There was a time when dogs’ tails came in only one shape and size, just like those of their wolf ancestors.
When we began to breed dogs to suit both our practical purposes and our visual preferences, we created the incredible variety of tail shapes and sizes that dogs have today.
There are long, short, fluffy, feathery, tapering tails. And to be honest, we love all of them.
I mean, is there anything cuter than a dog wagging its tail in awe of your presence? Well, maybe if two dogs are wagging their tails. Or three…
However, too much tail wagging can wreak havoc. Namely, there is a condition known as a happy tail syndrome that manifests with injuries on the tail’s tip due to hitting hard objects while wagging.
Yes, contrary to popular belief, too much wagging is more than fun and cute – it can also be dangerous.
What Is Happy Tail Syndrome?
When someone mentions happy tail syndrome, the first thing that comes to mind is something benign; after all, the term “happy tail” cannot stand for something terrible.
However, the term “syndrome” adds some seriousness to the issue, and it is right – happy tail syndrome is a severe condition with a tendency to become chronic.
The happy tail syndrome refers to the skin injuries that occur near the tail’s tip due to vigorous wagging and frequent hitting against hard objects, like walls, furniture, or doors.
Dogs are naturally inclined to wag their tails – it is their way of communicating. Therefore, the dog is not likely to stop wagging just because its tail skin is starting to become damaged.
Instead, it will continue wagging, further aggravating the already bad situation.
Finally, the dog will have an open wound on its tail, and each time it wags, there will be blood splatters all around.
How Does Happy Tail Develop?
Several anatomical factors contribute to the development of the happy tail syndrome.
First of all, depending on the exact length, the dog’s tail can have between five and twenty vertebrae, medically termed as caudal vertebrae.
If a large wagging dog has punched you, you can understand its tail power – it is pretty much like a whiplash.
Secondly, the dog’s tail has a rich blood supply. Thirdly, the skin covering the tail is usually thin and tends to get thinner as it approaches the tail’s tip.
All in all, when a thin-skinned tail hits hard surfaces powerfully, repeatedly, and over a prolonged period, the skin becomes abraded.
Intertwined with plenty of blood vessels, the tail starts bleeding as soon as the skin becomes irritated or damaged.
The condition starts with small injuries but culminates in bleeding tail ulcers or simply put in a split open tail.
In most cases, the dog parent is not aware of the injury itself, and the first thing to notice is the blood splatters all over the house – in more extreme cases, the home can look like a scary movie scene.
Are All Dogs Equally Prone To Happy Tail Syndrome?
Theoretically speaking, all dogs can develop a happy tail syndrome. However, four important risk factors increase the dog’s chances of experiencing a happy tail syndrome.
Those risk factors are:
- Long, whip-like tails – the longer the tail, the more likely it is to hit objects around it
- Powerful wags – large dogs are capable of making more powerful wags, and logically, the stronger the hit, the greater the impact
- Short tail hair – dogs with longer tail hair have a certain degree of protection (the coat serves as an airbag), while dogs with shorter hair are more likely to get hurt when hitting hard objects
- Exuberant personalities – dogs prone to excessive wagging are at higher risk of damaging their tails
In practice, the happy tail syndrome is most frequently reported in large dogs with short-haired tails and exuberant personalities.
The breeds that combine these risk factors are:
- Labrador Retriever
- Great Dane
- American Bulldog
- Pit Bull Terrier
- Belgian Malinois
- German Shepherd
On the flip side, the condition is sporadic among smaller dogs with extra-furry tails or naturally bobbed tails.
Imagine a tiny Chihuahua furiously wagging its tail, no matter how strong it wags, the chances of hitting near objects is small and even if it manages to hit, the hit power will not be enough to cause significant damage.
The condition is also sporadic in large dogs with fluffy, feathery tails.
For example, imagine a Golden Retriever. Goldens have long tails and powerful wags but the long tail hair serves as protective padding that absorbs the force of the hit.
Signs And Symptoms Of Happy Tail Syndrome
The amount of tail bleeding varies from case to case.
In some dogs, there can be only a few drops of blood every now and then, and in others, there can be profuse and hard-to-stop bleeding sessions.
In addition to the bleeding and open wounds, a dog with a happy tail syndrome is likely to manifest the following signs and symptoms:
- Biting or nipping at the tail
- Bald spots or raw patches on the tail
- Tail pain
Regardless of the severity of the situation, most dogs with happy tail syndrome retain their appetites, cheerful spirits, and most importantly, they are not reluctant to keep wagging, which only worsens the problem.
How Is Happy Tail Syndrome Diagnosed?
The vet will start by performing a full and thorough physical examination to assess the dog’s overall health while asking questions important for completing the dog’s history.
To an experienced vet, setting the diagnosis is straightforward – he/she will consider the dog’s history, clinical manifestation, and presence of risk factors.
Once the vet sets the diagnosis, he/she will examine the severity of the tail wounds.
For this purpose, the tail will be thoroughly cleaned and the hair surrounding the wounds – clipped.
At this point, the vet’s main goal is determining whether there is an infection present. Discharge and foul odor are indicative of an infection.
If based on the external signs, the vet suspects the wounds are infected, he/she will order additional tests, such as:
- Complete blood count and a biochemistry profile – to check the white blood cell number. If they are elevated, then there is definitely an infectious process.
- Culturing – the vet will swab the wound and perform a culture to discover which bacteria are responsible for the infection.
- X-ray or ultrasound of the tail – in severe cases, if the vet suspects more profound damages – like broken vertebrae or torn tendon and ligaments.
With the diagnosis set and the severity of the damage determined, the vet will make an efficient treatment strategy.
What Are The Treatment Options For Dogs With Happy Tail Syndrome?
Generally speaking, when it comes to a happy tail syndrome, the treatment approaches can be divided into several categories, based on the severity of the tail wounds.
In a nutshell, your vet will recommend one of the following options:
1. Bandaging The Tail And Using An E-collar
This is the simplest treatment option and is usually used in first-time happy tail syndrome patients.
The vet will wrap the tail in a clean and breathable fabric. The vet will recommend changing the bandage, and the frequency depends on the case itself.
The vet may suggest having the dog brought to the clinic for bandaging or explain how to do this at home. The bandage is supposed to protect the tail while the wounds heal. Sometimes this process can last for up to six weeks.
The bandage is useless if the dog manages to remove it. Dogs find bandages unnatural and are willing to do anything to have them removed.
The best way of ensuring the dressing will stay on is to add another accessory to your dog – an E-collar or a cone collar. Which type of collar you will choose depends on what works for you and your dog best.
If in doubt, you can ask the vet which type he/she recommends. They feature different specifics but have the same goal – to prevent your dog from tearing its bandage off by getting in the way between your dog’s teeth and tail.
Finally, it should be noted that this approach does not address the problem itself. Instead, it protects the tail and gives the wounds enough time to close and heal.
Once the bandage is removed, there is no certainty that the dog will avoid hitting its tail and inflicting new injuries.
If the tail wounds are infected, your dog will need antibiotics to fight off the infection and ensure proper wound healing.
The signs of infection are usually visible – discharge, foul smell, necrotic changes. However, if the signs are inconclusive, the vet will swab the wound and check for bacteria.
Then the vet may order a test known as an antibiogram. The purpose of this test is to determine which type of antibiotic will be most efficient against the bacteria causing the infection.
Once the antibiotic type is selected, the vet will give you a prescription and instruct you on how to use it.
Antibiotics are not a solution on their own. They need to be combined with bandaging to achieve results.
Rest is of paramount importance when treating a happy tail syndrome. The more the dog rests, the sooner its wounds will heal and the fewer chances of re-opening the wounds.
When dealing with a hyperactive dog that simply does not know how and when to stop, the vet will prescribe sedatives.
In sedatives used in these cases are mild – they will make your dog a bit more slow-paced and more prone to sleep.
4. Laser Therapy Treatment
This is a novel, high-end treatment approach. The vet may use K-laser treatment to increase the blood flow through the tail tissues. When the blood flow increases, the healing process is fastened and promoted.
It should be noted that this treatment is not readily available, comes with a hefty price tag, and should once again be combined with bandaging.
5. Surgical Wound Correction
If the wound is too deep or close to a blood vessel, the vet will recommend closing them with stitches. Even if there is only a stitch or two needed, the procedure will have to be performed under general anesthesia.
In such cases, the vet will consider the blood and biochemistry tests performed during the diagnostic process to evaluate the dog’s overall health and decide whether it is the right anesthesia candidate.
6. Tail Amputation
Saving the tail is not always possible. It is the primary goal, but it is simply impossible in some cases.
In such cases, the vet will recommend removing or amputating the tail. Tail amputation is recommended for dogs that cannot stop shaking their tails and constantly re-open their wounds and for dogs that have been diagnosed with a happy tail syndrome for more than once.
The decision to remove an important body part is never easy. If your vet recommends tail amputation, then its removal benefits definitely outweigh the perks of having a tail.
Can A Dog Live Without Its Tail?
Dogs use their tails to send social cues, express their feelings, balance when moving and steer when swimming. And we, we simply adore watching wagging tails.
The tail’s purposes are important and meaningful, but they are not vital anatomical parts. Therefore, if removing the tail solves the happy tail problem, do not hesitate at all.
This solution may seem radical at first, but it is long-term and definitely less painful and more convenient than frequent bandaging, repetitive wound cleanings, antibiotics, and stressful vet visits.
Can Happy Tail Syndrome Be Prevented?
Because of its unusual location and the dog’s lack of collaboration, the happy tail syndrome is generally hard to treat and manage.
Therefore, it is always best advised to avoid it in the first place.
This is easier said than done. However, here are some simple yet efficient tips on how to decrease your dog’s risk of developing a happy tail syndrome.
- If dealing with an extreme wager, find a way to contain its excitement. Each dog is different, so there is no one universal approach. Find what works best for your dog and stick to it.
- You can rearrange the furniture in a way that does not interfere with your dog’s usual moving patterns.
- Try behavior modification. This alternative usually requires hiring a dog trainer but the expenses are definitely worth it.
- Be calm. Dogs feel our energies and often respond in accordance with them. If your dog gets overly excited when you come back from work, it is probably because you are excited as well – you talk to it in a sweet voice, pet it or even throw a treat or two. To avoid excitement and unnecessary tail wagging, be calm when you enter the room and ignore your dog for a few moments. Display affection when you are in the middle of the room with no surrounding objects your dog’s tail could hit on.
In spite of its relatively benign term, the happy tail syndrome is a severe condition.
It is not life-threatening, but it is uncomfortable and inconvenient – for both your dog and you (because of all the cleaning you will have to do).
When dealing with a single episode of a happy tail syndrome, the conventional treatment approach is advisable.
However, in dogs with repetitive incidence and dogs that do not respond to traditional treatment, amputating the tail, as radical as it sounds, is the best option. This decision can be made only if your veterinarian confirms it.
Dogs can definitely live without their tails, and honestly, we love them no matter what.