Tail tale has happy ending

Last week I got a text from my niece, Lauren, who lives in Atlanta with her husband, Dan, and their two adorable blonde Labs, Sunny and Addie.

“Have you ever heard of limber tail syndrome, Aunt Karin?” I read out loud to myself.

I hadn’t heard of it, never mind knew what it was. “Timber tail?” I asked in my return text.

Lauren, master of the rapid response, replied that she hadn’t heard the term either. But she said 1-year-old pup Addie had it.

After checking online, I learned limber tail is used to describe a condition officially known as acute caudal myopathy.

According to Rover.com, the ailment “results in a dog’s tail hanging limp, making it difficult and sometimes painful for dogs to move.”

It’s also called swimmer’s tail, water tail and cold tail, names that offer clues to possible causes. The disorder affects the muscles at the base of a dog’s tail, causing it to dangle limply between the hind legs.

The most notable sign is that your dog’s tail will be unable to wag or move as normal. Lauren noticed Addie was having issues with her tail on the last day of their Florida summer vacation. That morning, Addie went outside to do her morning business and had a hard time peeing because of her dangling tail.

Writes Hannah Hollinger at wagwalking.com, “This syndrome is caused by pain and swelling at the base of the tail, either due to overwork or stress injuries. It is believed that the pain and swelling of this condition is caused partially due to restricted blood flow to the muscles that control the tail.”

Other signs include having trouble walking or standing (since a dog’s tail can be useful for balancing), unwillingness to go outdoors or restlessness when trying to lie down or snuggle with the family. Addie was restless in the car on their trip home but Lauren wasn’t sure if it was due to her usual travel fidgetiness or her sore tail.

Some dogs will whimper or whine due to the pain. Addie didn’t like Lauren touching her tail or other dogs going near that area.

Limber tail, it turns out, can be caused by a variety of circumstances, such as: bathing in cold water; cold and wet weather; hunting; and long‑term confinement in small spaces like travel crates and overexertion. Dogs from the working or sporting groups are more likely to experience this issue.

Specific to Labs, including Lauren’s and our family’s equally adorable Teddy, Pippa Mattinson writes at thelabradorsite.com, “The pain and loss of movement in the tail is now thought to be caused by injury to the tail muscles, typically brought on by exercise, particularly in cold conditions. Current thinking is that it may be more likely to occur in dogs which are exercised hard when somewhat out of condition.

“The key to recovery is rest. Your vet will probably advise this together with anti‑inflammatory pain killers. Most dogs recover from the symptoms within a few days, though it can take a week or more for full recovery.”

According to Addie’s vet, she probably was swimming more with her tail instead of kicking with her back legs, thus causing a muscle cramp. With rest, the pup was back to her usual tail-wagging self in a couple of days.


Dog breeds prone to limber tail, although any dog can experience it:

American Water Spaniel

Basset Hound


Brittany Spaniel

Chesapeake Bay Retriever

English Pointer

English Setter

Flat‑coated Retriever


German Shorthaired Pointer

Golden Retriever

Irish Setter

Labrador Retriever

Springer Spaniel

SOURCE: wagwalking.com/care

Karin Spicer is a member of The Dog Writers Association of America. She lives in Greene County with her family and two furry pets who inspire her. She can be reached at spicerkarin@gmail.com.

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