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Why is my dog’s tail limp?

Q: Cyrus, my 5-year-old Labrador retriever, roughhoused with a younger dog all afternoon. Tonight, his tail is limp, and he can't move it. I think it hurts, because he walks away when I touch it. Did he break his tail when he was playing? What should I do?

A: Whenever Cyrus has a problem, make an appointment to have his veterinarian check him. Because he's in pain, he needs to be seen immediately.

It sounds like Cyrus may have sprained or strained the muscles, tendons and ligaments that support his tail and make it wag. The condition has many names: limber tail, limp tail, dead tail, swimmer's tail and cold tail.

This disorder most often appears suddenly as a flaccid tail that either hangs straight down or is held out a few inches and then hangs down. Often the base of the tail is tender, and it may be swollen. Usually the dog is lethargic from the pain.

The condition usually occurs in sporting and working breeds after a hard workout, prolonged swimming, extended time in the crate or exposure to cold, wet weather. Treatment consists of rest and an anti-inflammatory pain reliever. Recovery usually occurs within a few days to a week.

Still, it's important to have your veterinarian examine Cyrus to be sure his tail injury isn't something more serious and to prescribe treatment to speed his recovery.

Lee Pickett, V.M.D. practices companion animal medicine in North Carolina. Contact her at

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