Pet Tips

Limber tail in dogs – Pet tip 140

Limber tail in dogs – Pet tip 140

Limber Tail Syndrome (AKA cold tail, dead tail, broken wag) is quite common among some breeds of hunting dogs, such as Labradors, Golden Retrievers, Pointers, Setters, and Beagles. It is a condition in which the tail becomes limp and sometimes painful after exertion, particularly during inclement weather, swimming, or in an under-conditioned dog. It is a condition well-known to hunting dog owners and trainers, but not commonly seen by veterinarians. The syndrome is characterized by the swelling of the muscles at the base of the tail (the wagging muscles, which are also used heavily during swimming when the tail may serve as a rudder). These muscles are bound to the tail by a tight ring of connective tissue. As the muscles swell and expand, the connective tissue begins to serve as a tourniquet – cutting off normal blood flow.

When increased pressure within a confined space results in reduced blood flow, it is known as a ‘compartment syndrome’. The reduced blood flow can potentially lead to muscle death and nerve damage in the affected extremity. Fortunately, limber tail is usually benign, and resolves on its own within a few days. It can, however, sometimes be quite painful for the dog, and occasionally leads to a permanently altered tail posture.

Some signs of limber-tail syndrome can include pacing and trying to lie down in many different spots, yelping when sitting down, wanting to go out to defecate many times, and straining to defecate. The actual tail will also usually be limp, hanging downwards or in an unusual position for the dog in question.

In general, hunting dogs are most at risk during the first few trips in cold water or foul weather, when their muscles lack conditioning from lounging about during the off-season. The risk of limber tail can be mitigated by conditioning dogs before a long day of exercise, and ensuring that they have a chance to rest afterwards – preferably somewhere warm and dry, with enough space to stretch out and alter position.

As with any muscle injury, the key to recovery is rest, rest, rest, and possibly a warm compress. In addition, NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) can provide pain relief and may shorten the recovery time. Dog-safe NSAIDs, such as those used for osteoarthritis, are available from veterinary clinics. In a healthy, adult dog with no known gastrointestinal problems, a low dosage of aspirin (contact your vet for exact dosage/possible reactions) may be sufficient for the short-term. Usually after a few days of rest, the tail will return back to normal. Due to the fact that symptoms of limber tail can mimic other medical problems, it is imperative that your dog be seen by a veterinarian.

By Jennifer Perret – Pets.ca writer

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