Limp Tail in Dogs

Causes, Treatment, and Prevention

Golden retriever dog with a limp tail while standing outside

The Spruce / Missy Schrott

Limp tail is the result of an injury or overexertion. It primarily affects working and athletic dogs but can occur in any type or breed. As the name implies, a dog with limp tail is unable to move its tail; the tail simply droops or hangs. Recognizing this problem can help owners alleviate some of the discomfort associated with an injured tail during the healing process.

What Is Limp Tail?

Limp tail refers to an injury affecting a dog's tail as a result of strenuous exercise. Technically, this medical condition is called acute caudal myopathy. It occurs after rigorous activity in which transient damage occurs to the muscles, ligaments, and tendons at the base of the tail. Occasionally, minor damage to the vertebrae may occur. Limp tail is a painful condition, so an affected dog will be unable to raise its tail or wag.

Symptoms of Limp Tail in Dogs

A dog with limp tail will generally begin showing signs of injury within a few hours of intense physical activity.

Symptoms

  • Limp, hanging tail
  • Reluctance to have tail touched
  • Unable to get comfortable when lying down
  • Biting or licking at the tail
  • Difficulty squatting to urinate or defecate

The most obvious sign of limp tail is a hanging, droopy tail that doesn't wag as usual. This happens because the base of the tail is in severe pain. If the tail is touched, the dog may cry or whine in pain.

Since a dog's tail is used for balance, a dog with limp tail may have difficulty getting up after lying down and squatting to urinate or defecate outside. Sometimes dogs will also be unable to get comfortable when lying down and may even lose their appetite due to the pain in the tail.

Causes of Limp Tail

Any type of strenuous activity that causes a dog to use its tail can cause limp tail. Some common reasons include:

These physical activities can result in excessive use of the tail. When the tail is used for balance, wags out of excitement, or the blood vessels constrict when swimming in cold water, an injury may occur.

Golden retriever dog running intensely with ball in mouth

The Spruce / Missy Schrott

Diagnosing Limp Tail in Dogs

A history of recent excessive activity or swimming in cold water is key to diagnosing limp tail in dogs. X-rays may be taken to rule out a broken bone in the tail, but knowing the recent circumstances and performing a physical exam will usually suffice. If a dog suddenly cannot use its tail after swimming in a cold lake or hunting, then an injury resulting in limp tail is the most likely cause.

Treatment

Treating a dog with limp tail is a matter of supportive care, rest, and anti-inflammatory medications if the dog's pain is severe. Restricting movement—especially exuberant play, swimming, or work—will allow the tail to heal and return to normal. This usually takes a few days to a week.

Do not give your dog any human anti-inflammatory medications for this condition. Consult your veterinarian for canine medications.

Prognosis for Dogs with Limp Tail

Limp tail is almost always a temporary condition with no lasting repercussions. If a dog suffers a bone fracture or a ripped tendon, then healing may take longer, but injuries this severe are rare.

How to Prevent Limp Tail

Prevention of this condition is generally impractical since play and work are common, enjoyable activities for many dogs. Common sense during physical activity should be used if a dog is prone to limp tail. For example, dogs should be allowed to rest regularly during excessive activity. This may mean shortening the length of the activity if stopping to rest isn't possible but there is no reason to avoid things a dog enjoys doing.

Golden retriever dog resting on lawn with ball between legs

The Spruce / Missy Schrott

If you suspect your pet is sick, call your vet immediately. For health-related questions, always consult your veterinarian, as they have examined your pet, know the pet's health history, and can make the best recommendations for your pet.