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Limber tail in dogs

I’ve never heard of that?
It also has lots of other names like cold tail, swimmers tail, drop tail, rudder tail

I’ve not heard of those either so tell us what it is.
It’s a condition where the dog suddenly develops a flaccid and painful tail for no immediately obvious reason. The tail hangs limply down even when the dog is running and because it is painful the dog is very unsettled, often not wanting to sit down.

It sounds like what you would expect if the tail was broken.
Yes and thats what most people think has happened. They bring their dog to the vet expecting us to tell them that the tail is broken.

So if its not broken what causes the symptoms?
Its actually due to damage or pain in the muscles in the base of the tail. It becomes painful to move the tail. We really don’t fully understand why this happens but it is thought to be due to a restriction of the blood flow to the tail muscles.

What would cause a restriction of the blood flow?
Again we dont know for sure but there is often a history of having been swimming in cold water during the previous 24 hours. Some people think it is the cold water that restricts the blood flow but this also happens in some dogs that haven’t been swimming.

So what else could cause it?
We think vigorous activity of the tail muscles causes the muscles to contract around the blood vessels which will constrict the blood flow somewhat. It is only a theory though.

How do you diagnose this?
It is possible to do muscle biopsies but we are usually able to diagnose it on the clinical signs alone once we rule out other possible causes of the symptoms. We are especially suspicious if the dog has recently been swimming.

What are the other possible causes of these symptoms?
Well a broken tail is the most obvious thing but we can usually rule this out  by feeling the tail or if necessary taking an x-ray. Very sore anal glands is another thinkg we need to rule out and also lower back pain could cause the same symptoms.

Is there any treatment?
The symptoms will generally disappear within 2 weeks but we need to give pain relief in the meantime as it is very painful.

Is it likely to happen again to the same dog?
It certainly can do particularly if the dog is a big swimmer. It doesn’t recur very often though, just now and then.

Are some dogs more susceptible to this than others?
Yes. It tends to be in larger breeds that are used for retrieving like the Labrador, the retriever, pointers and setters. The beagle is a smaller breed that is also quite susceptible.

Is it common?
Relatively common. I would see several  cases each year particularly in duck shooting season.

Is there any prevention?
Not really apart from avoiding swimming in cold water.  There are a few things that seem to make limber tail more likely

What are those?
Cold weather, vigorous exersize in an out of condition dog and also keeping a dog in a kennel for long periods of time then letting them out for sudden vigorous exersize.

So avoiding these could help prevent limber tail.
Yes. I think the main message today though is to see your vet if your dog shows these symptoms so that pain relief can be given. And remember the best outcome is if the pain relief is started within 24hrs of the start of symptoms.