8 Tips to Prevent Swimmer’s Tail in Dogs

Do you have a dog whose tail is always wagging in sheer excitement? If so, you may find yourself feeling really concerned if you suddenly notice your once-happy dog’s tail is down all of a sudden, hanging limply. This is a surprisingly common condition that goes by many names including swimmer’s tail, frozen tail, cold-water tail, limber tail, and broken wag.

What is swimmer’s tail and what causes it? Let’s take a look at the details of this dog tail injury closely as well as what you can do to prevent it.

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What Causes Swimmer’s Tail in Dogs?

While some tail injuries can be extremely serious, you may find yourself concerned that you are dealing with a broken dog tail or a dog tail fracture. While you shouldn’t ignore your dog’s discomfort from this, the good news is that swimmer’s tail isn’t a serious or life-threatening condition. Your dog’s loss of tail movement is the result of a muscle sprain or strain in their tail.

The most common causes of swimmer’s tail include:

  • Overuse (yes, they can be too happy)
  • Swimming
  • Exposure to extreme cold
  • Excessive exercise or activity
  • Long periods spent confined in a crate or small pen
  • Sudden changes in climate

Of these causes, the one that surprises most dog owners is swimming. When your dog is swimming, they use their tails to help steer them and to keep them balanced in the water. This means that the muscles in their tails are actively engaged. Like any other muscle – the more they are used, the greater the risk of a sprain. Especially without proper conditioning or in cold water conditions.

The term swimmer’s tail is the name used most often to describe this condition among outdoor travellers. But there are other ways your dog may experience a tail injury while adventuring outdoors. You should watch out for signs of trouble even if a day at the lake isn’t in your plans. Pay attention to your dog after a long day of hiking or tracking. You should also pay careful attention if you are hiking or camping in cold weather.

What Are the Signs of Swimmer’s Tail in Dogs?

You may have found yourself here reading this article after searching ‘my dog’s tail is limp’, but there are other signs that you should be familiar with. Especially if you have a dog whose tail naturally hangs down in a limp or relaxed position.

Keep an eye open for the following signs:

  • Limpness in the tail either full or partial
  • Dog fails to wag their tail when excited
  • Shows signs of pain especially when the tail is touched
  • Whining, whimpering, or pacing
  • Excessive licking or chewing of the tail
  • Raised fur on the top surface of the tail
  • Lethargy

Is Swimmer’s Tail Painful?

If you have ever sprained your ankle or your wrist, then you know that a sprain can be a rather painful condition. This is no different when the sprain occurs in your dog’s tail.

Of course, your dog may be trying to hide the pain and discomfort. In the wild, dogs would have to hide pain to hide any sign of weakness that would make them an easy target. Your dog may not be concerned about being picked off by a predator, but it is still their natural instinct. That’s why it is so important to pay attention to the subtle signs that something isn’t ‘right’.

The sooner swimmer’s tail (or any other tail injury) is diagnosed, the sooner you can seek treatment and much-needed relief for your pup.

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Can Dogs Break Their Tails?

There are situations where a dog’s tail injury may be more serious. If your dog experienced some form of trauma. Some examples outdoors could include a tree branch or rock falling on your dog’s tail, or your dog experiencing a trip and fall and landing on their tail the wrong way.

The amount of pain that your dog is experiencing, and the severity of the injury, will depend on where the break or fracture is located on the tail. A break at the tip may go completely unnoticed and heal up on its own. The closer that the break occurs to the base of the tail, the more serious the injury will be.

Do I Need to go to the Vet for Swimmer’s Tail?

Have you noticed any of the above signs of swimmer’s tail in your dog? Are you concerned that your dog may have injured their tail in some way? If so, you should make an appointment to see the veterinarian as soon as possible. Injuries like these can be very painful and in addition to offering the proper swimmer’s tail treatment, they may also be able to provide some short-term pain relief.

In addition to pain relief, there are also other medical conditions that present with similar symptoms including:

  • Broken tail or tail fracture
  • Lower back pain or osteoarthritis
  • Diseased or damaged intervertebral disc
  • Infected or impacted anal glands
  • Prostate disease

Your veterinarian will be able to run the tests necessary to rule out these conditions and ensure that your dog is receiving the proper treatment.

8 Tips to Prevent Swimmer’s Tail in Your Dog (and Other Trail Injuries)

As dog lovers and dog parents, we never want to see our best friends in pain. For this reason, prevention is always the preferred approach. While there is no guaranteed way to ensure your adventure dog will never experience an injury, here are a few tips to help prevent swimmer’s tail on your next outdoor adventure.

Focus on Building Endurance and Stamina

Every hiker knows that there are a variety of different trail difficulties. This makes hiking accessible to first-time hikers and experienced hikers alike – but human hikers aren’t the only ones that we need to consider when selecting the right path. Before heading out on a difficult trail, make sure to build up your dog’s endurance and stamina.

Follow Crate Time with Stretch Breaks

Do you use a crate to keep your dog contained at night in your tent? If so, you need to consider what they need to get up and get moving again. This means factoring in some stretches immediately after leaving the crate and engaging in any activity.

Choose an Appropriately Sized Crate

Another point relating to the use of a crate is to be sure that you are using a crate that is properly sized for your dog. It should be large enough that your dog can stand up and turn around to stretch their legs as needed.

Be Cautious of Trailer and Vehicle Doors

Your dog wants to be with you whenever possible, which means following you in and out of your trailer or vehicle throughout your day. While there is nothing wrong with this, you do need to be careful when closing doors behind you. It’s easy to miss the fact that your dog’s tail hasn’t quite cleared the door in time, leading to a preventable injury.

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Take Note of Rough or Uneven Terrain

If you are hiking with your dog on uneven terrain, consider slowing your pace slightly to allow your dog to focus more on secure, proper footing. A tail injury may not be your first concern when it comes to a slip and fall, but it is one of the potential outcomes.  This also goes for slippery surfaces such as wet stones or icy trails.

Ensure Your Dog has Warm, Dry Bedding

Temperatures often drop as we head into the evening hours. If your dog’s bed is wet, this puts them at risk of becoming chilled overnight. Extreme cold is a risk factor that can’t always be controlled, but offering a warm, dry bed to snuggle into is a solution that every dog parent can focus on.

Set Reasonable Limits for Your Dog

Hunting dogs and herding dogs were bred to push themselves to incredible feats while keeping up with their jobs. Unfortunately, this means that they don’t always recognize when they are pushing themselves too far. In the same way that parents must set boundaries and limits for their children, we also have to do that for our dogs. This means enforcing breaks when hiking, swimming, or just playing around the campsite.

Restrict Time in Cold Water

If your dog is a water lover, it can be hard to keep them out of the water even when the temperatures are lower than we would consider comfortable. But the longer your dog is swimming in cold water, the higher the risk of swimmer’s tail. Stick to short swimming sessions when possible.

Has your dog ever experienced swimmer’s tail? If so, what was the first warning sign that caught your attention and how did you help them during recovery?

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