Pet owners who have experienced this syndrome say their dogs’ tails were fine and then suddenly they weren’t. The tail simply hangs limply between the dog’s hind legs. Fortunately, this condition isn’t as uncommon as some might think, and it does resolve itself, typically within several days to a week.

Commonly called limber tail, swimmer’s tail, water tail, and dead tail, the technical name for this syndrome is Acute Caudal Myopathy. Your dog is suddenly unable to wag or move his tail normally and he seems to have pain at the base of the tail. While the exact cause of the condition is unknown, veterinarians have most frequently associated it with overexertion, such as would occur in swimming, working and hunting.

Don’t panic

The tail may appear broken, but it is actually the muscles at the base of the tail that has been sprained. The tail may hang limp or may extend horizontally three or four inches and then dropdown. Your dog may be uncomfortable attempting to sit and may whimper due to pain at the base of the tail.

Review your dog’s activities with your veterinarian. If your dog has been swimming or has had a busy day of hunting or activity that involved a lot of tail wagging, a limber tail is a likely explanation for the condition. Your vet can take an x-ray to eliminate concerns of a bone break or a more serious problem.

Labrador Retrievers, Setters, Pointers, and Foxhounds are the most common breeds to experience limber tail, but other breeds can suffer from it, especially if they jump into vigorous activity after being primarily sedentary. Veterinarians have compared it to a human straining a muscle and it can be quite painful for dogs.


Rest is the key treatment for a dog suffering from a limber tail. Most dogs are back to normal in four days to a week, although it’s not unusual for total recovery to take two weeks. In the meantime, focus on keeping your dog comfortable keeping him calm, and using warm compresses at the base of his tail.

You may also talk to your veterinarian about anti-inflammatories that may help if your dog seems to be in a lot of pain. Never attempt to medicate your dog yourself. Getting appropriate medications in the correct dosage is crucial for your dog’s health and safety.

If you are concerned that your dog may have a limber tailor you would like more information about how to care for or avoid this condition, contact our veterinarians at Lake Cable Animal Hospital.