My Pitbull-Mastiff cross puppy, Shelagh (okay, she’s 2 years old now but still as exuberant as a puppy) is normally a big bundle of energy first thing in the morning. Her tail is the first thing you notice. Slapping you around the legs, that is, as she dances around with her entire body wagging with happiness.
Shelagh was introduced to our swimming pool at a young age, and very quickly learnt to jump in to retrieve her favourite ball. It used to be a soccer ball. After getting the “Shelagh treatment” it is nothing more than a deflated sac with an orange rubber lining that sometimes peeks out of a large hole in its outer skin, rather vulgarly. But despite its imperfections, it is still Shelagh’s favourite pool toy.
After 4 1/2 months of cold weather, we finally declared our swimming pool open again. The water is still quite cold, but once you’ve mustered the courage to jump right in and swim around a bit, it’s just dandy.
After such a long time without being in the pool, I was impressed that Shelagh remembered what swimming was all about. She ran straight to where “Ball” was kept, grabbed it and did her “Victory Lap” around the perimeter of the pool. She jumped in to get “Ball”, and even remembered to let us hold onto her back as she swam. After an hour of vigorous exercise, I towelled her dry and let her run around the garden before letting her back into the house.
That was when I noticed that Shelagh seemed strangely unable to settle down on the chaise, like she usually does. She would turn round and round, flop down for a minute, then she would change her position and whine. She jumped off the chaise, lay down on the rug, jumped up again after a couple of minutes, whined, wandered over to the kitchen where she lay on the wooden floor. A minute after that she came back to the chaise, tried to settle down again, got up again etc.
I noticed her carrying her normally waggy tail low, almost tucked under. I wondered if she’d broken her tail, if she’d thwacked it too enthusiastically against something hard. When I touched her tail where it was drooping, Shelagh yelped in pain. I tried to make her wag her tail like she normally does, but she couldn’t lift it over her back. Oh no!
It was night and the vet was closed for the day. So I hopped on my computer onto Google and the keywords “dog broken tail?”. A few entries down, I came across a site that described exactly Shelagh’s symptoms. There are many terms for this condition – caudal myopathy, sprained tail, limber tail, dead tail, cold water tail.
Cold water tail. I’m almost certain that’s what poor Shelagh has. You could think of it as RSI (repetitive strain injury) of the tail, caused by over-exertion after a prolonged period of inactivity. My poor baby’s tail was inflamed, hence the swelling at the point where the droop began.
Limber tail can occur in any dog with an undocked tail, but certain breeds, especially pointing and retrieving dogs, seem particularly susceptible to it. Among these breeds are Labrador, Golden, and Flat-Coated Retrievers; English Pointers and Setters; Beagles; and Foxhounds. Both sexes and all ages can be affected. Other common names for the condition are “cold tail” (especially among Retrievers, who often exhibit symptoms after swimming in frigid water), “limp tail,” “rudder tail,” “broken tail,” or even “dead tail.”
The exact cause is unknown, but there are a few different factors that seem to be linked to limber tail. Overexertion seems to be a common precursor, especially if an animal is thrown into excessive exercise when he or she is not in good condition.
Limber tail has an acute onset. It is not a condition where the tail gets progressively weaker. Instead, it is an acute inflammation. Typically, the tail is suddenly limp and the dog may seem to have pain near the base of the tail. Over the next three to four days, the dog slowly recovers to the point where by four to seven days he’s usually back to normal.
The condition resolves over the course of a few days or a week and usually leaves no aftereffects.
So no more swimming til you get better, my dearest Shelagh. And even then we will make sure you don’t over exert that beautiful tail of yours. I like it best when it’s carried proudly over your back and wagging with pure joy!
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