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Why Does My Dog's Tail Look Like It's Going Limp?

Seeing your pup's normally perky tail go limp can be unnerving, but rest assured: It's nothing to panic about.

by JoAnna Lou
August 10, 2021
Dog biting his tail on a summer Baltic seashore.
fotoyou/Adobe Stock

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At first, you notice your dog weakly wagging their tail. Then, shortly after, their tail goes completely limp and your pup seems to show signs of discomfort. If you've witnessed this, your dog could have limber tail syndrome, also known as "swimmers' tail." Seeing your dog's normally perky tail go limp can be unnerving, but rest assured: It's nothing to panic about. Keep reading to learn everything you need to know.

What is limber tail syndrome?

Officially referred to as Acute Caudal Myopathy, limber tail syndrome is a condition in dogs that causes the dog's tail to become flaccid, usually after spending too much time playing in the water or overusing their tail while playing. This type of overexertion can cause a strain of the muscles used for holding up the tail and tail wagging. Along with tail limpness, the base of the tail is often stiff, and the dog may experience pain. The condition typically affects large breed dogs, and it usually resolves on its own without veterinary intervention.

What causes limber tail syndrome?

In 2016, a team at the University of Edinburgh wanted to study cases of limber tail in order to understand the habits and lifestyles that might explain why some dogs are affected and others are not. The researchers confirmed that limber tail syndrome is more likely to show up in working breed dogs such as English Pointers, English Setters, Foxhounds, Beagles, and Labrador Retrievers.

Researchers also found that dogs with limber tail were more likely to live in northern areas, lending some support to anecdotal reports that the condition is associated with exposure to the cold. But don’t take this as a hard and fast rule: Many dogs have experienced this issue in warm weather, especially while swimming.

An important note: While this condition has the nickname “swimmers’ tail,” not all the affected dogs in the study had been swimming prior to the onset of symptoms. Researchers classified swimming as a potential risk factor. Interestingly, researchers also found that Labradors that suffered limber tail were more likely to be related to each other than unaffected dogs, which may indicate an underlying genetic risk factor.

This was the first large scale study of limber tail syndrome. Researchers hope that further studies will identify genes associated with the condition, which could help breeders identify animals that are likely to be affected. Over time, this could help reduce the disease prevalence.

How is limber tail syndrome treated?

Thankfully, limber tail isn't a life-threatening condition, but this often causes it to be overlooked and underestimated. Limber tail is not often reported to veterinarians since symptoms usually resolve on their own within a few days or weeks.

The best treatment for limber tail is rest, so encourage your dog to take it easy for a few days. However, limber tail is thought to be very painful and distressing for affected dogs so if the condition doesn’t resolve or show signs of improvement, contact your vet who may prescribe pain relief and anti-inflammatory medication to ease the discomfort for your dog. After a little rest and relaxation, your pup and their tail will be wagging again in no time.

JoAnna Lou

JoAnna Lou

JoAnna Lou is a New York City-based researcher, writer and agility enthusiast.