Medically Reviewed

Why Is My Dog’s Tail Hanging Down?

Joanna de Klerk
Reviewed by: Dr. Joanna de Klerk, BVetMed (hons) MScTAH
You're used to your dog wagging its tail all the time and suddenly - nothing? It's just hanging down? What does this mean? This is a question we get a lot so this article will give you an answer!

Why is my dog’s tail down? Dog owners as well as dog lovers love seeing happy dogs, wagging their tails.

After all, tail wagging is something that indicates that a dog is happy, and who doesn’t love seeing a happy dog?

The tail always reveals how a dog might be feeling at the moment. This is why many want to know what does it mean when a dog’s tail is down.

Before we continue know that the common belief that dogs only wag their tail when happy is actually wrong.

Yes, dogs will wag their tail to express their happiness and joy, but it can also communicate aggression or timidness. In some cases, it can be a sign of underlying issues.

Let’s take a closer look at this!

My Dog’s Tail Is Down – What Does It Mean?

In most cases, a dog’s tail down is a sign of submission or a sign that your dog is nervous.

However, a dog’s tail down doesn’t necessarily mean that your dog is nervous or submissive. If the tail is hanging down it can just mean that Fido is very relaxed!

Important: If the tail is tucked between the legs it’s not a sign of a satisfied dog.

It can signify anxiety but it can also be something less serious – nonetheless uncomfortable for your dog! It can mean that your dog is trying to avoid another dog who’s trying to sniff his butt or mount him!

However, a dog’s tail doesn’t have to be down because of psychological reasons.

If you notice that the tail is unusually limp all of a sudden it can be because of a condition called “limber tail”. This is what we’re focusing on today!

SUMMARY:

When a dog’s tail is hanging down and is tucked between the legs, there are several things that could be causing it: anxiety, avoiding other dogs or a condition called “limber tail”.

Limber Tail In Dogs

If a dog’s tail is down all of a sudden, the chances are that he got this condition.

Limber tail is also known under the names “cold water tail”, “limp tail”, “swimmers tail”, “rudder tail” and “broken wag”.

This may be a new term for you; in fact, many dog owners don’t even know that this could happen until they see it on their dog!

In order to get a better grip on this we’ve prepared some common questions and answers that will clarify everything!

Limber Tail In Dogs Symptoms

Symptoms of a broken wag are quite obvious. The tail will be limp and your dog won’t wag it as it usually does.

In some cases, the first part of the tail is in a horizontal position, while the rest of the tail is vertical.

It can also happen that the tail extends a few inches from the body and then drops.

Pain and swelling usually accompany the limp tail, particularly at the base.

SUMMARY:

Symptoms that indicate a limber tail are: no tail wagging, swelling or pain.

Is Limber Tail Painful For Dogs?

The level of pain depends from dog to dog and can vary a lot, but it’s usually a rather painful condition.

In order to show you the pain your dog can wimp, whine or lick and chew the tail. Most dogs are also lethargic when they suffer from this condition.

Dog Breeds Prone To Limber Tail

Can all dogs be affected by the limber tail? Yes, all dogs can be affected by this condition.

However, some breeds are more prone to this condition than others, especially sporting and hunting dogs. Some of these breeds are:

Young dogs suffer from this more often than older dogs.

When it comes to the difference between males and females – there’s not a visible difference. That being said, you can expect to see both in male and female dog tails down, even at different ages.

Why Is My Dog’s Tail Down – Causes?

It’s still unclear what causes the tail to be hanging down all of a sudden, but there are certain situations after which it tends to develop.

Usually, that’s the case after swimming, hunting, chasing, or other forms of excessive exercise. Thus, overexertion is the most common cause.

To avoid overexertion make sure that you know how much exercise dogs need at different life stages.

Other causes behind a “broken wag” are climate changes, inappropriate crate sizes or too long crate time, sudden cold shock, warm or cold baths, or overuse of the tail.

Even though the exact cause isn’t clear, it’s certain that it’s a muscle injury. Even though the tail looks broken, it’s not the bones that are causing problems, but the muscle.

More precisely, your dog is keeping its tail down because the coccygeal muscles near the base are damaged. This is similar to a sprain of the muscles.

Of all the situations mentioned above, swimming seems to be the occasion where most limp tails happen. This is why this condition is called “swimmer’s tail” as well!

This is probably explained by the fact that dogs use their tail more than usual when they’re swimming. Plus, the water dogs swim in is usually quite cold, which also contributes to this problem.

If your dog is a great swimmer, or just loves water be mindful of this.

Why? If you are searching for ‘why is my dog’s tail down meaning’, or what are the most common cases of a limber tail in dogs know that it just might have something to do with the dog’s swimming practice.

SUMMARY:

The most common causes of a “limber tail” are swimming, excessive exercise, climate changes, inappropriate crate size, and too much crate time.

Limber Tail In Dogs Diagnosis

If you suspect that your dog has limber tail, the first thing you should do is take him or her to the vet. Once there, a physical examination will be done.

In order to rule out fractures, your vet may order an X-Ray.

Blood tests also have to be run. If they show an increased level of a muscle enzyme named “creatine kinase”, shortened “CK”, it usually means that muscles have been damaged.

Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon that veterinarians are not familiar with this condition and thus they mistake it for something much more serious.

Now that you’re informed, make sure to rule out broken bones and fractures by asking for an X-Ray.

Can A Dog’s Limber Tail Heal On Its Own?

Yes. Fortunately, treating limber tail is pretty easy when diagnosed correctly.

Most dogs recover on their own after a couple of days, but there are certain treatments that can speed up the process.

It usually consists of the following:

  • Warm packs at the base of your dog’s tail
  • Anti-inflammatory drugs specifically for dogs, prescribed by your vet
  • Rest

Results can be seen pretty quickly. The worst pain usually goes away within 24 to 48 hours. However, sometimes it can take up to 2 weeks for the problem to disappear completely.

If you suspect that your dog has a limber tail, try to establish how much pain he’s in.

If it doesn’t seem too bad, let your dog rest for a couple of days and wait for the problem to solve itself.

However, if your dog seems to experience a lot of pain go to your vet and ask him or her to prescribe anti-inflammatory medication in order to ease the pain.

In the worst-case scenario, the tail never returns to its normal position.

This is very unusual though and isn’t something that normally happens.

Also, if you notice that your dog’s tail is a bit on the side during the recovery – don’t worry – this goes back to normal pretty soon.

SUMMARY:

Fortunately, limber tail is easy to treat when diagnosed correctly. A dog will usually heal by himself after a couple of days.

Limber Tail In Dogs – Prevention

You can’t prevent it completely, but there are certain things to think about if you want to reduce the chances of a limp tail.

Many cases of limp tails happen when your dog isn’t used to exercise and then suddenly is exposed to excessive and tiring work out. Therefore, always be sure to introduce activity slowly and ease your dog into it.

If the problem lies in the crate, make sure it’s the right size and don’t have your dog inside it for too long.

Choosing the right crate is essential for so many reasons, this being only one of them!

SUMMARY:

The only way to prevent a limber tail is to ensure that your dog’s crate is the right size and that he doesn’t spend too much time inside it. Also, dogs that aren’t very fit should not be exposed to excessive workouts.

Have you heard about dead tails in dogs? This is a rare condition that may appear in dogs due to different reasons. Let’s learn more about this unusual condition.

Dead Tail In Dogs

The answer to the question “Why is my dog’s tail down?” doesn’t always have to be a dead tail, and, unfortunately, something more serious can be behind it.

Conditions that could easily be confused with this are:

  • Trauma to the tail
  • Cancer of the tail
  • Tail fracture
  • Impacted anal glands
  • Problems with the prostate
  • Diseases of the lower spine, such as diskospondylitis

In order to avoid confusion, take your dog to the vet and ask for as many tests as possible, including X-Ray.

SUMMARY:

X-ray will best determine if the cause of a dog’s tail hanging down is not a “limber tail”, but something else.

Now that you know what a limber tail is, and that dog’s tail down doesn’t have to be necessarily a bad sign, let’s learn more about the philosophy behind a dog’s tail.

What Can A Dog’s Tail Reveal?

As you know, there are a lot of different types of tails. The ability to express feelings is limited by the type of tail a dog has.

Most breeds have a natural tail that hangs down somewhere near the hock.

Some breeds, like the pug, have curly tails that go over their backs.

Others have naturally short bobtails or docked tails. Naturally, not all tails can express feelings the same way.

When your dog is relaxed the tail will be in its natural position – whichever it is.

When happy, he may wag it from side to side slowly. Really happy – he’ll do it with more force.

If your dog is holding its tail higher than normal it probably means that he’s very aroused about something. If it’s completely stiff it can happen that he’s threatening someone or standing his ground.

Last but not least, if your dog’s tail is down it can mean that he’s nervous or submissive.

He might even tuck it between his legs. If he’s really scared, he’ll tuck it up against his belly.

SUMMARY:

The easiest way to determine a dog’s mood is by looking at his tail.

Conclusion

A dog’s tail can reveal a lot about its emotions so if you see that your dog’s tail is hanging down try to figure out if your dog is anxious or scared and how you can solve it.

However, a limp tail can often be a consequence of a condition called “limber tail” and no emotion lies behind it.

The cause of this condition is usually overexertion, most likely after swimming, hunting, or chasing.

Some breeds are more prone to it than others, but all dogs can be affected. This is not uncommon and usually goes away after a couple of days of resting, but other forms of treatments can speed up the recovery.

If you suspect your dog to have a “dead tail” don’t panic!

You’re not the only one who has gone through it. Take your dog to the vet in order to get a diagnosis and try establishing the exact cause behind it.

You’ll see – your dog’s tail wagging again in no time!

Frequently Asked Queations On Dog’s Tail Hanging Down

1. Why Is My Dogs Tail Down All Of A Sudden?

Dogs will choose to set their tails down when they feel nervous or anyhow submissive. This is commonly seen when surrounded by other dogs.

When a dog is showing submission you will see his tail going in between his rear legs.

This posture might also be a sign that your dog is scared or anxious for different reasons.

The tighter the body is tucked the more submissive or fearful the dog is.

2. Why Is My Dog Walking With His Tail Down?

Dogs will usually put their tails down and sit, or they will be still in one place.

In some cases, they might walk with their tails set down. This posture can be a sign of anxiety, fear, or stress of submission.

In these moments, your Fido is somehow upset, due to other animal presence, or by an individual.

In other words, dogs will walk with their tails down if they perceive other animals or an individual as stronger, or anyhow superior to them.

3. Why Does My Dog Not Wag His Tail Anymore?

To get the right answer you need to be well aware of your dog’s age.

If your Fido is a senior citizen his tail set low may be a sign of cognitive decline, stress, or even arthritis.

In younger dogs, it may be a sign of a limber tail, while in some rare cases it may be an indicator of a dead tail.

To determine why your dog’s tail is set low it would be best to take him to the vet’s office.