All the sudden your dog stops being able to wag his tail. It is droopy and just hangs limp. He sits funny, maybe to the side, as to not put pressure on it. There are many names for this including rudder tail, limber tail, swimmer’s tail, or broken wag. The technical term for this condition is acute caudal myopathy. Although this can happen to any breed, but it is most common in working or hunting breeds such as Retrievers, Points, Setters, and Hounds.
This condition often occurs at the start of hunting season or in the early spring. The muscles in the tail are sprained or strained from overuse without proper conditioning. Dogs use their tail like a rudder to steer and maintain balance while swimming. The cold water in spring and fall may also play a role. During hunting, working, or playing the dog may wag their tail excessively. Dogs who are crated for long periods of time can also develop this condition. Dogs may not show symptoms immediately, but possibly the next morning after rest. Much like a human’s muscles are sore the next day after exercise. The pain can be substantial enough to make the dog not want to eat and act lethargic.
Symptoms may include:
- Tail is painful to touch
- Completely or partially limp tail
- Inability to wag tail
- Licking or chewing at tail
A tentative finding can be made based on the patient’s recent history, but a full physical exam will help confirm the diagnosis. Your veterinarian may need to rule out other issues such as a fracture, back injury, anal gland issues, or prostate disease. Radiographs may be helpful in excluding other issues.
Patients will recover with rest and anti-inflammatory pain medication. More severe cases may require prescription muscle relaxers. Ice or hot packs may also be recommended. This may take a few days to a week depending on the severity of the injury and if the patient complies with resting. It is a difficult request to ask a happy dog not to try and wag its tail.
Since overuse of the muscles is the cause, simply taking it easy will help prevent this issue. Instead of allowing the dog to jump into an activity full bore, introduce it slowly. Condition them with short amounts of exercise, training, or swimming to build up their endurance and stamina. Allow ample time to rest in between. For hunting dogs, start preparing them well before the season, or keep them conditioned throughout the year. Don’t expect your dog to go from couch potato to field champion in one day.