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Latest health and behavior news and advice from the veterinarians at Tufts University.

Features August 2013 Issue

When the Tail Goes Limp

It has been called cold tail, dead tail, and limber tail, but all three terms mean the same thing —the dog’s tail hangs limp from the base. The cause of the drooping tail, which comes on suddenly rather than gradually, is thought by many to be muscle injury brought on by overexertion. It’s the coccygeal muscles near the tail’s base that are believed to sustain the damage leading to the drooping, although there is some concern that nerve damage is related as well.

The effect can be anywhere from mild — the tail stays up but can’t make it to a horizontal position — to severe, hanging straight down like a long lock of limp hair. In some cases, a dog may exhibit discomfort or pain lying down. Many dogs decrease or stop their tail wagging due to soreness associated with the condition.

Breeds that appear particularly susceptible to limber tail include Labrador and golden retrievers, along with English pointers, setters, beagles, and foxhounds. But any dog whose tail has not been docked (partially removed) can potentially get it. (Not that we advocate tail docking — we don’t!)

The good news: the condition is not permanent. It usually resolves within a week and leaves no lingering effects. And it doesn’t tend to recur. But during those limber-tail days, be aware that your dog may have trouble sitting or lying the way she usually does, and take it easy with exercise. The more a dog is out and about, the more she may tend to move her tail around.

Your veterinarian may also prescribe an anti-inflammatory for the first 24 hours. There’s no hard and fast evidence that it speeds recovery, but some owners say there’s faster healing with drugs in the mix.

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