Written by Vet

Limber Tail Syndrome – What Is Limp Tail In Dogs?

Ivana Crnec
Written by: Dr. Ivana Crnec
The limber tail syndrome is often seen in working dogs. It's very often seen in sporting dogs as well. Read on to learn what a limp tail is and how it may hurt your dog.

Limp tail in dogs may appear due to several reasons. Everyone knows how a happy tail in dogs looks alike, but what is a limp tail?

In this article, we will elaborate on what limber tail in dogs is and how limp tail syndrome can be prevented.

In dogs, the tail has a very specific purpose and it not only shows how a dog might be feeling but also Fido’s overall health.

For example, if your dog’s tail is slow to move, or appears dead at its base it is a sign that something is wrong.

In some extreme cases, it may be an indicator of as serious health issues.

Let’s see what a limber tail in dogs is, why it appears, and how it can be prevented.

Limp Tail Syndrome Pathogenesis

Limp tail, as a condition, is undoubtedly related to muscle damage.

This is supported by the fact that there are elevated blood levels of the muscle enzyme – creatine phosphokinase in dogs with a limber tail.

The muscle damage can also be seen on muscle tissue observed under a microscope.

Namely, suppose a biopsy is taken from a dog with a limber tail and the tissue is adequately prepared and analyzed under a microscope.

In that case, there will be apparent damage to the muscle fibers.

From the above explained, it is safe to assume that the limber tail is caused by muscle damage, but which events lead to muscle damage in the first place?

Well, the tail muscles are confined in the small spaces between the vertebrae. When an external factor damages those muscles, they respond to the damage by swelling.

Since they are already bound once swollen, they become trapped.

As a result, the blood flow in those muscles decreases, which aggravates the already difficult situation.

When the blood flow is impaired, and the muscle cells are deprived of oxygen, they start to degenerate. Muscle degeneration is followed by pain and dysfunction.

It is an interesting fact that not all tail muscles are equally damaged.

The most severe damage is to the musculus intertransversarius ventralis caudalis, or in layman’s terms, the laterally positioned muscles mostly used for side-to-side motions like wagging.

Limp Tail Syndrome Clinical Manifestation

A dog with a limber tail will manifest the following signs and symptoms:

  • Abnormal tail positioning – straight at the base and then flaccidly limber
  • Decreased appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Reluctance to sit, lay down, stand up, or move
  • Shifting weight from side to side
  • Reluctance to defecate
  • Reluctance to urinate (in females)
  • Pain and discomfort

Limp Tail Syndrome Diagnosis

Several conditions can mimic a limber tail in dogs.

When a dog presents with a flaccid tail, the following differential diagnosis is worth considering:

  • Tail trauma
  • Tail fracture
  • Impacted anal glands
  • Prostatitis
  • Tail cancer
  • Intervertebral disk disease
  • Caudaequina syndrome

To set up the right diagnosis, the vet will start with the basics and then work his/her way up through the diagnostic procedures.

The diagnostic process, as in any other case, consists of the following steps:

1. Acquiring The Dog’s History

First, the vet will ask about the presenting problem, which in this case is the weirdly hanging tail and flaccid tail.

The dog owner will report the changes the dog exhibits, such as lethargy, decreased appetite, and reluctance to sit and move.

The dog owner will also be asked if there were any significant events in the days before the issue.

In most presenting cases, the owners report vigorous play, active hunting, and prolonged swimming or confinement within the previous 24 hours.

Generally, most dogs usually act immediately after the activity and develop the symptoms the next day.

2. Full Physical Examination

This is the most critical part of the diagnostic process. By examining the dog, the vet acquired essential information.

Despite the evident and abnormal tail positioning, the most notable sign is pain upon touching the tail. Basically, dogs with liber tails resent having their tails palpated.

3. Laboratory Findings

The vet will order a complete blood count (to assess the dog’s overall health) and a biochemistry panel (to check the blood’s muscle enzyme levels).

In dogs with limber tails, the creatine kinase levels are higher than the average.

4. Special Tests

There are several diagnostic aids that the vet may use to make sure the diagnosis is correct.

Those are:

Tail x-ray

Tail radiography is used to eliminate tail fractures, and tail tumors are possible causes.


This is an advanced diagnostic procedure that includes analyzing the tail from a thermal perspective.

In dogs with limber tails, the damaged parts of the tail, closer to the base, are perceived as cold zones (with temperatures cooler for around 2 to 3 Celsius)


Once again, this is an advanced diagnostic procedure, recommended for scientific rather than practical purposes.

In dogs with limber tails, the electromyogram shows spontaneous and abnormal activity.


In everyday limber tail cases, a biopsy is not recommended because the tail muscles are too small, and the nerves are closely intertwined.

Anyway, if the procedure’s benefits outweigh the risks, and the tissue is observed under a microscope, there will be visible damage to the muscle fibers.

All in all, an experienced vet will be able to set the diagnosis based on the dog’s history and clinical manifestations.

Just to be 100% sure and eliminate other potential issues, he/she may order an x-ray of the tail.

However, when setting up a diagnosis, the vet must follow specific protocols, and sometimes that entails performing additional tests and diagnostic procedures that may not seem necessary at first.

Limp Tail Syndrome Treatment

The treatment of limber tails in dogs is symptomatic and straightforward.

Generally speaking, the treatment involves:

1. Plenty Of Rest

The goal is the give the muscle enough time to rejuvenate and heal.

A dog with a limber tail should rest, but cage rest, especially in small crates, is forbidden since it is considered one of the risk factors for developing a limber tail.

So, the dog should rest in a spacious crate or comfortable bed.

This is easier said than done, particularly for working dogs that thrive on having a job to do.

Therefore, you must be super supportive and mentally stimulate your canine baby during its rest. Its body needs to rest, but its mind has full working capacity.

2. Medication

Steroids, non-steroid anti-inflammatories, and painkillers reduce swelling and inflammation, thus achieving pain relief.

3. Home Remedies

Once again, put on ice and heat pads to control the pain and swelling.

Ensuring an excitement-free environment – you need to make sure the dog stays in an environment where nothing can trigger an unexpected wagging session.

Recently, holistic and alternative treatments have gained popularity in all veterinary medicine fields.

New studies and experimental treatments suggest acupuncture and cold laser are the future of treating limber tails.


Dogs that receive acupuncture therapy within the first two days of developing limber tails show significant improvement in just 24 hours or after a single treatment.

Cold Laser

Dogs treated with cold lasers show similar improvement as dogs with acupuncture treatments.

When using the laser, it is essential to treat a broader region that includes both the tail base and the lower back.

Limp Tail Syndrome Prevention

Preventing is much simpler than treating and managing. Here are some useful tips on how to prevent your dog from developing a limber tail:

  • Build your dog’s stamina and endurance slowly and gradually. Do not practice intense workout regimens. Instead, keep your dog moderately active all year round – this will help maintain healthy body weight and healthy condition.
  • Avoid confining for long periods. If the confinement is necessary (for example, for transportation purposes) make plenty of stretch breaks during confinement.
  • Always thoroughly dry your dog. This is particularly useful if the dog was swimming in cold waters or needs to stay in a cold environment after swimming.
  • Never bathe your dog late at night or in the evening unless you are planning on blow-drying it.
  • Do not forcefully end an intense workout. For example, if your dog was hunting all day do not make it go to bed as soon as the hunt is over. Instead, encourage your dog to move for at least 15 to 20 minutes more. This is the dog’s cool-down period and it must be planned gradually. Once the cool-down period is over you can let your dog sleep but not for the entire night. It is advisable to wake it up several times during the night and promote stretching or light physical activity during those breaks.
  • Never let your dog sleep on wet beddings.
  • Keep in mind that some dogs are predisposed to developing limber tails. Also, keep in mind that dogs with a history of limber tails are more likely to re-experience the condition.

If your dog belongs to one of these groups, be extra cautious and always practice the above-listed preventative measures.

Limp Tail Syndrome Prognosis

The prognosis for dogs with a liber tail is excellent. The condition is self-limiting, which means that over time, it resolves on its own.

Even if left without treatment, the condition does not progress. However, the limber tail is quite painful and uncomfortable, so the lack of treatment is considered inhumane.

Most dogs with limber tails experience significant improvement over a few days and a full recovery within two to three weeks.

It should be accented that dogs that have already been diagnosed with limber tail, are more likely to develop it in the future.

In fact, the limber tail tends to reoccur in about 1/3 of the cases.

Limp Tail Syndrome: Definition

There are many slang terms and euphemisms for a limber tail, like cold-water tail, frozen tail, sprung tail, broken wag, swimmer’s tail, rudder tail, and dead tail. However, the official medical term is acute caudal myopathy.

To better understand what that means, we should break down the medical name.

Simply put, the term “acute” describes that the condition has a sudden onset.

The term “caudal” indicates that the condition affects the dog’s tail.

Finally, the term “myopathy” means the condition stems from the muscles – it is a muscular disorder.

All in all, the term acute caudal myopathy means a “sudden muscle disorder of the tail”.

The condition clinically manifests with a tail that extends straight for several inches and then limply drops down.

Limber tail is a poorly understood and often underestimated condition.

Luckily, it is transient and non-progressive, which means it can resolve on its own without special treatment.

However, since it is associated with significant discomfort and pain, it should always be appropriately managed following the vet’s bits of advice.

Limp Tail Syndrome: Etiology And Incidence

The exact cause of limber tail is not determined but there are several known risk factors:

  • Swimming in cold water: this is the common reason why dog’s set their tail down
  • Excessive exercise, especially in unconditioned dogs
  • Exposure to cold
  • Prolonged confinement
  • Climate change

Limber tail is most frequently reported in hunting dogs.

This is mainly because hunting involves four of the five known risk factors – swimming in cold water or exposure to cold (depending on where the dog hunts – land or water, or both); excessive exercise – most dogs do not exercise all year round but are quite active during hunt season and prolonged cage transport.

All in all, the limber tail is most common among hunting dogs, at the beginning of the season, especially if left without proper conditioning before the season starts and after a long day of exhausting work.

Theoretically, all dog breeds can develop a limber tail but due to their unique lifestyles, certain breeds are at higher risk.

Susceptible dog breeds include:

  • Retrievers
  • Pointers
  • Hounds
  • Beagles
  • Setters

The condition is more common among males than females and among young than adult dogs.

The tail conformation seems to be an important factor too – namely dogs with high-set tails are more likely to develop a limp tail.

Newer studies suggest there are genetic and nutritional components to limber tail susceptibility. However, these theories are yet to be confirmed.

Limp Tail In Dog – Conclusion

After reading this article you should know how to recognize limber tails in dogs and how it may affect your dog’s overall health.

Limp tail syndrome in dogs is not an uncommon occurrence, but it’s not something that should be ignored.

Whenever you notice an unusual wag movement, make sure that you react accordingly.

This is why it’s crucial to know your dog’s regular movement – you will notice any injury, pain, or overexertion faster.

All in all, if you suspect that your dog has a limp tail, make sure that you reach your veterinarian.

Frequently Asked Questions On Limp Tail In Dog

1. How Do You Treat A Dog With A Limp Tail?

In most cases, limber tail in dogs is treated by providing the right assistance.

Some vets will recommend rest and placing warm packs at the base of the tail.

This should relieve discomfort and should be conducted only if your vet advises so. In general, the best treatment is the one that your veterinarian suggests.

2. Do Dogs Recover From Limp Tail?

Treating a canine with a limp tail is possible, but it requires time and energy.

The right kind of treatment requires care, enough rest, and the right set of medications.

During the recovery period, dogs shouldn’t move a lot, and they should stay away from intense play, swimming, or any sort of work.

Resting should speed up the recovery process and make a limp tail a thing of the past.

3. Does Limp Tail Go Away On Its Own?

If the limp tail is too damaged, it is unlikely for the dog’s limp tail to heal on its own.

If the limp tail is mild it may heal on its own, but we still recommend a full veterinarian checkup.

Even if the limp tail might heal on its own veterinarian still needs to prescribe some medication for possible pain and discomfort.

4. How Long Does It Take For A Dog To Recover From Limp Tail?

Recovery from a limp tail in dogs will vary from dog to dog and the severity of the injury.

A full recovery might take from a few days to a couple of weeks. How long does a dog tail injury take to heal? All in all, it can take from a few weeks to a few months.

5. What Can I Give My Dog For Limp Tail?

No matter how many home remedies might be available for limp tails in dogs, you should not do anything without your vet’s approval.

Your veterinarian is the only one who can diagnose a limp tail in a dog and advise you on proper care and treatment, including medications.