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What is Tail Trauma?

Everyone knows that a wagging tail on a dog is a means of communication -- usually a positive thing.  However, when that spastic tail isn’t wagging, we owners should view that as a signal that something is amiss in our beloved family member.  This behavior change can signal injury as well as illness in your dog. Causes for this condition can range from a muscle strain to a fracture. Any time a canine’s tail appears to be injured, a veterinary visit is warranted without delay.

Tail trauma is defined as basically any injury to the canine tail or its supporting structures.  This can include injuries emanating from breaks, abrasions and chewing as well as sprains, fractures and more serious spinal or genetic anomalies or injuries.

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Symptoms of Tail Trauma in Dogs

Symptoms you might see that would suggest tail trauma in your dog:

  • Swelling
  • Abrasions or bleeding or ulcer type lesion which bleeds
  • “Out of joint” appearance anywhere along the length of the tail signalling a break or fracture
  • Unusual tail set - Tail is limp, or more rigid either in its entire length or only a portion of the length

  • Droopy tail
  • A tail that doesn’t wag
  • Changes in the canine’s gait

Types  

There are several types of tail trauma which can afflict your beloved canine family member.  Here are the types or categories into which various tail traumas fall:

  • Skin - Cuts, bites, abrasions, ulcers

  • Muscular - Sprains or strains of the muscles and tendons in the tail
  • Skeletal - Vertebrae dislocation, breaks and fractures in the bones of the tail, spine and hips

  • Neurological - Injuries which affect the nerves of the tail, spine and hips as well as some body systems
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Causes of Tail Trauma in Dogs

There are multiple types of causes of tail trauma in dogs.  Here is a brief explanation of those causes:

  • Self-inflicted wounds - These would be the biting, chewing and licking behaviors in which your canine involves himself for various reasons like allergies, fleas and other parasitic bites, dry and itchy skin conditions, painful abrasions or ulcers

  • Vehicular mishaps - These include conflicts with cars, bicycles and other motor vehicles (these causes can result in serious hip and spine injury, and even death)
  • “Family” inflicted - These would include the well meaning tugs that children tend to do with the family dog, the injury received when grandma’s rocking chair is too close, or the injuries received when that tail gets caught in the car or bedroom door when it’s being closed

These are just a few examples of tail traumas which can afflict your canine family member. Unintended injuries can range from mild to severe with some perhaps even requiring surgical intervention to fix.

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Diagnosis of Tail Trauma in Dogs

If you suspect a tail trauma in your dog, you should call your veterinary professional right away.  If it is a bleeding situation, especially one that you can’t stop, get your pet to the nearest emergency veterinary facility for assessment and treatment.  The diagnosis of the injury, regardless of severity, will depend on several things.  Your historical input will be a great assistance to your veterinary professional as he proceeds with his physical examination and assessment of your pet’s condition.  

He may require radiographic imaging (x-rays), CT imaging or perhaps an MRI imaging series to determine the damage and cause.  Blood work may also be necessary because some health conditions not associated with trauma can also demonstrate symptoms similar to some of those noted above for tail trauma.  Once your vet has completed his assessment and obtained the test results, he will develop and initiate an appropriate treatment plan for your pet.

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Treatment of Tail Trauma in Dogs

The treatment plan for your canine family member who is suffering from tail trauma will be consistent with the injury type which has been sustained and the tissues, skeletal structures and systems which are affected by the injury.  For some tail injuries, surgical intervention may be required, for example, amputation of some portion of the tail in the case of a severe injury, fracture or dislocation of the tail.  Injuries near the base of the tail are the most serious as they can affect how the dog evacuates his bowels and bladder as well as gait and general movement.  

For those traumas involving biting, chewing and licking, an infection or allergy could be at the root of the behavior and that cause will need to be treated with antibacterial medications or allergy medications.  Because many of these examples of tail trauma in dogs can be painful, your veterinary professional may recommend either medications or steps to reduce the discomfort your pet is experiencing.

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Recovery of Tail Trauma in Dogs

Recovery of your beloved canine family member will be dependent upon the cause of the trauma in addition to the severity of the injury and the resulting damage, whether permanent or temporary.  Your pet may need hospitalization for a period of time, or he may need surgery.  Be assured your canine family member will need lots of the three A’s (affection, attention and affirmation) while he heals from his traumatic experience.  Close observation and rest, along with a healthy diet and plenty of clean fresh water in a safe environment are common sense steps that you can expect to be part of the treatment plan recommended by your vet.

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Tail Trauma Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Need pet health advice? Ask a vet

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Ask a Vet

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Great Dane pitbull

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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

Yelp And Wince

My dog seems to be in pain. She yelps and winces when she gets up. I've looked her over and there are no visible injuries. Once she's up she is walking fine without limping. She can even trot and jump seemingly without problems. It has become apparent that the pain is likely in her tail. She winced when she tried to wag it and is holding it oddly. She seems to have blood flow to her entire tail and no obvious signs of having been hit. Do I need to have it checked? Can I help with pain? Should I see how she is in 24 hours?

Dec. 27, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Linda S. MVB MRCVS

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0 Recommendations

I'm sorry to hear this. A limp tail may be 'swimmers tail' which tends to occur when the weather is cold. It is like a tail strain. Ideally, dogs are provided with pain relief and anti inflammatories, so a vet visit is best. Other considerations would include an injury, anal gland infection (some dogs hold their tail down due to the discomfort) or joint disease such as arthritis. If she is not herself, it would be best for her to be seen so we can establish what is going on and get any necessary pain relief on board.

Dec. 27, 2020

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Labrador Retriever

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Three Years

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Unknown severity

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2 found helpful

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Droopy Tail

My dog has a droopy tail and at the base of the tail there's a divot where I believe the tail should be. She let's us touch and move the tail but it won't go above the hip bones. She wags her tail on her own but once again, it doesn't wag very high. The only thing she did today was go outside to go potty and I gave her a bath today as well.

Dec. 21, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Sara O. DVM

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2 Recommendations

Hello she may have hurt her tail or broke it. Many time with just time your dogs tail will be able to heal on its own. If she seems painful, it would be best for your vet to look at your dog and prescribe pain medication.

Dec. 21, 2020

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Pit Bull

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Three Years

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Unknown severity

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1 found helpful

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Tail. Injury

we have been putting doggie diapers on her cause she was in heat. yesterday went to lift her tail up a little high she cried a little. It is always straight up but now its down and i can feel a slight knot almost at the middle. She lets me touch it and doesnt cry or anything. She is still playful and eating and drinking. Its just when i try to lift it too high. She hasnt been socialized at all and hasnt been to vet since her final puppy shots. Will she be ok?

Sept. 27, 2020

Owner

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Jessica N. DVM

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1 Recommendations

Hello- Thank you for your question. I do think it sounds like she is painful. I would recommend taking her to a veterinarian to have her examined. Your vet can decide if an x-ray is warranted and can prescribe appropriate pain medication for her. Dogs need preventative care just like we do. They need annual vaccines, a heart worm test and preventative medications to keep them healthy so it is important to make sure she is examined yearly and those things are taken care of. She is also at a much higher risk for a mammary cancer being intact and will have a risk of a pyometra (infected uterus) due to being intact as well. I would discuss having her spayed with your veterinarian.

Sept. 28, 2020

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Odie

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Hungarian Wirehaired Vizsla

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10 Months

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Mild severity

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1 found helpful

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Mild severity

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Swollen Tail

My 10 month old Vizsla recently had his tail caught in a door when it was being closed. His tail is slightly swollen, but he allows us to touch it, can sit comfortably and is still wagging his tail like crazy - should we take him to the vet?

Aug. 7, 2018

Odie's Owner

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1 Recommendations

Without examining Odie I cannot determine the severity of the tail injury; sometimes severe injuries may not appear as bad but it is important to have your Veterinarian check the tail to ensure that there are no broken vertebrae or anything else concerning. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

Aug. 7, 2018

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Goober

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Australian Cattle Dog

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3 Years

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Mild severity

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Mild severity

Has Symptoms

Chewing
Limp Tail
Pain In Tail

So I'm wondering if I should take my dog to the vet or not. Goober is a 3 year old cattle dog mix and a few days ago I noticed he wasn't raising or wagging his tail which was extremely uncommon for him since its usually always up, he would raise it about half way but even this was difficult for him. He chews on his tail and if you try to raise it into a normal position he gets aggressive and snarls. He has a hard time getting comfortable when sitting and will most of the time not stay still he whines and gets up after a few moments. Goober is fixed and he is a very active dog. I just don't know if this is limp-tail syndrome or if its actually broken.

March 6, 2018

Goober's Owner


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0 Recommendations

If you are think about whether you should visit your Veterinarian or not, you should visit; without examining Goober I cannot say whether the tail has a fracture, dislocation or another issue which is causing Goober pain or discomfort. Your Veterinarian will examine him and may take an x-ray to examine the coccygeal vertebrae in detail. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

March 6, 2018

Any updates on Goober?

March 18, 2018

Alecia B.

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Chania

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Cattle dog

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2 Years

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Moderate severity

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Limp Tail

Chania ran away for 16 hours last week. She came back very tired but appeared to be in good health. However, we noticed that she didn't seem to be using her tail much. Given that she was likely running extensively for the entire time she was out, we attributed this to an exertion issue. Today she's begun yipping loudly a couple of times as though she's being hurt despite nothing happening to her. What could be the cause of this?

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Chipper

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Golden Labrador

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2 Years

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Moderate severity

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0 found helpful

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Wobbly Rear Gait
Wobbly Rear Gait. Weak

My son brought our dog Chipper home when he was approximately 8 weeks old. Sweet Golden Lab. Little did we know that Chipper had parvo, coccidia and e coli. He was treated at the Animal Hospital and came home a normal loving puppy. Then when he was about four months old, he stopped using his hind legs. We took him swimming which helped his legs. Took him to several vets and the local university for testing. Nothing could be found. I finally took him for Aquapuncture and the first thing the Vet noticed was that his tail was short for his breed. We now think, as a puppy he had a tail injury and that has caused nerve damage to his hind legs. He can go the bathroom himself and takes several wobbly steps himself.

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