Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, behavior consultant, former veterinarian assistant, and author of "Brain Training for Dogs."
Understanding Dog Limber Tail Syndrome
Also known as "cold water tail", "limp tail" or "broken wag", not many dog owners are aware of the fact that dogs may develop tail problems until one day the dog's tail becomes limp, lifeless, and flaccid as seen in dog limber tail syndrome. If you've never heard about this term before, don't be surprised—many people are not aware of it and even some vets are not very familiar with it as it is not very common. Common scenarios that may bring a bout of limber tail syndrome are as follows:
- You bring your dog camping with you and decide to allow your dog a pleasant swim in a nice pond. After sleeping under the big starry sky, your dog awakens with a lifeless, flaccid tail.
- You take your dog hunting with you and after chasing pheasant for several hours, your dog displays his tail horizontally and drops down totally flaccid. Concerned your dog somehow broke his tail, since he is no longer able to wag it normally, you take him to the vet.
- Your dog rolls in the mud on a pleasant outing in the woods and once home you give him a nice bath. You dry your dog with a few towels and put him in the crate for the night. The next morning, your dog's yowls in pain upon hitting his tail against the chair. You notice your dog cannot move the tail as usual.
Did You Know?
This condition seems to most likely prefer dogs of a particular breed. However, virtually any dog can be affected. Common breeds affected by this condition are:
- Labradors and Golden Retrievers
- Flat coat Retrievers
- English Setters
- English Pointers
Symptoms of Limber Tail Syndrome in Dogs
Most owners are concerned upon settlement of symptoms. They are often worried because they cannot recall their dogs having any recent injuries. The most common symptoms of limber tail syndrome are quite obvious to the eye. Affected dogs will display the following symptoms:
- Limp tail
- No wagging
- Tail that extends horizontally for 3-4 inches and then suddenly drops flaccidly
- Hair standing up at base of tail
- Pain upon palpation
- Local swelling
Causes of Limber Tail Syndrome
Causes of limp tail in dogs are yet to be really understood, but they mostly follow a pattern. Most common causes seem to be caused by the following:
- Climate changes
- Being crated for a long time
- Inappropriate crate size
- Exposure to cold weather
- Warm or cold bath
- Overuse of tail
- Excessive exercise without proper physical conditioning
Sporting dogs are particularly prone to this condition. It is vital that if you own a hunting dog or a sporting dog that you gradually introduce your dog to exercise. Sudden bouts of prolonged exercise especially after long periods of rest are potential triggers. Avoid crating your dog too long and ensure the crate is large enough to allow your dog to stretch and turn around. Avoid your dog's exposure to cold drafts especially if your dog is wet and do not allow contact with wet bedding.
Diagnosis and Treatment of Limber Tail Syndrome
Limber tail is usually confirmed by physical examination. Upon visiting the dog, most normally exhibit a painful tail upon palpation. Veterinarians may, therefore, order x-rays to rule out any fractures. If blood work is done, the results show an increased level of a particular muscle enzyme called "creatine kinase" often abbreviated as "CK". This particular enzyme is associated with muscle damage.
Treatment for Limber Tail Syndrome
Treatment luckily is pretty straight forward and when diagnosed correctly will often consist of the following:
- Warm packs at the base of the tail
- Anti-inflammatory drugs recommended by vets (NSAID's). Please keep in mind that many over the counter anti-inflammatory drugs for humans can be potentially toxic and fatal.
Most cases resolve pretty quickly. More often than not the pain seems to subside within 24 to 48 hours, but it may take up to 2 weeks to resolve completely. In some very rare cases the tail may never return to its normal position, but again this is pretty unusual. Do not be alarmed if at a certain point during recovery the tail may seem to be kept a little to the side. This should resolve shortly.
Whether you call it limber tail, cold water tail, frozen tail or simply broken wag, rest assured that your dog's tail will very likely go back to normal and you will get to enjoy your dog's tail wagging lively once again and in no time!
Other Possible Causes for What Appears to Be a Painful Tail
Not all tails carried low or held in an abnormal position are always due to limber tail. If your dog did not do anything that could have caused limber tail or if the problem appears to be elsewhere, consider the following possibilities:
- The tail got injured after being caught in a door or being stepped over
- A problem in the anal glands(impacted or infected) may cause a dog to carry its tail in an unusual manner
- A dog generally not feeling well or anxious may keep the tail low between its legs
- Back problems or any spinal injury can cause a tail carried low.
Disclaimer: This article is not to be used as a substitute for veterinary advice nor a diagnostic tool. Please see your vet for a hands on assessment and proper diagnosis. By reading this article, you accept this disclaimer.
© Alexadry all rights reserved
A Video of a Dog Affected by Limber Tail Syndrome
For Further Reading
- Giving aspirin to your dog
Aspirin for dogs Medically better known as Acetylsalicylic Acid, Aspirin has been used by humans for a very long time for the relief of many painful conditions. Nowadays, even our canine companions may benefit from its many advantageous properties...
- The truth about dog tail docking
When I first starting working at an animal hospital I was given a booklet with all the prices and services our animal hospital offered. As I read through the extensive list, I noticed the term 'tail docking"....
Questions & Answers
Question: I'm trying to adopt a 12 year old female Chihuahua. I noticed that her tail is always between her legs and she has a curved lower back. The Association that currently is in possession of the dog told me that their vet said she's ok. I would adopt her anyways because she looks that she didn't have any easy life. I would like to know what can cause a Chihuahua to always tuck up its tail? She weighs 6 lbs.
Answer: When a dog is "tucked up" this way it can be indicative of either abdominal pain or back pain. Sometimes, it can be an issue with the anal glands. I would discuss with the association your concerns.
© 2008 Adrienne Farricelli
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on November 09, 2019:
I would suggest a vet visit considering that sometimes older dogs with hair loss on the tail may be suffering from low thyroid levels which causes a characteristic "rat tail." Of course, there are several other possible causes, so you want to have this sorted out.
Iain on April 29, 2019:
My 12 year old staffy's tail has lost its roundness in the middle(flat looking)and the fur is dropping out amd its slighty limp....shes in no pain though
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on November 17, 2018:
Steve, If your dog seems in deep discomfort, seeing the vet is always the best option. If your dog's tail is held low the problem can be caused by many factors and sometimes an issue with the anal glands may be the culprit. Your vet can help you pinpoint the problem.
Steve on September 09, 2018:
I loved your article on limp tail syndrome. My 4 yr old Border Collie/Lab mix suddenly started growling barking and biting at her rear end last night as if something was attacking her. We checked for anything but found no injury, only her anus to be a little sensitive to touch. The biting & crying subsided in 5-10 minutes, but we noticed about a 1/2 hour later that her tail which was normally always curled up over her back was now lying limp down between her legs & has been for the past 15 hours & she was not wagging her tail.
She had been previously diagnosed by my vet with the fact that her anal glands stopped up frequently & 2 weeks ago, after she once more dragged her butt across the floor, we took her into the vet to again drain her anal glands. Within 2 days of her glands being drained she was dragging her butt across the floor again. Could the vet have caused this limp tail problem when she drained her glands the last time. Bowel movements are normal & she doesn’t appear to be in any pain. We’re freaking out & Of Course it’s over a weekend & we can’t see our vet until tomorrow. Do we need to see an emergency vet today, who doesn’t know our dog, or can it wait until tomorrow?
Bill on July 16, 2018:
My 4 year old lab has this happen often but it only lasts for a minute or two and it then goes back up to a normal position is this common in limp tail syndrome
Nora Tai on January 04, 2018:
My dogs tail is naturally curled but lately it's been straight and it doesn't curl as much anymore
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on June 06, 2016:
Glad you found this article on dog limp tail helpful, best wishes for a quick recovery Phyll!
Phyll on May 29, 2016:
My greyhound, Murphy, was attacked yesterday and it was jumping at him, we took him to the vets who gave him a good examination, put him on tramodol, loxicom, he is already on salmon oil and seraquin for arthritis, he is 12 but the vet always says how fit he is looking for his age. After we got him home and he had calmed down we were relieved that he slept through the night, but found that this morning he had a very limp tail. We are putting it down to the trauma and will wait a couple of days for the anti inflammatory drugs to kick in, and if no better will revisit the vet. Like in your video he is having probs sitting down but with encouragement can do it. Found your blog very interesting and informative, thank you.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on September 27, 2015:
Hello Bernice, it sure sounds like a case of limp tail if it concidentally happened after the bath, how is your dog doing now?
Bernice Coles on September 21, 2015:
I have a AMB x English Bulldog and on collecting her and her buddy from a 2 week stay in the kennels she has developed this tail syndrome. As a rule of thumb we avoid bathing our dogs too often but the Kennel gave them both a bath the day before we collected them. In the back of my mind I remembered reading something about this condition and so did an internet search and came across your blog. It has been both informative and helpful. I am applying the heat pack as we speak and I will give her a couple of days to see if it improves on it's own or decide if she should go the the vets. I will let you know how it goes but I feel 99.9% sure that she has limber tail.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on March 26, 2015:
It could be a normal way for your pup to carry his tail, but best to see your vet if it seems abnormal. Does it look like this?
amit on March 26, 2015:
I have 2 months old lebra dog.sum time his tail curved. wht should I do
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on November 09, 2013:
I hope your boy gets well soon!
junker47 on November 09, 2013:
My young lab/malamute got this by me using a dog shampoo on him...I used it 3 times before I put 1 and 1 together, then I only used baby shampoo on him with no side effects. Be careful where these items are made! Some are as toxic as an ex wife with no pre nup...!!! Well...now my buddy just turned 12 and has tail pain and walkes crooked so I am researching his symptoms which brought me here. Just finished with the vet last week and waiting for test results.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on September 25, 2012:
Happy to hear your dog is doing better and that you have a great vet that took his time to request x-rays! best wishes for a speedy recovery!
mshoe on September 25, 2012:
Just got back from the vet who determined that my 2 1/2 year old lab has limber tail. Unlike many of the posts it was not as clear in this case what the cause was. She had a bath on Friday, ran around hard and played more than usual on Friday afternoon and had many house visitors that she enjoyed and wagged her tail a bunch. We left her alone on Sat AM acting normal and returned in the afternoon to find her tail limp (not wagging, straight down, not out as usual). She had some pain and difficulty in sitting, but otherwise acting normal. Sunday was not much better, Monday she was a bit better, but took her on Tuesday even though she was acting much better (only to rule out a dislocated or broken tail). The Vet felt a thicking of the tail at the base and suggested an x-ray wich we did and rulled out any underlying injury. The Vet feels that the muscles were strained and a bit swollen still. Sent us home to rest. Of course once we got home she started to wag her tail like normal. But I am glad to have ruled out any serious injury and have her acting more like her nomal tail wagging self.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on September 25, 2012:
Another troublesome thing is the fact that may vets upon seeing a case of limber tail will not take x-rays but just prescribe an anti-inflammatory drug because they think 90% of the time it is just limber tail.This is not the vet's fault, it is just after seeing so many cases they tend to go with what has worked in the past. I know because I have seen it. It is sort of like in people, you complain about sinus problems, and the doctor will likely send you home with medications, but would never order a CT scan to rule out a tumor. When the problem persists, then more tests are done and that is when the bad news comes. It is unfortunate, but this does happen quite often. I did see some vets though order x-rays for this at times, the owner may have been unhappy for the extra costs, but it sure gave peace of mind.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on September 25, 2012:
What a sad story! I am sure that is really devastating. If you look at many of my articles I am one of the very few people on the web that puts disclaimers on the bottom of articles and emphasizes always to see a vet. I worked for a vet so know for a fact that sometimes what appears to be the most serious things ended up being nothing and sadly, often the most innocent looking things end up being something devastating. My articles are not meant to be a diagnosis and it does not hurt to emphasize it again. However, it is also true that many times people have found over the internet things that vets at times have missed. When they spoke to their vet about it, they found a solution that could have been helpful in the first place. When my dogs are sick and I schedule a vet appointment, as I wait, I search on websites so I am better prepared, know what questions to ask, and have a heads up on what other people went through. When my vet gives a diagnosis, I look it up (of course I know which websites are more reliable) because his time constraint puts a dent in having my answers to my many questions. My point is yes, use the web for educational purposes and as a source to go in depth on something, but don't rely on it as a substitute for vet advice, there are many conditions that can be confused for something minor, which is technically what my disclaimer says.
pipskimaripski on September 25, 2012:
I've just come back from my dog walk with my Labrador and 2 Italian Spinoni and met a chap who has a gorgeous flat coated retriever. We meet him every morning and his dog got limber tail three months ago and he thought it could have been from swimming. Anyway I was speaking to him this morning and he was really upset and his dogs tail had gone limp again and so he decided to take him back to the vet (this is about 3 months after he had it last and dog had not been swimming) anyway he was told his dog has cancer and 6-8 months to live. He was absolutely devastated. I am always wary when people read forums and some of the things I read, some advice mortifies me, sometimes you get good advice. My advice is, never think you are wasting your time/money taking a dog to a vet, this dog isn't going to die of limber tail he has got cancer but obviously this time, the tail was a sign something was not right. The dog looks incredible very healthy looking and stunning but he had no idea he was so ill. Self diagnosis, well for the dog, is great but I always think a check up at the vets is a safeguard. Don't always take what you read on the internet as fact :o)
Michele Wilk on June 01, 2012:
American Staffordshire Terrier/American Pit Bull Terrier may need to be added to your breed list. I too have a bitch with this. She is dual registered with AKC and UKC. She has just had her third episode of limber tail within 3 years. She was swimming in our pool. I know the temp was not a factor, but over doing it must have brought this on. The water temp is 90 degrees...we are in FL. I can see it is very painful. Rimadyl for a few days works well.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on May 30, 2012:
Please, please, please, do not give ibuprofen to dogs! It is toxic!
Maggie on May 28, 2012:
My dog has this problem today and has had it before She went swimming yesterday for a long time, diving into the pool for a tennis ball over and over. I've tried to explain to my husband when she needs to be cut off despite the intense amount of energy she still has for it after an hour or 2. She doesn't know what's best for her, but i do. It's happened before. The following day after swimming her tail that is almost always all the way up is down and looks different. The thing most bothersome is she can't quite sit right or get comfortable. Laying one way and constantly changing positions. I believe last time it lasted for about a day so i'm really hoping she's feeling her normal self by tomorrow. I have given her half and ibuprofen early this morning and again late afternoon. I can't tell if it helps her or not pain wise but i hope it's atleast beneficial for the anti-flamatory. After reading some things it seems to be somewhat common after swimming which is a relief that we can for sure know it's due to that. I will just have to be much more strict from now on about how long she plays for and taking it easy with her. Thank you to everyone for sharing their stories. My advice is among others with just trying to keep them rested if it does not seem incredibly severe you may save a trip to the vet's office. If it is severe or it lasts longer than 24-48 hrs than they should see the vet.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on May 23, 2012:
I hope so, if it is this condition is gets better in a few days, best wishes!
Jay on May 23, 2012:
I'm happy I found this website..I was very worried about my 8 year old chocolate lab. He woke up this morning not himself at all..Was very slow and lethargic, not interested in a morning walk and when I gave him a pat on the behind, he yelped. He went swimming twice this past weekend. I'm hoping he is feeling a bit better tomorrow morning :)
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on March 22, 2012:
Well, hang in there! no pun intended! If it doesn't get better though have her see the vet, best wishes for a speedy recovery!
Tammy on March 22, 2012:
Just the information I was looking for:) My shitzsu just stopped wagging her tail a couple of days ago. She does not have any pain , her tail just hangs there. Hopefully it will return to normal
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on March 04, 2012:
Happy to hear the hub was helpful to, yes, let me know if the limber tail gets better, best wishes!
Michelle on March 04, 2012:
Alexandry, I am so thankful for your hub. My son gave our 3yo Black Lab, Emma Grace, a bath outside a couple of days ago after she had been playing outside, running and fetching for approx. an hour. The temp. was in the low 50 degree range,so it wasn't extremely cold. However, the water from the faucet was much colder than what Emma is used to with inside baths. We did not notice her tail drooping until the next morning. When talking with my son about it, he did admit that he did not dry her off immediately after bathing, and they remained outside for a short time after the bath. He did not towel dry her once inside, because she was no longer dripping wet. He also admitted that during the bath she had tried to run away and he grabbed her by the tail to keep her from running away. I told him NEVER to hold or pull her by the tail again,and I pray that his restraining her by her tail, even so briefly, did not do irreverable nerve damage. I thoroughly examined her tail, and it does not appear to be broken, and suprisingly she does not appear to be in any pain. She does not whine or show any indication that it hurts with palpitation or moving, and if it is swollen, it is a very little bit. It is hanging as you described, standing straight out for approx. 3" past the root and then hanging flaccidly. She can wag, but not as vigorously as before. She is a very happy energetic lab with a long curled-up tail that is generally rapidly wagging most of the time. Friends and family joke about how she hits her strong tail against everything near, when she's excited...hitting against our legs feels like your getting a beating with a whip. I sure hope to see that beautiful tail curled up and wagging again very soon. It's so much a part of her happy personality. It's only been a couple of days, but it makes me sad to think about it not getting better. I am restricting her to brief outside potty breaks, keeeping her resting and warm, and giving Rimadyl twice a day, starting this morning, after reading the posting on your hub from fellow dog owners. Hopefully, this has saved us a visit to the vet, as I have spent thousands on her with bilateral ACL repairs in hind legs last year. Again thanks so much for the info. and I'll keep you informed of her progress. Good Luck to everyone else experiencing this unfortunate syndrome. Best Wishes!!
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on February 26, 2012:
Great to hear, thanks for the update, if it was limber tail it should get better in a few days. I agree, over breeding is making dogs weaker and weaker, sometimes I think all purebred dogs should be put on an island where they will breed and finally yield a very strong and healthy dog, natural selection is much better than human selection! best wishes!
Kunal on February 26, 2012:
The vet my dad went to also said much the same thing and is following a similar line of treatment which was adopted for Blaze's limber tail. Vets in India feel that most highly pedigreed dogs are developing all sorts of previously unheard of problems owing to inbreeding. This may be a universal issue, but even our Army dogs (mostly labs) are more fragile than before. Anyway, Pasha seems to be a bit better - my dad took him for a short walk in the evening.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on February 25, 2012:
What was the vet's diagnosis? Limber tail mostly affects primarily the tail, what you describe sounds more like something affecting the nervous system.
Kunal on February 25, 2012:
Blaze's brother (same litter) is with my father. This morning his back legs seem to have folded up and he's toppling over. Pasha and Blaze will be 3 yrs old in April.My dad is in another town so I haven't seen Pasha yet. My vet says its possible that what happened to Blaze's tail nerves is what is happening to Pasha,s legs. We're just moving from the cold towards a moderate climate in India. How common is a thing like this? Besides anti-inflamatory and neorobeon for the nerves, what else should we do? Thanks
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on February 19, 2012:
Good to hear Blaze is feeling better! Best wishes and kind regards.
kunal on February 19, 2012:
The anti-inflamatory is an oral veterinary suspension which according to our vet is fairly mild. Today he gets the last dose of 3.5 ml. In India it goes by the name of Melonex.
Blaze's tail is more or less back to being a straight line. If it's still a bit sore, he certainly isn't showing any signs of discomfort.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on February 18, 2012:
Happy to hear he is doing much better! Just a side note for others reading- and I know most likely the one you are giving is by prescription-: over the counter anti-inflammatory drugs such as Tylenol and Ibuprofen are dangerous to dogs, only aspirin is "safe" in dogs when given in the right dosage and short-term.
Kunal on February 18, 2012:
48 hours after the first signs followed by acute discomfort, Blaze is almost 80 per cent back to normal! I'm keeping him on an oral anti-inflamatory syrup and will keep the neurobeon going for a week perhaps.
Thanks ever so much.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on February 17, 2012:
Keeping fingers crossed for a speedy recovery, best wishes and thank for the update!
Kunal on February 17, 2012:
Marginal improvement. Trouble is his insane fondness for people. Despite the pain, he still wags it, then contorts to look at it up close! I always thought tail wagging was an uncontrolled reaction.
Anyway, Alexadry, your hub sure calmed us all. Even the vet had limited experience of this condition. I'm hoping he has a fairly calm night. Thanks.
Kunal on February 17, 2012:
Yes, I took him to the vet. She gave Blaze an anti-inflatory shot and another of nuerobeon. She also bandaged it, as the pain seems to be at a spot 3 to 4 inches from the base. He is still uncomfortable but getting used to a 'stiff and lean tail.
BTW, the vet advised against fermentation. I have my finger's crossed. He's sleeping like a baby next to my feet. Bandaging has helped.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on February 17, 2012:
Is he still wagging it? Many dogs keep the painful limp tail between their legs, sounds like you have a tough guy that cannot keep his happiness at bay!
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on February 17, 2012:
Yes, a cold bath may cause this, if he was OK prior to that and that same evening he got a limp tail that is the most likely cause. I have seen friends dogs get it from giving their dogs a bath and putting them in their crate only to open the cage hours later with their dog with a limp tail.
kunal on February 16, 2012:
Gave Blaze a cold water bath. Poor chap was shiverring and even cried out once, which was strange because he's nuts about water. By the evening he had all the symptoms described above. How to keep him from wagging that tail is going to be the big challenge.
Carlos on February 16, 2012:
There is a lot of relief that comes after reading this article.I'm not sure if read this correctly but could an outdoor bath be the reason for this? Jude got a bath in 65 degrees weather and I didn't do the best job drying him out. I can't think of anything else different and I believe this is the only thing out of his routine. Did I read these factors could also trigger limber tail syndrome?
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on February 12, 2012:
If you are concerned see your vet, but from your description it does sounds like limber tail syndrome. Of course, there is no way to tell for sure without having him seen, so only assumptions can be made, best wishes!
sarah on February 12, 2012:
my lab went swimming in the sea yesturday and mad run along the beach for an hour, last nite he was whining on the sofa and his tail is limp he keeps licking near his bottom, he doesn't seem to mind me toching him and hes stopped whining, hes full of spring and as lively as ever except his tail is hanging down, im guessing this is limp tail??? my vets charge 40 pounds just to see him before he has any treatment, he seems fine hes eating and drinking and playing just with a limp tail will this right itself?? id hate to think im ignoring a severe problem
Susan Hollister on January 12, 2012:
This site saved us a visit to the vet and a lot of money. After our beagle mix had a bath, her tail did this exactly to the "t". With a few days rest and some baby aspirin, she healed with 72 hours. Thanks!
Mark on January 07, 2012:
Took roxy, my 10month old lab tho the beach today, after a good swim, she seemed fine, but then started crying, and whimpering, I noticed the absence of tail movement, I'm sure she has limber tail..the water was cold, and I did let her over do it a bit.feeling a bit guilty now.
Thanks for the helpful information..was starting to worrie.
DEBRA PARKER on November 01, 2011:
my jack russell tail just flopped last night,wont let anyone touch him,hes 8 yrs old,hasn't had bath or been swimming but my 13 year old son got back the night before after being away for a week,dogs tail wagged alot before this happened
d dixon on October 18, 2011:
I washed my dog after a really big run. She swam in ditch water and smelled. I washed her and she got limp tail.
It looks a little better today she is lifting it up some.
But my vet recommended pure canned pumpkin to add fiber in her diet. Not the pumpkin pis mix but the 100% pure pumpkin. She does like it...
Cody on October 10, 2011:
thank you for this website. this was very helpful and reassuring. my owners want my beautiful Golden Retriever tail back. I can't wait to knock drinks off the table again!
Knightmare on August 12, 2011:
My Mom's had dog had it a couple years ago after a bath. You'd have thought the dog was dying the way Mom was acting when Missy "cried" trying to wag her tail. Cleared on up it's own after couple of days.
LabLover on July 17, 2011:
Dogs do not die of limber tail ignore those two people who posted that....sadistic people who I'm sure do not and have not ever had a pet. Sheesh!
Marisol on July 11, 2011:
Thank you sooooo much for taking the time to write this very useful article, I'm getting him a hot pack right now :)
Phoenix's Mom from Nova Scotia on July 07, 2011:
Interesting...Phoenix's tail went limp after a hot day hiking to the lake. Heat, more than usual excerise, water-although he is beagle/lab, he refuses to swim but will get in the water up to his belly. This has happened before, but I can't remember the cercumstances. He's feeling better now, glad it's nothing to serious.
Alicia on July 05, 2011:
Thank You Soooo Much. I was so worried!!!
RandomThoughts... from Washington on July 04, 2011:
Interesting, I had no idea this even existed. I love learning new things everyday. And being a big breed dog lover, I will now have this information just incase. Thanks...Useful
Molly on June 27, 2011:
My basset hound, Twix, has had limber tail twice - both times while swimming, and both times after a day of lots of activity. Each time, it has first presented with a crooked tail where her tail goes sideways in the middle a bit (like a crimp) and then an hour or so later, it goes completely limp. Last time, it only took 2 or 3 days for it to heal. We're on day 3 this time and have seen little improvement, so I'm guessing we still have a few more days of a pathetic little pup on our hands.
giddey& rezzy on January 30, 2011:
my dog rezzy an american Staffordshire aka (Pitt bull) just got limp tail for the second time in his life the first time was when we went hiking near the river and him being "aqua dog" couldn't resist diving in. it was chilly so i immediately i took him back to the car and dried him off... despite the effort he still got limp tail within a few hours. it scared the crap out of me. i googled it immediately and called a vet to double check. tonight in the middled of winer we visited a friend and rezzy played with his rotty friend for hours we brought them in every so often but they started to play in the house so we let them out again and now my poor rezzy is whining in pain with his tail clamped tight to his body. like before i felt around for anything that might be broken and found nothing. so from two times experience i can say a warm pack helps if you can keep you dog relaxed and laying down. with the pain lots of recoup time ( limit running, jumping and excessive playing) that does not mean you have to crate your dog up till it heals just try to get them to rest more. some anti inflammatory meds help a great deal if its painful for your dog. the first time his limp tail lasted for 3 days im hoping we will be as lucky this time too. im told it can last over 2 weeks. though google is great for getting info please for your dogs safety always atleast call and check with a vet to be sure your doing the right thing for your pet.
Anitajog on January 30, 2011:
This blog was very helpful. After returning home from an eight day trip and having a friend pick my dog up from the kennel prior to getting home I found my dogs tail looking funny. He is a pit mix (thinking with lab). He is a big, big tail wagger when excited. He greeted me with his tail sticking out about 3 inches and then hanging down. It seem a little swollen at the 3". The description of limber tail fit his symptoms. I think he over used it at the kennel with all the excitement of the other dogs or when my friend picked him up. I waited a week and sure enough it healed and curves back up again.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on January 02, 2011:
I really feel for you.. being a lab you really must love swimming and how to resist jumping into a tempting lake? What can I say.. don't over do it.. if you have not been out for some time try to not over-exert yourself.. tell your owner to gradually work you and condition your body gradually before going on an outing...
Also tell your owner to very thoroughly dry the base of your tail AND the entire croup and upper thighs area after getting wet.This should help; You should also not be crated after getting wet. Best wishes and have fun!
Sandy on January 01, 2011:
This is the second time I have had a "limp tail." The first was after lake swimming and a year later after an outdoor bath in 50-degree weather. I am a 3-year-old lab and fairly active on a daily basis. Since this has happened twice and my breed is prone to this probem, what can I do to prevent reoccurance? Any suggestions?
Lindsay on December 29, 2010:
Thanks so much for this article. My dogs are like my children so I was super nervous when my dogs tail went limp within the hour. There was no excessive play, jumping or falling off anything so I was clueless. Just gave her a warm bath yesterday and of course she had to potty when she wasn't completely dry and its freezing! I am probably the reason this happened!! :*-(
Ryan G on December 08, 2010:
Thank god for google, I would've wasted money taking my dog into the vet. I called 3 vet offices and no one had ever heard of it. Took her out hunting and it was 10 degrees out and I'm sure the swims in the river didn't help her cause! It's pretty hilarious having a retriever that is constantly wagging her tail and then it is just limp...she looks pretty pathetic without her weapon tail!
Melissa on October 27, 2010:
I came home from work last night to discover my poor pups tail looked like a noodle hanging off of her. Her tail normally stands strait up and she is constantly wagging it... :( You could tell she was trying to wag her tail last night, but not being very successful at it. I almost took her to the vet but found an article on Limber tail syndrom. It said an anti flammatory is usually helpful so I gave her a small dose of rimadyl and her tail is standing this morning and she is getting better at wagging it.... Thank goodness I found the article. The technician I spoke with was clueless as to what could be wrong with my baby girl.
Amy on September 14, 2010:
omg these symptoms describe my Angus to a T I had a party at my house Sunday Angus was outside pretty much for 4 hrs straight playing with the kids, chasing the quad along the fence. Then yesterday woke up with a limp tail(which I didn't realize till lastnight), hard time sitting, didn't want me to touch his tail at all even yiped when I touched it. So glad I researched this, gonna try the heat packs tonight and try to keep him calm (that'll be a chore) he loves to play!!! Gonna keep my eye on it!!!
LabMama on September 07, 2010:
This page saved me!! I am so guilty of taking my dog to the vet for everything and leaving with an "it'll heal on it's own" and a large bill. So when my dogs tail went limp, but everything else about him was fine I decided to google instead of rushing to the vet.This page describes my lab, and her issue, to a T and after a few days of letting it rest, he's already doing better,
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on September 03, 2010:
I think seeing the vet is always the best option, at times this condition is painful and pain meds may be necessary. I have never heard death due to this condition,all I can think of are cases of ''death of the tissue and nerve damage'' as a complication or some other condition that may have mimicked limber tail but was something much worse..
bren on September 02, 2010:
i have a 2 year old lab and he has woken up with this problem ! All systems are as you have said but worried now as a few people said that there poor dogs died of this ????? should i take him to the vets or see how he goes ....
estrela on August 25, 2010:
there are several reasons for a tail to look weird or being held in a strange way. symptoms should be watched carefully and if there's not an absolute clear reason why the dog could suffer of a "COLD TAIL SYNDROME" (like over exercising, cold water etc.) an anal sack infection, sliped discs, fracture of tail, nerve inflamation or muscular disease could be the reasons - in order to avoid chronic health problems it is advised not to wait for too long to consult an experienced vet in order to save a couple of $$$. besides that, homephatic globules of arnica act anti inflamatory and are always worth a try...
chan on August 18, 2010:
ty so much for this site being here. my year and a half puppy Bazil was part beagle spent the day at my bf moms house playing in the pool with the kids and later that night i noticed his tail limp. i thought he'd broken it somehow, maybe someone closed the door on it or one of the kids might of pulled it but they reassured me nothing like that had happened and then i found this site and it all fit. i kept putting heating packs on his tail and had him rest and now its better. wagging and happy like he usually is
JoAnne on August 02, 2010:
My adopted dog is I believe a terrier mix but she looks just like an Icelandic sheepdog.
I woke up this morning to find my girls tail looking as if she had been biting it all night long and yelping if I dared touch it at the base. The night before she was fine.
She has all the symptoms that are on this site. I am watching her carefully, hoping she has a speedy recovery. So glad I found this site!
Lyn on May 25, 2010:
Are you sure it was the same syndrome? What exactly caused the deaths?
The only time I have heard of anything like this is a dog who BROKE his tail and ended up with a bone infection and died from the infection.
Richelle on April 26, 2010:
DIED? from limber tail syndrome?
rgreenaz from flagstaff,az on April 01, 2010:
Was searching for "Dogs affected by limber tail syndrome
", saw your Dogs affected by limber tail syndrome
in hubpage. Great info on dogs and their problems
gary white on March 06, 2010:
my dog died of it to i miss my dog
bob jerald on March 06, 2010:
i loved my dog until it died of limp tail it was a lab
i love u harley
mitchell wiliams on March 06, 2010:
thankyou i never new this my dog is better now
Cathy on February 19, 2010:
Thanks for your comments, iwasthinking.I'll check the anal sacs possibility with our vet. My dog's tail is still limp, but she is much happier within herself.
iwasthinking on February 19, 2010:
Don't know if this helps at all. I'm not trained medically to comment, but our dog kept her tail tucked in and we realized her anal sacs needed to be treated by a vet to remove matter that naturally collects there. A few minutes with the vet solved our dog's 'limp tail' -- but I don't know if that's at all the same as what you're describing.
Cathy on February 18, 2010:
Does anyone know if faecal and urinary incontinence can be a result of limp tail symdrome? My Boxer appears to have had limp tail syndrome in the past after swimming. This time she did not swim much, but stood in the cold water for several minutes watching my son surf. This time, not only is her tail limp (5 days so far), but she has also become incontinent and she is only 3 years old! I just hope she recovers fully, and of course now wish I could turn back time and not allow her to stand in cold sea water.
Enelle Lamb from Canada's 'California' on January 28, 2010:
very interesting hub :D so glad I read it!
jenny on November 21, 2009:
thanks a million i was so worried about my little sophie
Scott Hunter from North Carolina on October 16, 2009:
Good to know. Thanks so much!
Eternal Evolution from kentucky on April 27, 2009:
Interesting, never knew about this problem.
There are various way of treating balding in dogs. The specific cause of alopecia will have to be treated in order to stop the balding.
Simple solutions can easily get rid of the problem.
For example, provide soft bedding for your dog, especially the old and heavy ones. This will prevent the patches of hair loss on elbows and hocks when laying down. Fabric-covered foam pads and mattresses are the best and can help relieve the pressure on the bony parts.
If pressure sores are infected, see a veterinarian to prescribe medication to heal the areas and prevent the infection from spreading.
Limber Tail Syndrome
Also referred to as broken tail, cold water tail, sprung tail or broken wag, limber tail syndrome is a common condition in sporting dogs. These are Foxhounds, English Pointers, Beagles, Labrador Retrievers, Setters, and Golden Retrievers. Although these are the most susceptible, any dog with an undocked tail can experience the syndrome.
Limber tail occurs when a dog’s tail hangs down from the base or when it is held horizontally for a few inches before dropping down. In some cases, the hair at the base of the affected tail may stand out.
The sudden onset of the condition is usually painful. It could occur after a dog comes from swimming, hunting or after a cold water bath. It could also occur after a long day of activity that involves a magnificent amount of tail action.
Limber Tail Syndrome Symptoms
The limber tail syndrome can manifest in one of the various symptoms. The most obvious one is a limp tail. Others include:
- The tail may stick out a couple inches before drooping
- Swelling which causes the hairs at the base of the tail to be raised
- Pain upon palpitation of the tail.
- Difficulty sitting or lying down depending on severity and pain inflicted
- Reduced or no tail wagging due to the soreness
Whichever position the tail adopts is maintained even when they are moving around. This is unlike when dogs voluntarily hold the tail in a flaccid position. Where this is the case, the tail comes back to life immediately the dog starts moving.
Though unlikely, it is possible for other changes to be observed before or after limber tail syndrome occurs. These include postural abnormalities, fecal and urine incontinence.
Why is my dog’s tail limp?
Q: Cyrus, my 5-year-old Labrador retriever, roughhoused with a younger dog all afternoon. Tonight, his tail is limp, and he can't move it. I think it hurts, because he walks away when I touch it. Did he break his tail when he was playing? What should I do?
A: Whenever Cyrus has a problem, make an appointment to have his veterinarian check him. Because he's in pain, he needs to be seen immediately.
It sounds like Cyrus may have sprained or strained the muscles, tendons and ligaments that support his tail and make it wag. The condition has many names: limber tail, limp tail, dead tail, swimmer's tail and cold tail.
This disorder most often appears suddenly as a flaccid tail that either hangs straight down or is held out a few inches and then hangs down. Often the base of the tail is tender, and it may be swollen. Usually the dog is lethargic from the pain.
The condition usually occurs in sporting and working breeds after a hard workout, prolonged swimming, extended time in the crate or exposure to cold, wet weather. Treatment consists of rest and an anti-inflammatory pain reliever. Recovery usually occurs within a few days to a week.
Still, it's important to have your veterinarian examine Cyrus to be sure his tail injury isn't something more serious and to prescribe treatment to speed his recovery.
Get your dog in shape before going out hunting or any other strenuous activity. If your dog already had an episode of broken tail syndrome, try to recall exactly what may have brought it on. Was your Lab swimming in icy water? You'd hate to keep a water-loving Lab out of a pond or lake, but perhaps it's not a good idea to let him swim in cold weather. Of course, that's not practical if you use your dog for hunting. Since it could be a one-time problem, think twice before retiring your sporting Lab unless broken tail syndrome recurs because of hunting conditions. Traveling in a crate for several hours, as often occurs with hunting or competition dogs, may also trigger broken tail syndrome.
What's Up With My Dog's Tail?
A tail between the legs doesn’t always mean a dog has hurt feelings. If you notice that your dog’s tail is unusually limp or flaccid, he or she might have a condition known as limber tail.
Limber tail – also known as “cold water tail” or “broken wag”— is a condition thought to be caused by overexertion, exposure to cold weather, swimming in cold water, or excessive exercise without proper physical conditioning. Other possible causes include spending too much time in a crate (especially one that is too small) and climate changes.
While any dog can be affected by limber tail, there are some breeds that are more susceptible than others (particularly sporting or hunting dogs):
- Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers
- English Setters
- English Pointers
Common symptoms of limber tail are obvious. Your dog’s tail will be limp, and he or she will not wag it as usual. Sometimes the tail will extend a few inches from your dog’s body and then drop flaccidly. In addition, limber tail is usually accompanied by pain and swelling, especially at the base of the tail.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Limber tail can usually be diagnosed by a simple physical examination. Your veterinarian may also order x-rays to rule out fractures or other injuries.
Treatment for limber tail is very straightforward, and generally consists of the following:
- Warm packs at the base of the tail to reduce pain
- Anti-inflammatory drugs recommended by your veterinarian. It is important to keep in mind that many over-the-counter drugs intended for humans are not safe for pets.
In most cases, a dog’s tail will go back to normal within a relatively short amount of time. It is important to consult your veterinarian with any concerns as you monitor your dog’s recovery.
Because too much physical activity can induce limber tail, it is important to gradually introduce your dog to exercise rather than pushing your dog too hard after prolonged periods of relatively low activity. It is also important to make sure that your dog’s crate is the right size and that he or she is not confined for too long. To learn more about crates and your dog, be sure to read our article on crate training.
If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian – they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.
See more about conditions related to limber tail