When Your Dog Injures the Tip of Its Tail: A Simple, Homemade Remedy
My Dog's Injured, Wagging Tail Bled Everywhere
One day, when I bent down to pick something up off the kitchen floor, I noticed red splatter across the refrigerator. What is that? I wondered. Ketchup?
Then I noticed more splatter on the cabinets, across the front of the oven, along the wall and more on the pantry door, which is next to the entry where we usually come into the house. I cleaned it up, realizing then that it was actually blood, but I couldn't find the source. I checked both dogs—their paws, faces, sides. Nothing. I cleaned more blood spatter all over the house, even in areas high on the walls. What was it doing up there? I had visions of a horror movie.
Soon, my husband came home and, as usual, was jumped on and licked by two excited pooches. That's when he noticed Remy's tail. The tip was bright red and actively bleeding as Remy wagged like crazy, so happy to see one of his favorite humans. In his excitement, he tossed more blood all over the kitchen and even splattered it six feet high. The more excited he got, the more the room was covered in red. That's when we learned about a condition called "happy tail."
What Is Happy Tail Syndrome in Dogs?
It's called "happy tail" because this type of injury occurs when a dog wags its tail with a vengeance. Like our Remy, who runs around banging his tail like a whip on furniture, walls, appliances and doors, a dog with happy tail ends up with a bloody stub after repeat trauma. Talk about a tough place to bandage, not to mention a wound that keeps reopening before it ever has a chance to heal.
Managing Happy Tail at Home
After communicating Remy's condition to our vet, we finally figured out an easy way to wrap and protect Remy's tail, which worked well and was a lot less expensive than continuous trips to the veterinary clinic. Keep in mind that veterinarians treat happy tail, but for some owners, managing the condition at home is more sensible.
Always communicate your dog's health status to your vet independent of the severity of the condition you are managing at home.
Trial and Error: What Doesn't Work
After basically sitting on Remy and cleaning his wound—which he clearly noticed once he wasn't so distracted by his excitement—we attempted first aid by loosely wrapping the last few inches and tip of the tail in gauze and securing it with medical tape. That bandage promptly popped right off. Then we tried wrapping from a few inches higher with even more tape. That lasted for only a few wags before the bandage "cone" was flipped across the room.
I've read that if you wrap the tail from the tip to the base (towards the body), it stays on, but:
- We didn't have that much gauze on hand.
- We were certain that either Remy or his sidekick, Jazzy, would promptly get busy trying to pull or chew the bandage off.
So, we began wandering around the house to see what else we might use to wrap and protect that battered tip of a tail in order to give it a chance to heal.
Using Neoprene to Protect a Bleeding Tail
What you're looking at (pictured above) is actually a piece of neoprene that had once been part of a sleeve for a CamelBak drinking tube. We had an extra one and cut off a piece about three inches long.
Neoprene is a flexible material used in products like wet suits, laptop sleeves, and braces for knees, ankles, wrists, etc., and it form-fits itself snugly but not too tightly around whatever it's on. The neoprene had enough "grab" not to slip off of Remy's fur, even when he started wagging.
The Neoprene We Used
This is the same neoprene tubing we found in the house, which you can buy separately. Any piece of neoprene will do, but this is nice because it's already formed into a tube. We cut the tubing all the way open along the side (do not attempt to shove it over the tip of the tail).
While this photo is showing the black neoprene around the plastic tubing (and with different tips), the product sold here is just the neoprene itself.
How to Bandage Your Dog's Tail
As always, communicate and work with your veterinarian before proceeding with any type of non-emergency first aid bandaging on your dog at home. In some states, only licensed medical professionals are allowed to apply bandages, splints and casts under the direct supervision of a veterinarian.
Incorrect Bandaging May Result in Amputation
Incorrect bandaging may result in limb or tail amputation. Bandages that are too tight or wrapped incorrectly can cut off blood supply to tissue and may lead to slow wound healing, tissue death and necrosis. This is why it's important to work closely with your veterinarian.
What Is Correct Bandaging Technique?
Any type of bandage in a first aid situation should immediately resolve active bleeding and be applied on the most distal point of the extremity (the furthest point on the extremity) and wrapped towards the body (up the limb or extremity).
Bandages are applied in this manner to aid circulation and drive blood and lymphatic circulation towards the core of the body. If not wrapped in this manner, limbs, toes, etc. may swell painfully, leading to tissue trauma, infection or tissue death.
Tips for Success
Our method is fairly simple if you can get your dog to lie still for a few minutes. Remy did require being laid upon to get him to calm down and hold still long enough for us to take care of the wound, but even once he was relaxed, canine nurse, Jazzy, got in on the action. So, next time (and we're pretty sure there will be a next time), Jazzy will be removed from the room.
We definitely recommend working in a distraction-free area with your dog. Also, proceed with caution if your dog is fractious (or overly wiggly)—you may opt for assistance from an experienced animal handler in this case to avoid injuries to yourself and others.
First Aid: How to Treat a Dog's Bleeding Tail
- First, we cleaned the wound with warm water and gentle soap (wound cleanser works too).
- We let the tip of the tail air-dry for a minute, then used an antibacterial spray and applied Bag Balm after that. Whatever you use, make sure it's veterinarian-approved.
- We cut a piece of neoprene at least three inches long, and since it was tubing, we cut it open rather forcing it over the tail tip. When we placed the neoprene around the tail, we allowed it to extend roughly half an inch beyond the tip.
- We used medical tape to wrap and secure the neoprene (but not too tightly). (Medical tape adheres well to neoprene and is nice and flexible. It's fairly easy to tear off once you're done wrapping, and it doesn't peel off easily, making it harder for a dog to nibble off.) This method allowed us to get the neoprene fairly snug without it bothering our dog. The neoprene itself provided enough padding that the tape didn't constrict. We also made sure not to tape over the open end of the neoprene in order to let the injury "breathe."
- We checked the tail daily for any sign of infection. Minor tail wounds can bleed a lot, so we cleaned it well and watched it daily to determine the extent of the injury and whether or not it split.
It's highly advised that if the tail doesn't appear to be healing quickly—as with any wound—or if the wound looks "substantial" once you've cleaned it and can get a good look at it, to contact your vet.
A Happy Tail Syndrome Success Story
At the time of writing this, our homemade tail tip protector—which is open at the end just beyond the tip to allow for air flow in addition to tail protection—has been on there for four days, and Remy hasn't attempted to get it off. This indicates to us that it's comfortable and not too tight. Remy too has been his usual wagging, nutty self, and periodic tail tip checks have shown that the wound is still improving despite him whacking his tail and the neoprene sleeve all over the house.
Happy tail syndrome can be a frustrating condition to work with, but there are solutions. I hope this article can be of help. Feel free to share your story in the comments section below.
Another Method of Tail Bandage Application
- Specified Duties of Non-Veterinarians 2019
- Tail Bandage for Minor Wounds | Grand Avenue Veterinary Center
- Tail Injuries in Dogs | VCA Animal Hospital
The tail is an important part of the canine anatomy and is actually an extension of the spine. This complex tail structure of bone, muscles, nerves, and blood vessels can easily be injured.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Questions & Answers
At what store could I buy neoprene?
You can find it on Amazon online. In person, you could try an outdoor store if you have any nearby. They may sell the neoprene tube "sleeves" separately from the drinking tubes and bladders (e.g. Camelbaks). But ordering it online may be your best bet.Helpful 7
Is it okay to cut off the dogs tail?
While this question may be sarcasm, it's not something I would ever do and of course never without a veterinarian in a surgical setting. Of course, some people have their dogs' tails docked, particularly certain breeds, but that's not a practice I'm personally in favor of. If "happy tail" bleeding is a persistent problem with your dog, I most definitely consult your vet.Helpful 15
Have you had any more incidents after putting the Neoprene on your dog's tail? Has it healed completely? Have there been any more bloody incidents?
Remy, the Golden Retriever/Lab mix in the photos is no longer with us. He died of cancer at a young age, sadly.
Once his bleeding "happy tail" healed the first time with the Neoprene, it was probably the better part of a year before it ever bled again, but not as badly. After healing a second time, again with the Neoprene, it seemed to have calloused over enough, if that's the right word, that it never bled again, even when he'd whack his wagging tail on walls and furniture and other things.Helpful 11
Did you tape the top of the neoprene to your dogs tail to help it stay on? Also did you have to change it frequently or reapply medicine to the tip?
The neoprene extended a little beyond the tip of his tail, so we didn't need to tape that part. That also allowed air to get in there. We did open it up to add more ointment but didn't have to change the neoprene. We just changed the medical tape after applying new medicine.Helpful 9
What if my dog's tail is like a very short one that has been cut off to a nub?
Then I would expect this would never be a problem. "Happy tail" injuries happen to dogs with long (natural length) tails hitting objects or even walls when the dogs wag. With a cropped tail, that would not happen. If a cropped tail is bleeding, I would definitely seek veterinary attention.Helpful 7
© 2013 Deb Kingsbury