What Is A Limber Tail Syndrome & How To Help Your Dog?

What Is A Limber Tail Syndrome & How To Help Your Dog?

Author Dr. Iva Pejnovic, DVM


The limber tail syndrome is a myopathy-disorders of tail muscle, usually caused by over-training. The syndrome is also known as water tail, cold tail, or swimmers tail. It is a temporary condition where the dog cannot wag his tail.

What is a limber tail syndrome?

The limber tail syndrome is acute caudal myopathy with the disfunction of tail muscles. It is a painful condition that makes the tail looks broken. The tail usually hangs down from the base or can be 3-4 inches horizontal and then hang down. Dog’s tail is helpful in many ways (balance, swimming, mood indicator), so a limber tail is a “little problem.”

Causes of limber tail

This condition usually occurs in working or sports dogs. Still, it can also affect large breed dogs such as

  • Golden Retrievers
  • Setters
  • Foxhounds
  • Pointers
  • Vizsla
  • Irish Setter
  • Beagle
  • Basset hound
  • Labrador Retrievers
  • Hunting dogs

It is also called swimmers tail or water tail because it occurs in dog swimmers more often or taking a bath in too cold or too warm water. The leading cause is overworking tail muscles, similar to human muscle fiber after physical activity. Also, this condition can be caused by ischemia of tail muscles, resulting in pain, swelling, muscle damage, and in worst cases, paralysis. The muscles that allow a tail wagging or side-to-side motion seem to be most affected.

limber tail

RELATED: Do Dogs Have Bones In Their Tails?

Clinical signs

The main clinical sign of the syndrome is that the tail looks broken, it is very painful, and the dog isn’t able to use it. Other signs may include

  • lethargy
  • decreased appetite
  • limp tail
  • no wagging
  • yelping if you touch the tail
  • soreness around the tail
  • difficulty urinating or defecating
  • reluctance to sit.


Limber tail is a syndrome that can be managed at home. Although it can be easily managed at home, it is recommended to see your vet perform a physical examination. X-rays are recommended to rule out fractures, osteoarthritis, and other skeletal disorders. The tail should be examined gently because it is a very painful condition. The tail is usually swollen, and the dog usually whines on manipulation. Other clinical examinations are typically fine.

RELATED: Why Do Dogs Chase Their Tails? 5 Possible Reasons


The prognosis is excellent, although it is very uncomfortable. This condition passes by itself. Usually, giving NSAIDs can speed up the process of healing. Reduced activity and resting are obligated. Chances for complications are minimal. You can help your dog by applying warm compresses to the swollen parts.

Example from veterinary praxis

Recently we had one female Boxer named Ola that came to our clinic. Ola is 2,5 years old that has problems with her tail. This is what happened to Ola.

  1. She was swimming in the cold river (the tail is used for balance when swimming)
  2. After that, they drove home for 3 hours, she was sitting in the car calmly
  3. When they came home, she was upset, could not find a position to lay down, she could not defecate
  4. She tried to wagging, but then she started screaming
  5. X-rays were negative, anal glands were physiological, and all examinations were fine
  6. She was given NSAIDs
  7. After a week and a half, she fully recovered

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The limber tail syndrome is an acute, very painful myopathy. The tail usually hangs down and is swollen; it looks like it is broken. It usually affects working or sports dogs. It passes by itself and can be speeded up by giving NSAIDs.

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