Limber Tail Syndrome Symptoms, Causes, Treatment, Cure and Prevention

Limber tail syndrome

The tail is made up of mobile vertebrae enclosed by versatile muscles. This structure makes it possible for the dog to move the tail from side to side, lift it or draw it down between the legs. When the tail is hurt, this is not possible. A limp, motionless and painful tail; these are the basic terms used to describe the limber tail syndrome in dogs. The condition is most common in working dogs and can make it hard for a dog to sit or lie down. Although its severity varies, the condition resolves on its own after a few days. This post is a guide on the symptoms, treatment, cure, and prevention of the condition.

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.

Limber Tail Syndrome Causes

Why is my dog’s tail limp? This is a common question among dog owners. This could be due to the fact that most dogs suffer from the opposite: a happy tail syndrome whereby they wag their tails to a point of harming themselves.

The exact cause of limber tail syndrome in dogs is unknown. However, studies have linked the condition to injury in the tail muscles. The tail is used for balance and since the affected muscles are those responsible for holding it up or moving the tail side by side, they get overused resulting in a limber tail. There are a number of situations that could lead to this. These are:


A dog that is subjected to excessive physical activity can suffer a limp tail. A dog that goes out to a weekend of hunting may exhibit symptoms of limber tail syndrome come to the end of the hunting episode. This is as a result of the tail muscles getting overworked. It is for the same reason a limp tail may occur after a dog comes from swimming.


Dogs that are subjected to prolonged confinement may suffer the condition as well. This is in such situations where the dog is being transported over long distance in a crate. If not given reasonable breaks from the crate through the journey, they may arrive at their destination with a limp tail.

Limber Tail Syndrome Treatment and Cure

Limber tail in dogs is neither life-threatening nor life-altering in the long term. It will only cause pain and discomfort for a few days after which the tail’s normal function is restored.

When a dog suffers limber tail syndrome, its onset is acute as opposed to the tail getting progressively weaker. The tail suffers acute inflammation and the dog tail goes limp without warning. It also brings along pain. However, within a course of three to four days, the dog will recover. He will usually have his tail going back to normal within four to seven days.

Recurrence of the condition is not common and once your dog experiences it there is a likelihood they will never experience it again.  However, in case your dog keeps getting the condition, identify the triggers and limit participation in activities that could cause it. This should be easy to do as limber tail syndrome manifests within hours of engaging in the triggering event.

If the recurrence is not managed, it could cause long-term injury on the tail muscles. When this happens, it becomes hard for the dog to ever raise their tail. The significant buildup of scar tissue and loss of muscle fibers makes it impossible for the tail to resume normal functioning.

To treat the symptoms, offer non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to help manage muscle pain and the soreness associated with limber tail syndrome. Ice packs could also help manage associated pain and swelling.

Limp Tail in Dogs Prevention

To prevent the condition, it is advisable that dog handlers become aware of the risk factors involved. Once these have been identified, avoid them. Ease your dog off intense activity so they can improve and recover fully. When it’s offseason for sporting or hunting dogs, prevent your dog from being a potato coach as when this happens, it is likely that when they plunge back into training and activity they will experience limber tail. Avoid their swimming in cold water especially when they are not at their optimum performance. When going on long trips, let the dog out of the crate and have him stretch every few hours.


It is important to tell the condition apart since it could be confused with other diseases affecting the tail. These include neurological disorders, infection on the tail and cancer along the vertebrae or spine. If you are not certain about what is ailing your dog, see your veterinarian.


  • A Lesson in Limber Tail
  • Getting a handle on Limber Tail
  • Cold Tail

1 Comment

  1. My dog suffered trauma when he was thrown to the car floor when I braked suddenly. His rail seems painful and it droops. What should I do?sonjta

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