Why Is My Dog’s Tail Hanging Down?Medically Reviewed
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!
It’s not a secret that tails can reveal a lot about a dog’s feelings.
The type of tail a dog has determines in what degree it will be able to express its feelings.
A wagging tail is usually interpreted like a happy dog. But what does it mean when your dog’s tail is down?
Dogs can express themselves by their tail for numerous reasons. The common belief that dogs only wag their tail when happy is actually wrong!
Yes, they do wag their tail due to joy, but it can also be a sign of aggression or timidness. Also, if your dog isn’t wagging its tail it doesn’t mean that it isn’t happy or friendly.
Let’s take a closer look at this!
What Can A Dog’s Tail Reveal?
As you know, there are a lot of different types of tail. 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.
Easiest way to determine a dog’s mood is by looking to his tail.
But does a tail that is down always indicate that your dog has hurt feelings?
What Does It Mean When A Dog’s Tail Is Down?
A lowered tail doesn’t necessarily mean that your dog is nervous or submissive. If the tail is hanging down it can just mean that he’s very relaxed!
But, if the tail is tucked between the legs it’s not a sign of a satisfied dog. As mentioned, 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!
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”.
Before reading further, check out this video and see how this condition could look like!
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 and, 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 of this we’ve prepared some common questions and answers that will clarify everything!
What Symptoms Indicate A Limber Tail?
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.
Symptoms that indicate a limber tail are: no tail wagging, swelling and pain.
Is Limber Tail Syndrome Painful?
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.
Can All Dogs Be Affected?
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:
- Labrador and Golden Retrievers
- English Setters
- English Pointers
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.
What Causes Dog’s Tail To Hang Down?
It’s still unclear what causes the tail to be hanging down all of a sudden, but there are certain situation 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.
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’s causing problems, but the muscle. More precisely, your dog is keeping its tail down because the coccygeal muscles near the base that 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.
The most common causes of a “limber tail” are: swimming, excessive exercise, climate changes, inappropriate crate size, too much crate time.
How Is A Diagnosis Determined?
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
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 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.
Fortunately, limber tail is easy to treat when diagnosed correctly. A dog will usually heal by himself after a couple of days.
Can I Prevent Limber Tail?
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 tail 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.
The only way to prevent 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 work outs.
Can Dead Tail Be Confused With Something Else?
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 possible, including X-Ray.
X-ray will best determine if the cause of a dog’s tail hanging down is not “limber tail”, but something else.
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 resting, but other forms of treatments can speed up the recovery.
If you suspect your dog to have “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 will be wagging again in no time!
This article has been medically reviewed by Dr Joanna de Klerk, BVetMed (hons) MScTAH.
Joanna graduated from the prestigious Royal Veterinary College in London and works as a veterinarian for dogs, cats and horses. She has a particular interest in nutrition, pain management, neurological disorders and welfare. She has written two books 'Tales from a Young Vet' and 'Tales from a Wild Vet'.