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A Guide To Limber Tail in Dogs

Aimee Labbate
  • Aimee Labbate

  • RCVS: 700039


What is limber tail?

Limber tail is a relatively common condition that affects dogs, and is also known by many other names, including cold tail, rudder tail, swimmer’s tail, broken tail or acute caudal myopathy (to give it it’s proper name). It causes a dog’s tail to hang limp, and is painful for them to move, so you may notice that they are not wagging their tail as normal.

What causes limber tail on a dog?

While the cause of limber tail is still unclear, it appears to be associated with cold weather and over-exercise, which seems to result in injury to the muscles that control the tail. It is thought that this may be due to a restriction of the blood supply to the tail muscles causing swelling, damage and pain. Prolonged cage transport may also be a risk factor. Working dogs are particularly affected, so it is commonly seen in breeds such as Labradors, Spaniels, Pointers and Retrievers.

What are the symptoms of limber tail on a dog?

The typical symptoms include:

  • Tail hanging limp
  • Reluctance to sit down
  • Pain at the base of the tail
  • Wimpering
  • Lethargy
  • Reduced appetite
  • Difficulty passing stools

How is limber tail on a dog diagnosed?

The vet will normally diagnose limber tail on a dog based on the history and physical examination. Occasionally they may feel the need to rule out a fracture of the tail using an x-ray.

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How is limber tail on a dog treated?

The muscle injury causing the symptoms will resolve on its own, usually taking a few days to a week or two. The vet will often prescribe anti-inflammatory pain relief. Your dog should be kept warm, dry and rested to allow the muscles to recover.

If the signs are not resolving then further investigation may need to needed to rule out other possible causes.

How can I help to prevent limber tail on my dog?

There are a few things that may help to reduce the chances of your dog suffering from limber tail. These include:

  • Avoid over-exercise – ensure you gradually increase the level of exercise if you are trying to get your working dog back into condition.
  • Try to stop your dog from swimming in very cold water.
  • After swimming or a wet walk then dry your dog thoroughly and keep them warm.
  • Do not keep them in a crate for long periods. Allow rest stops on long journeys.

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