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Limber tail

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Limber tail is a condition that causes a dog to have pain at the base of the tail. It goes by several names:

  • Limber tail
  • Cold Tail
  • Cold Water Tail
  • Flaccid Tail

Is my dog's tail broken?

Dogs who have Limber Tail will appear to have a broken tail. Sometimes they can have a swollen area at the very top of their tail (just after it leaves the body) which to the untrained eye could look like it was broken at this place. However, the vast majority of the time when I have seen a dog whose tail looks like this, it is not actually fractured. Rather, the muscles of the tail are extremely sore and swollen.

These dogs will usually have discomfort if you lift the tail up, and even more discomfort if you push gently on the muscles on either side of the tail where it connects to the body.

swimming dog
Most dogs with limber tail have been swimming within the last 24 hours.
Photo by A Galaxy Away,flickr.

What causes limber tail?

No one really knows the cause of limber tail. But, the first thing I ask when I see a dog who has a flaccid tail is, "Has your dog been swimming lately?" For some reason, swimming in cold water can cause damage to the coccygeal (tail) muscle fibers.

Here are some activities that can lead to limber tail:

  • Swimming
  • Exposure to cold
  • Exposure to wet weather
  • A hard workout (i.e. a hunting dog or other working dog.)
  • Prolonged cage transport

Treatment of Limber Tail

Fortunately most dogs with Limber Tail will be back to normal within 24 to 48 hours. I will usually prescribe an anti-inflammatory drug such as Previcox, Metacam, Deramaxx or Rimadyl to help dogs deal with the pain. A dose of aspirin may help, however, as some dogs can have serious side effects with aspirin (i.e. stomach ulceration, bleeding problems), it is best to get your veterinarian's advice before giving any aspirin.

Other Possibilities

If your dog has a limp tail, it still is possible that he has fractured his tail. Or, he may have had nerve damage. We will occasionally see severe nerve damage if a dog has had his tail pulled severely. Some serious spinal problems such as intervertebral disc disease or lumbosacral syndrome can cause tail problems as well.

If your dog is really uncomfortable, or if there is no improvement after 24-48 hours then a vet visit is necessary. If your dog is having difficulties walking then this means that there may be a serious back injury and he should be seen right away!

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Dr. Marie was quick to respond and thorough in suggesting treatment for my cat. I am so thankful- I have been so worried about my cat. Now I have additional options to discuss with my vet.

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Dr. MarieDr. Marie is a veterinarian who practices in a busy animal hospital in Ottawa, Ontario. She created Ask A Vet Question as a resource for good, accurate veterinary advice online. Dr. Marie treats dogs, cats, hamsters, guinea pigs, and rats. She has been a vet since 1999.

Is an online vet visit just as good as a trip to your veterinarian? No! But, many times, asking an online veterinarian a question can help save you money. While Dr. Marie can't officially diagnose your pet or prescribe medications, she can often advise you on whether a vet visit is necessary. You can also ask Dr. Marie for a second opinion on your pet's condition.