Limber tail syndrome in dogs is a condition that commonly affects sporting dog breeds such as English pointers, English setters, Irish setters, beagles, Labrador retrievers and foxhounds. Also known as acute caudal myopathy, cold water tail, frozen tail, flaccid tail syndrome or broken wag, this condition affects the tail of dogs generally as young as six months up to dogs in their senior years. Affected dogs typically keep the tail low and tucked in between the legs. Limber tail is more commonly seen in working dogs who are hunting and working in the fields and are exposed to cold weather and water.
A Flaccid Tail
Dog tails are always in movement, wagging around to communicate emotions and keeping the dog nicely balanced. Dog tails also work as rudders when dogs swim and must turn. It’s therefore quite noticeable when a dog suffers from an injury to its tail.
As the name implies, limber tail or flaccid tail affects the dog’s tail causing it to become suddenly painful and limp which often gives the impression to the owner that it has broken. The tail may be kept lowered or it may be held horizontally and then drop down a few inches.
Pain is often noticed when the dog is reluctant to sit or wag its tail and keeps the tail in a lowered position even when walking around. The dog appears uncomfortable and may have a hard time carrying out every day activities such as walking, running, lying down to rest or defecating. Some dogs may be in so much pain that they may be reluctant to eat.
A Matter of Muscle Damage
As mentioned, limber tail is also known as acute caudal myopathy. The term acute means that it has a sudden onset, the word caudal derives from the Latin word caudum which means tail, and the word myopathy is the medical term to depict a condition that affects the muscles.
In limber tail, the pain results from damage to the muscles and ligaments of the tail. Indeed, limber tail appears in dogs after engaging in vigorous exercise as seen in hunting dogs. Swimming in cold water, hunting in cold weather or simply over exertion from rough play in unconditioned dogs can be contributing factors. Some dogs develop limber tail after being placed in a crate while their coat is still wet.
In dogs affected by acute caudal myopathy, the pain typically begins anywhere from hours to a day later following the triggering event,
At the Vet’s Office
Your veterinarian will request information about the activity your dog engaged in prior to the onset of potential limber tail. Your vet will palpate the tail starting from the base to its end.
Once your vet locates the area of discomfort he or she may diagnose limber tail based on the symptoms and history or may suggest further diagnostic testing.
Your vet may suggest taking x-rays to rule out a fractured tail or checking the back for signs of intervertebral disk disease or the anal glands for signs of infection or inflammation.
If limber tail is found to be the cause, your vet may prescribe dog safe prescription anti-inflammatory medications for pain and inflammation and suggest restricted activity to allow the tail to rest and recover.
The application of warm compresses at the tail base may help a dog suffering from limber tail considering that we’re dealing with a muscle strain, points out veterinarian Dr. B. You can make a home-made compress by simply filling 2/3 of a clean sock with uncooked white rice and tying the sock close. Then, you can place the sock in the microwave for 1 to 1.5 minutes and apply the sock to the base of the tail ensuring that the heat cools down a bit prior so to not cause burns.
Fortunately, dogs with acute caudal myopathy heal fairly quickly; indeed, generally within a few days the tail shows signs of improvement, but at times the pain and discomfort may last a few weeks at the most.