medications or treatment to help. I hope that your pup is okay.

Aug. 8, 2020

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Labrador Retriever

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Four Years

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Unknown severity

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0 found helpful

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Swelling At Base Of Tail, Whimpering

All of a sudden my dog started whimpering and the base of his tail is swollen.

July 26, 2020

Owner

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Jessica N. DVM

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0 Recommendations

Hello- Thanks for your question. It would be best to have him examined by a veterinarian so they can localize the pain, assess the cause of the swelling and decide if x-rays are needed. They will also be able to provide him with pain medication to help ease his discomfort. I hope he gets to feeling better soon.

July 26, 2020

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Cream

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Piodle

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10 Years

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Mild severity

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2 found helpful

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Mild severity

Has Symptoms

Limber Tail

I not sure if my dog has LTS. We were playing fine yesterday,and suddenly his tail is "bend down" and when i tried to touch a little bit, he cried. I have read a few journals online, it will be recovered in few days provided he has a good rest. But he is in pain, and cant really sit and sleep. How can i put him to sleep? So that he can has a good rest

July 22, 2018

Cream's Owner

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3320 Recommendations

Typically limber tail syndrome is associated with recent swimming in cold water or after vigorous exercise but the specific cause is unknown. Rest is usually best and the condition spontaneously resolves but you need to be sure that the tail wasn’t injured in a door or anything else. As for pain management, do not use any human over the counter products as they are toxic to dogs; if Cream is in pain you should visit your Veterinarian. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

July 22, 2018

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Max

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Husky

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5 Years

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Fair severity

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3 found helpful

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Fair severity

Has Symptoms

Sore Tail

We took our huskies swimming on Monday, the water wasn't overly cold. Then on Tuesday evening I noticed 1 of the dogs tail was down and seemed sore to touch. He still doesn't seem happy to sit down and gets quite restless

July 5, 2018

Max's Owner

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3320 Recommendations

Certainly sounds like limber tail, the water doesn’t need to be freezing it is more the temperature difference between the air and the water; however most cases of these are self limiting but if Max is unable to sit down properly or is having difficulty defecating you should visit your Veterinarian for some anti inflammatories to make him more comfortable. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM www.vetstream.com/treat/canis/diseases/limber-tail-syndrome

July 6, 2018

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Sadie

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German Shepard Hound mix

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3 Years

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Moderate severity

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1 found helpful

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Moderate severity

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.

May 8, 2018

Sadie's Owner

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3320 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

May 8, 2018

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Izzy

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Mini pinscher

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14 Years

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Mild severity

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0 found helpful

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Mild severity

Has Symptoms

Limber Tail

I have a 14 year mini-pin that seems to be showing signs of limber tail. Her tail straightens sometimes about 1/2 inch and the rest of her tail is hanging. She tries to wag her tail and the little part that sticks out can wag. She does not over-exert so I'm not sure how this happened. She sleeps most of the day and doesn't move around much other times. She sleeps on our bed and she does have a ladder she goes up and down on, so I wonder if she may have missed a step and hurt herself. She has had hip and back problems in the past. She has a good appetite, drinks plenty of water and acts fine.

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Bruno

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Golden Retriever

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2 Years

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Mild severity

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Mild severity

Has Symptoms

Pain When Lifted

I gave bath to bruno with cold tap water and after that he started showing limber tail syndrome. I was not aware about the medical condition and when searched Google came to know the same. Today is the second day. Should I take him to vet or it subsides on its own? At times he cries of pain.

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Bella

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American Staffordshire Terrier

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3 Years

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Mild severity

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0 found helpful

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

Mild severity

Has Symptoms

Limp Tail
Swollen At Base Of Tail
No Wagging
Adjusts To Sit

Bella started yesterday after going to the bathroom. Noticed her tail was hanging and wouldn't curl like she normally does when excited. She's not waggin her tail and she is typically super wiggly, like whole butt wiggly. She hasn't been vocal about it pain wise, but just seems sad, and down. She's eating, will see today if she's able to go to the bathroom. I don't know how long I should wait before she should see the vet. Most of what I've read says will correct itself in a few days. I am home with them the next two so I can monitor her. Her adopted Brother is clearly upset because big sissy cannot and doesn't want to play. Just so sad to see her like this when I know it's not her and it just looks odd to see Chew Man waggin his and her's doesn't.

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Patton

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Pit bull

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6 Years

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Serious severity

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1 found helpful

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Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Pain
Uncomfortable
Sad
Can'T Sit
Mildly Whines

This is the third time that my boy has experienced this. He is a very energetic happy pitbull. He loves to run and play and love on anyone and everyone. Yesterday, we were outside playing for awhile. Running after the toys and even gave him a bath. The water from the hose was rather cold. Today I noticed he didn't seem okay. He looked at me like he was in pain and had his droopy tail. I haven't taken him into the vet for this, but now that this is the third time over the last 2 years, I was wondering if I should. Could it be something more? The last 2 times he recovered in a few days.

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Pretinha

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Black Lab Mix

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2 Years

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Mild severity

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0 found helpful

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Mild severity

Has Symptoms

Trembles
Sore Tail
Wont Wag

My dog is very playful, but I saw her with her tail hanging down, and she bit it whenever someone tried to touch it. She trembled a lot the first day, and now she is a bit happier, but her tail is still hanging down. we left her in the garage, what could have happened?