Limber Tail Syndrome in Dogs

Written By hannah hollinger
Published: 03/01/2017Updated: 05/21/2021
Veterinary reviewed by Michele K.
Limber Tail Syndrome in Dogs - Signs, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, Recovery, Management, Cost

What is Limber Tail Syndrome?

Limber tail syndrome is one of several names for the medical condition also known as 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

Signs 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 signs of this disorder should be seen by the veterinarian as it can mimic more serious disorders, and can be quite painful. 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 may be recommended. 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, but 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 pain medications, usually in the form of NSAIDs specifically formulated for dogs. 

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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.

Limber Tail Syndrome Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

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Puggle

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Twelve Years

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19 found this helpful

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19 found this helpful

My pet has the following symptoms:
Lump Under Tail Above Anus
Hi! The other day my dog was scootimg around the floor and it happened a few times tht day so when I looked to help her there was a big lump under her tail right above her anus. I am not sure what to do. I read that a warm cloth with a teaspoon of Epsom mixed with the water would help. She allows me to do that so without any trouble so it doesn't necessarily seem to hurt to the touch.

Jan. 25, 2021

Answered by Dr. Linda S. MVB MRCVS

19 Recommendations

.Hi, Most dogs scout on the floor when their anal glands are full. The scouting on the floor could have inflamed the skin around the anus causing it to swell. Yes, Epsom salt helps to reduce swelling but it would be great if the vet had his anal glands checked and expressed to stop the scouting.

Jan. 25, 2021

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Mutt

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6 months

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12 found this helpful

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12 found this helpful

My pet has the following 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

Answered by Dr. Michele K. DVM

12 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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