A tail without a wag

Date: 

Saturday, October 15, 2016 (All day)

By Jennifer Howse

Just when you might have thought you’d heard it all, we are pleased to have this month’s contributor, Dr. Jennifer Howse, alert us to a syndrome that is prevalent in our hunting breeds. Dr. Howse is a member of CVRC’s highly respected Emergency and Critical Care Department.

What’s a day outside without your faithful companion? Especially in the Lowcountry, our dogs get a lot of time enjoying the water. Sometimes though, this fun can incite a strange injury that can appear as if your dog’s tail is suddenly broken. Acute caudal myopathy, also known as “swimmers tail,” “limber tail,” “cold water tail” or “broken wag,” is most commonly seen in retrievers, pointers and hunting dogs. In this painful syndrome, the tail is noted to hang down from the base or is held horizontal for a few inches and then drops down. It’s a specific injury to the tail muscles but the tailbones are not physically broken, as it may appear. Since dogs use their tail for balance, the affected muscles are those keeping the tail moving or holding it up; these muscles basically undergo a painful sprain and are left appearing limp. The exact cause is not fully understood but the key risk factors appear to be overexertion and/or exposure to very cold water or cold weather. Sudden bouts of prolonged exercise, especially after long periods of rest, are potential triggers. Sporting dogs are very prone to this, especially at the start of a season when the dog may not be used to a large amount of exercise. The dog may not show symptoms immediately following activity but may wake up the next day restless, unwilling to sit, unwilling to posture to eliminate and/or seemingly painful at the tail base with a limp tail that is unable to wag.

Swimmer’s tail is confirmed by physical exam by your veterinarian. The goal is to locate the discomfort and rule out any other problems that might explain the symptoms. Other conditions that can look similar to swimmer’s tail are a true tail fracture, lower back pain from interveterbral disc disease or osteoarthritis, infection/inflammation of the anal glands or prostate disease. Therefore it is important to have your pet evaluated by a veterinarian and radiographs may be recommended. The good news is, limber tail is self-limiting and not life threatening. Recovery is typically seen in a couple days but can take up to a week. Recommended treatment is rest and often mild pain medications will be prescribed to ease your dog’s soreness — most commonly an anti-inflammatory medication. It is important to only administer anti-inflammatory medication prescribed by your veterinarian, as over the counter anti-inflammatory drugs for humans are toxic and potentially fatal to dogs. Swimmers tail may or may not occur again but the best way to prevent this condition is to gradually introduce your dog to vigorous activity over time. This way. Your dog will be able to fully enjoying the activities that feed their doggy souls!