16 May 2019
By Margaret Kraeling, PT, CCRT
It is almost summer (we hope) and owners are anxious to get their dogs back to swimming in the river or a lake. It is a favourite activity for many dogs throughout the summer. However, there will also be several reports of swimmers tail, cold tail or limber tail – this condition goes by several names.
This is a fairly common condition particularly in retrievers such as Labradors and Golden Retrievers. It is a sudden onset often after very vigorous swimming in cold water although it can also be brought on by any energetic activity in which there is excessive use of the tail. The tail will typically hand straight down or it may be horizontal for a few inches and then hang down limply. It is a very painful condition however it does usually resolve in about a week.
A study in 1999 used EMG (electromyography) and tissue testing to study this condition. This study concluded that the coccygeal muscles near the base of the tail had sustained damage.
There is another more recent study done in 2016 collecting data from a group of Labrador retrievers. In this group, there were 38 cases and 86 controls (9.7 per cent). Among the usual factors such as swimming and being more predominant in working dogs there were some other interesting findings. Another risk factor was higher altitudes and also dogs that were more related to each other suggesting a possible genetic link. This is the first large scale study that has been done and certainly suggests avenues for further investigations.
The bottom line, however, is that barring some more serious pathology this condition is a brief self-limiting and at most make require a bit of pain medication to make the dog more comfortable. It also may be useful to try some of the physiotherapy modalities such as laser to reduce pain.
Limber Tail Syndrome: Why is My Dog’s Tail Limp? Dog Health / Dog – diseases – conditions – a-z; Dr. Mike Paul, DVM; December 2014
Cumulative incidence and risk factors for limber tail in the Dogslife Labrador retriever cohort C.A. Pugh, PhD B. M. de C. Bronsvoort, PhD, D. Querry, BSc, E.
Rose, BA (Hons), K. Summers, PhD, and D. N. Clements, BSc BVSc PhD DSAS(Orth) DipECVS MRCVS The Veterinary Record Sept 2016