Limber tail syndrome
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An injury occurring mostly in sporting or working dogs such as English Pointers, English Setters, Foxhounds, Beagles, and Labrador Retrievers. Limber tail syndrome is also known as swimmer's tail, cold water tail, broken tail, dead tail or broken wag.
Signs and symptoms
The injury affects the tail of the dog, causing it to be painful at or near its base. Limber tail can be recognized by a very flaccid tail, or a tail that is held horizontally for 3 to 4 inches, and then drops vertically.The condition is also more pronounced in dogs that wag their tails a lot.
It has been said by many dog owners that limber tail had been caused shortly (24 hours) after swimming in water that is too cold or on rare occasions too warm and indeed this has certainly produced this very condition. The actual cause is unknown but it is rumoured to be caused by the narrowing of the space through which the spinal cord passes, typically due to degenerative change to the intervertebral disk spaces. These underlying changes may not lead to visible change until the problem is suddenly exacerbated, such as during physical activity, after trauma, etc. Occasionally other changes are seen prior to or in conjunction with limber tail disease, such as urinary or fecal incontinence, postural abnormalities in the pelvic limb, or pain in response to touching the lower back.
To maximize the potential for a full recovery, treatment must be instituted immediately. It is important to differentiate this disease from diseases that could cause the same signs, such as cancer along the vertebra or spine, neurological disorders, metabolic disorders, intoxication, infection, and other disease. This condition is not a disease, but a symptom of overuse of the muscles of the tail which causes inflammation and pain. "Immediate treatment" should include rest and recuperation. An anti-inflammatory can be given and may speed up recovery. If the case is mild, rest and anti-inflammatory drugs will provide comfort and may allow for some degree of recovery. Recovery can take a day to a couple weeks. The symptoms may reoccur later on.
- Steiss, Janet E. & Wright, J.C., Limber Tail Syndrome in Hunting Dogs, Sports Medicine Program Newsletter, Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine, Winter 1995
- Grayson, Peggy, Water and the dead tail syndrome, Dog World, May 5, 1995
- Coccygeal muscle injury in English pointers (Limber tail). Steiss, J. et al. J Vet Intern Med1999;13:540-548