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  • Jo De Klerk

    Why Is My Dog's Tail Limp?

    My dog loves to swim. In fact, I often can’t get her out the water. But last winter, after an episode of swimming, her tail went limp for a few days. I was talking to a friend, yesterday, and she said her dog once had that problem too. I was just wondering what causes it? – Theresa

    Thanks for getting in touch Theresa. There are a number of reasons why a dog’s tail might go limp, but the most likely reason for what you are describing is a condition called ‘rudder tail’. Rudder tail is also known under the names ‘limber tail’, ‘swimmer’s tail’, ‘cold water tail’, ‘limp tail’ and ‘broken wag’.

    Symptoms of a broken wag are quite obvious. The tail will be limp and your dog won’t wag it as it usually does. In some cases, the first part of the tail is in a horizontal position, while the rest of the tail is vertical. It can also happen that the tail extends a few inches from the body and then drops. Pain and swelling usually accompany the limp tail, particularly at the base. They might wimp, whine or lick and chew the tail because of the discomfort, and most dogs are also lethargic when they suffer from this condition.

    It’s still unclear what causes the tail to be hanging down all of a sudden, but there are certain situations after which it tends to develop. Usually, it happens after swimming, hunting, chasing or other forms of excessive exercise. Thus, overexertion is the most common cause. Other causes behind a ‘rudder tail’ are climate changes, inappropriate crate sizes or too long crate time, cold weather, warm or cold baths or overuse of the tail. Of all the situations, swimming, particularly in cold water, seems to be the most common trigger, which is probably why it happened in the winter for you.

    Even though the exact cause isn’t clear, it’s certain that it’s a muscle injury. Even though the tail looks broken, it’s not the bone that’s causing problems, but the muscle. More precisely, your dog is keeping its tail down because the coccygeal muscles near the base that are sprained.

    Fortunately, treating rudder tail is pretty easy when diagnosed. Most dogs recover on their own after a couple of days, but there are certain treatments that can speed up the process. It usually consists of the following:

    • Warm packs at the base of your dog’s tail
    • Anti-inflammatory drugs specifically for dogs, prescribed by your vet
    • Rest

    Results can be seen pretty quickly. The worst pain usually goes away within 24 to 48 hours. However, sometimes it can take up to 2 weeks for the problem to disappear completely.


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    Jo De Klerk

    Jo is a graduate of the Royal Veterinary College, London. She has a Masters degree in Tropical Animal Health, and has spent most of her career working in mixed veterinary practice.

    Recently, she has become involved in one of the UK’s fastest growing veterinary telemedicine services for dogs and cats.

    She is a published author of several books, and enjoys working as a freelance veterinary writer around her clinical work.

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