What's Wrong With My Dog's Tail?

Updated on February 19, 2016

What the Heck Is Wrong With His Tail?

You get home one afternoon with your dog. Perhaps he's been out swimming all day. Perhaps he's been playing with a dog friend. Perhaps you've spent the weekend elsewhere with him, and he's been running around with kids and having a great time.

Then, you notice your dog's tail is not moving. It's hanging at an odd angle, and if it moves or anyone touches it, your dog winces or growls and tries to protect it. The first three or so inches of the tail stick straight out back, but the rest of the tail hangs down like an old sock.

The tail won't wag, it won't move, and your dog seems very depressed and pained.

Is your dog's tail broken? Probably not.

This guy's tail seems okay, but labs are more susceptible than other breeds to "broken wag" or "cold tail."
This guy's tail seems okay, but labs are more susceptible than other breeds to "broken wag" or "cold tail." | Source

So if It's Not Broken...?

Most likely, given this circumstance, your dog's tail is not broken. Your dog probably has a condition called a variety of interesting names: limber tail, cold tail, flaccid tail, lab tail, and most pathetically, broken wag.

Broken wag is basically sprained tail-wagging muscles, the ones at the top side of the base of the tail.

The condition is usually not serious, although it can be somewhat painful, and will generally rectify itself within a week or less without human help.

What Causes It?

This problem is sometimes called "cold tail" because it will occur when a dog goes swimming in cold water. If the tail muscles are not properly warmed up, they can become sprained. This will usually be seen when a dog goes for his first long swim after a cold winter.

This may occur even in warmer water when a dog is not conditioned to swim and he overworks his tail muscles. This problem is sometimes called "lab tail" because Labrador Retrievers use their tails as rudders and may have this problem more frequently.

Some dogs may get this any time their tails are exposed to water, even in the bathtub.

Some dogs get this after a period of excitement or fun, when vigorous tail wagging is almost mandatory. The tail muscles simply can't handle all the stress, and a sprain occurs.

A dog that has had this problem once is more prone to getting it again. It will usually take less strain to restart the problem than it did to cause it the first time around.

What Can I Do to Help?

Some vets will prescribe an anti-inflammatory such as Rimadyl for the dog.

Arnica montana and Traumeel are homeopathic remedies that may help and do not have any side effects. They can be gotten over the counter in a health food store or on Amazon.

Applying a warm pack to the base of the tail a few times a day for ten minutes will help. Place a towel between the dog and the warm pack, and check often to make sure the dog is comfortable and the pack is not so hot that it hurts him.

Please do not give the dog Tylenol as this can be very harmful to the dog. Do not give the dog any human pain relievers without asking a vet for advice first.

Questions & Answers


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      • profile image

        Toby 9 months ago

        Thank you so much. The warm pack really helped. :)

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        Henry 9 months ago

        Thank you very much for this info! Very helpful! 2 thumbs up.

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        Thanks all 14 months ago

        Just want to say thanks all. Very nice to see a well versed article and lovely positive comments. Cheers all.

        Have a 4 year old Lab in Dorset, UK and looking at him is tragic at the mo so can't wait to realise Eds comments - wag returning :)

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        Anna 18 months ago

        thank you the answer put our mind at rest

      • MoRita profile image

        MoRita 19 months ago from IL

        Yes - it can happen in a bath, too. Give him a few days of warm compresses and rest, and he should be good in a week or so.

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        Sandra gower 19 months ago

        My dogs tail done this after I bath him can that do it to him and well he's a springer spaniel his tail is always wagging but after I bath him it just hung down and it hurts him if you touch it !!

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        Cherri 2 years ago

        Thank you so much I feel much better now knowing my Jasper will be ok..

      • MoRita profile image

        MoRita 4 years ago from IL

        Glad this helped! I was so scared when I first noticed my dog with this problem. Thankfully, it's never in 5 years happened again. :)

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        Bainesbabes 5 years ago

        Came home from a cold water camping trip and my retriever swam across the lake several times. This site saved us from a vet vistit and my puppy is happy to have a warm compress on his tail. Thank you!!

      • profile image

        Roo 6 years ago

        OMG thank you so much this makes me feel much better knowing that it will go away,we hosed her down

      • profile image

        Taz 6 years ago

        Thank u so much for this information. My puli came home from her first beach visit and her tail hung limp. She showed no pain or distress, so this scared me more.

        I tried cutting away her tail hair incase her dreadlocks had matted together and this was causing her tail to pull down.

        Didn't work- i spazzed out- googled my butt off- found this article and feel much better.

        Will try the warm compresses today. Thanks!

      • lifewellspoken profile image

        lifewellspoken 7 years ago from Vancouver BC

        I really liked this Hub, I learned something new, now when I do my pet photography I can let my clients know...Thanks.

        I'm your newest follower, and I know this is a great choice.

      • MoRita profile image

        MoRita 7 years ago from IL

        Indeed, Ed. You are correct. And it will be a happy day.

      • profile image

        ed 7 years ago

        And then one day the tail will slowly slowly lift itself back up and the broken wag will be no more :)