One of the most distinctive features of man’s best friend is their relentlessly waggy tails. It’s a symbol of their happiness and there’s nothing quite like being met with a smiling, sloppy kiss and a fluffy wagging tail when you walk in through the door after a hard day’s work. Not only are tails the signaller of a dog’s good mood, but they are also important for balance and communication with other dogs.
You might not have realized, but your precious pooch can actually break their beautiful tails, just as we can break our leg, arm or even big toe! But how does this occur, how can you prevent it and most importantly, how can you treat it, if the worst should happen?
Limber Tail Syndrome vs. A Broken Tail
If your pooch has fractured their tail, it shouldn’t be difficult to notice that something is wrong. For starters, they won’t be so eager to wag it as usual and will perhaps even whimper or cry in pain. If the tails look to be bent or swollen and they are struggling to wag it, it is likely that a broken bone is the culprit. However, there is another condition that you should be aware that many dog owners often mistake for a broken tail, and that is Limber Tail Syndrome.
Limber Tail syndrome, also known as a limp tail, is an ailment that typically affects working dog breeds such as Pointers or Setters, although it can be found in all breeds. As the name suggests, the tail will sit limp and the dog will not be able to wag it as normal. It may also be held horizontally and then begin to drop as time goes on. This is the result of a degenerative change to the intervertebral disk spaces.
If you suspect your pet may be suffering from this syndrome, be sure to book an appointment with the vet as soon a possible. Early diagnosis is important, as in milder cases, this can be treated quite easily with anti-inflammatory medicines. However, in most cases, your dog will likely require surgical treatment. Some common causes of Limber Tail Syndrome include infections, anus or anal gland issues, cancer, neurological disorder, bite wounds, lacerations and general weakness. Always consult a veterinarian as the problem could go far further than a mere limp tail, be sure to rule out any serious illnesses or conditions.
How Does a Dog Break their Tail?
A broken tail is actually fairly common and can happen due to a number of different reasons. It is most common in larger breeds such a Labradors due to the size of their long tails. Your doggy can suffer from ‘tail wag trauma’ by knocking their tails into objects repeatedly. Labradors are also notoriously clumsy and docile, so it’s not hard to see how they might accidentally bang their poor tails off something hard!
Below are some the most common injuries to a dog’s tail:
This is the by first most common injury your dog’s tail can suffer from. Luckily, some fractures will heal on their own, but if the break occurs at the base of the tail, surgery will be needed. So how does a fracture happen? Well, there are a number of ways a dog can break their tail, including trapping it in a door, getting it stepped on and even being hit by a car. Another cause of a broken tail could be an unfortunate fall. For example, if your dog leaps out of the car, excited for their walk or bound off the sofa in a rush for dinner and falls awkwardly, they could land on their tails and potentially suffer from a fracture.
There are ways to set it yourself, however, it is always best to visit the vet’s office, you never know how serious a break can be.
Nerve Damage or Avulsion Injury
These kinds of injuries occur when a dog’s tail is pulled extremely hard. For example, if a dog is hit by a car, their tail may be forced into a usual position, possibly resulting in damage to both the muscles and nerves. It could even be caused by a child pulling on the family pet’s tail too hard, so they must always be discouraged not to do this and to play nicely with their dog.
If the damage is serious, the dog may not be able to move their tail at all and it could even affect their ability to urinate and defecate normally. In some cases, the nerve function will return, however they will still need to see the vet to monitor the issue and see how bad the damage is.
An abrasion occurs when a dog suffers from an injury that causes the skin and hair to scrape away from the tail. These will often bleed and can be incredibly painful and left untreated, could result in infection. If the abrasion is severe, the dog’s tail may even have to be shortened.
Happy Tail Trauma
This is a very bittersweet injury! This happens when a dog’s tail consistently and repeatedly bangs against a hard surface. This is most common in dog’s who have long, thin tails and have a happy and vivacious disposition such as Cavalier King Charles Spaniels and Golden Retrievers. Sadly, the dog beats their tail so fast against the tough surface that a bleeding ulcer develops at the tip of the tail, meaning the end will need to be amputated. Of course, we all want to keep our dog’s tails wagging happily, but it’s best to take care to keep them from getting in between narrow spaces.
All of these lead to one thing and one thing alone – a very unhappy doggo!
So, What are the Symptoms of a Broken Tail?
Recognising that your dog’s tail is broken should be fairly easy. The key is to be aware of what is normal for your dog and if anything changes or doesn’t seem quite right, a visit to the vet is necessary.
Here are some common symptoms that may mean your dog has broken their tail:
Unable to wag as normal
If you suspect they may have injured it, pay close attention to the way they are holding it and if they are able to wag. If it is indeed broken, they will only be able to partially wag, as they will not be able to move the part of the tail beyond the break. Other telltale signs are swelling, bleeding and appearing to be an odd shape or at an awkward angle.
Pierced and bleeding skin
If your poor pup has broken their wagger so badly that they’ve pierced the skin, be prepared for a lot of bleeding and painfulness. When punctured, a dog’s tail often bleeds profusely, so get a clean cloth to act as a makeshift bandage and take them to the vet’s immediately.
A change in gait
If you notice your dog is walking differently, particularly in their lower region, this could be a sign of a broken tail. They may be trying to ease the pain by spreading their back legs further apart so as not to disturb their sore tail. Any alteration in your dog’s gait should be investigated by a trained professional.
Licking and biting the tail
When a dog is in pain, they’ll often lick at the affected area in an attempt to soothe it. You may have experienced this when you’ve had a cut – your dog’s first instinct is to nuzzle and lick at the wound. They are just trying to help you! Unfortunately, this is certain to hinder the healing process, so if you notice your dog is paying close attention to their tail and biting at it, get them checked out as soon as possible.
Nasty smells from the tail
Have you smelt something rather unpleasant around the house recently and you just can’t work out where it is coming from? Your pooch’s tail might be the offender. Infection and injuries often emit foul smelling odours, and if your dog’s tail is stinky, this is a definite signal that something is not right. Get them to a vet as soon as possible to find out what the issue is. If they have broken their tail, the smell could be a sign of infection, so you’ll want to get this looked at once.
Guarding their tail
The last thing anyone wants when their pet in pain is for anyone to touch their sore areas, so if your dog is doing their best to keep everyone away from their tail, there could be a problem with it. Don’t be tempted to touch the tail too much as this will only make them more uncomfortable and frightened, just take them straight to the vets where they can be treated properly.
If your doggy has any patches where they have lost hair around their tail, they could have sustained an abrasion injury which as a result, might have caused a breakage in their tail. Look out for the tell-tale signs such as swelling and any blood around the areas of hair loss.
Changes to their Normal Tail Wagging
As their pet parents, we know our dog’s better than anyone. If you happen to notice that your usual cheerful, waggy fellow looks miserable and is refraining from wagging as much as they often do, this could be a sign that they’ve broken their tail. We should always look out for changes in our dog’s behaviour, as these often are masking serious, physical issues.
We all know that dogs tend to cry when they are in pain, however, if they seem to be whimpering for no apparent reason that you are aware of, the issue could be a broken tail. If you know your pet is not suffering from any other ailments that could be causing them to cry, they could very well have damaged their tail.
Regardless of whether the problem is a broken tail or not, if you’re perfectly house trained pup is suddenly peeing or pooping on the floor, alarm bells should be ringing. If the culprit is a broken tail, your dog might be too uncomfortable to urinate and defecate in their normal manner, or else the trauma and pain might be causing them to relieve themselves out of fear and shock.
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What Can I do to Help my Dog?
Many people wonder if they are able to fix their pooch’s tail themselves at home. The simple answer to this is: no, you should always take your injured dog to the vets, however, there are a few things you can do in the meantime to help aid recovery and hopefully, ease the pain. As mentioned, minor breaks will likely heal on their own in time if set properly, just like a finger or toe bone. Make sure they have a comfy, soft place to rest when they lie without putting any weight or strain on their tail.
Do keep in mind, if your dog has broken their tail at the base, you should not attempt to take care of this yourself. A break at the base could result in nerve damage, putting your pet at serious risk of permanent damage and of course, causes extreme agony. Vets will have access to proper anaesthetics and painkillers that will make the pain more bearable. If you want to help make your dog more comfortable, purchase a dog cone so that they cannot lick or bite their injury which could cause even more harm.
Preventing Broken Tails
If they are lucky and you are vigilant, your dog will hopefully never have to go through this traumatic experience. Most ways of preventing tail injuries are just common sense and being a good dog owner, however, accidents do happen. Take a look at our tips for preventing any breakage to your dog’s precious tail:
- Keep your dog on a lead in unfamiliar unsecured and potentially dangerous areas. Even if your dog is extremely well behaved off the lead, you don’t know what they might come across. In addition to this, you never know how other dogs will react to your pooch, so be wary of other animals in case they attempt to attack your pet.
- Take extra special care not to tread on your dog’s tail and take caution when moving chairs, tables, or other heavy furniture. That poor little tail doesn’t stand a chance against your brand new five-seater sofa!
- Teach young children to play safely and softly with your dog, ensuring that they do not pull their tail or roughhouse with them. This will not only prevent your dog from coming to harm but will also keep your child safe from the dormant aggression the family pet may still have inside when feeling threatened.
- Don’t allow your dog to jump from great heights. Not only could this damage their tail, but depending on how they fall, they could also sustain injuries in other places, such as their legs and even ribcage. If they jump out of the car in a hurry, their tail could also get caught in the door.
If your dog does break their tail, don’t worry, it can be treated and soon they’ll be back to their happy, tail-wagging selves. Be sure that you have a good insurance policy on your pup, as surgery can be quite expensive, but it’s all worth it to see that fluffy plume of fur wagging again!
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.
My dog got hit by a car and had to have her tail amputated. She still has her tail. She is on pain medication and a muscle relaxer. My concern is she won’t lie or sit down. I had to lift her last night and put her in bed. She did lie down but won’t lie down today to get some rest. She stands up all day. What should I do?