Cold Water Tail Or Limber Tail: Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

Labrador Retriever swimming in a harboThough the most name most commonly used for this syndrome is Cold Water Tail, Limber Tail is the name usually used by most vets since there are other causes besides cold water. Other names used for this condition include limp tail, broken wag, dead tail or broken tail.

Once a dog has experienced Limber Tail there is about a 1 in 3 chance that they will experience Limber Tail again.

Since there are a number of other reasons for a limp tail other than Limber Tail, a dog with a limp or painful tail should be evaluated by a vet.

Symptoms of Limber Tail

When a dog has Limber Tail, the tail will stay down. The tail will remain down in situations when normally the tail would be up or moving in some way.

The tail will either be hanging down against the body (not tucked) or the first couple of inches may be horizontal with the remainder of the tail hanging down. Sometimes the tail may hang to one side.

A dog will usually, but not always, act as if it is in pain for the first day or two. Typicaly a dog will be react if the base of the tail is touched.

The hair round the base of the tail may stand up. This is thought to be due to swelling round the base of the tail.

Causes of Limber Tail

There are a number of potential causes for Limber Tail. Sometimes the reason for the development of the tail problem cannot be determined. Common causes include;

  • Exposure to cold wet weather
  • Under conditioning and then a high level of activity
  • Extensive swimming in breeds that use their tail for swimming, especially if water is cold
  • Being in a crate for long periods of time

Limber Tail occurs most frequently in hunting and retrieving dogs, particularly at the beginning of the season. Breeds that are susceptible to Limber Tail include Labrador Retrievers, English Setters, English Pointers, Foxhounds and Beagles.

Treatment of Limber Tail

The major treatment of Limber Tail is rest. Recovery time varies, and can be from a few days to a few weeks.

Some vets will give medication such as NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs). These help with the pain. There is no general agreement as to whether these drugs speed the recovery by reducing the swelling.

In a few dogs the tail may be permanently affected, and the tail may not be held in the same position as it was previously. For dogs that compete, this can end their career.

Other reasons for a limp tail

There are number of other potential reasons for a limp tail in dogs, these include;

  • Impacted or infected anal glands
  • Damage to tail itself, particularly anything that pulls the tail e.g. getting trapped or being grabbed
  • Wound in tail that is infected
  • Back injury or other back problem
  • Several diseases that affect muscles or nerves

If a dog has a limp tail it is wise to get the dog checked by a vet to make sure that it is not a serious condition that needs immediate treatment.