Causes Symptoms and Treatments of Limber Tail Syndrome in Dogs

Limber tail syndrome, cold water tail, dead tail, broken wag, broken tail are all common names for an occurrence among sporting breed dogs. While Labrador Retrievers appear to be especially prone to this injury, it has also been seen in different sporting breeds like Pointers, Flatcoats, Setters, Beagles and Foxhounds.

Woodhaven Labs describes limber tail syndrome as an affliction that causes a dog’s tail hangs down from the base or is held horizontally out approximately three inches and then drops down. The dog may seem uncomfortable and show some pain.


According to Janet E. Steiss DVM PhD for Sirius Dog the cause of limber tail is still unknown but has been associated with overworking especially in unconditioned dogs, swimming in water that is too cold or even too hot and cage transport. It is also believed that it can be caused by the motion the tail makes while swimming which can overwork the muscles in the tail or from excessive tail wagging. A combination of these factors could also be the cause in developing this condition.

Sporting dogs such as Labradors may be more prone to this injury due to the way they use their tails during hunting and swimming. Studies that are being done are showing this syndrome to be similar to muscle fatigue and the overworking of the muscles in the tail. The syndrome can affect both male and female dogs ranging in ages from 6 months to 9 years.


The main treatment for limber tail syndrome is to just let the dog rest and leave the tail alone. Recovery can be seen within a few days but can take up to two weeks. Anti-inflammatory drugs administered early by a qualified veterinarian may hasten the recovery.

If you are an owner of a sporting breed dog, there are some recommendations that are believed to help dogs against this ailment. Many times there isn’t a way of preventing the injury because sporting dogs love water and it is their natural instinct to hunt. However you can try not to keep your pet confined in a kennel for long periods of time and if you do hunt with your dog, conditioning is important especially in younger dogs. Allow your dog to rest during vigorous exercise. Regardless of the weather, keep your dog’s bedding dry and, when traveling, allow your dog to stretch frequently.

Even though limber tail may be rare when compared to the entire dog population, Dr. Jon Rappaport for Pet Place does say the condition more commonly affects “adult male pointers.” it is common in pointing and retrieving dogs. According to Woodhaven Labs dogs that have been afflicted have a one in three chance of a re-occurrence and a small percentage of affected dogs may experience permanent damage showing signs of a distorted tail posture.

This odd occurrence with sporting dogs has been known for many years among sporting dog enthusiasts. When an average individual owns a sporting dog and this occurs, the first reaction is that the dog has a broken or damaged tail. This occurrence has also been misdiagnosed by veterinarians. If your pet shows these types of symptoms and the symptoms last longer than two days, it is recommended that you take your pet to the veterinarian. A simple x-ray can give piece of mind and let an owner know if there is internal damage to the tail.