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What is this ‘limber tail’ my dog is suffering from?

It seems to particularly affect working dogs, but why?

Limber tail syndrome in dogs

Limber tail is frequently reported in working dogs, particularly Labradors

Q: My 19-month-old undocked Hungarian vizsla developed limber tail after attending a working test. The condition came on very quickly and caused him considerable pain. We gave him Metacam and he recovered in about three days. Though he did swim in the working test, it was 
in relatively warm water. The condition seems poorly understood — could you shed any light 
on causes, prevention and remedy?

Limber tail syndrome – an explanation

A: Limber tail syndrome (LTS), sometimes referred to as swimmer’s or cold tail, is a curious condition, most frequently reported in working gundogs and particularly Labradors. Typically, the dog presents with a ‘paralysed’ tail; the tail is either held firmly between the legs or part of the tail hangs limp. There is usually some pain or discomfort at the base of the tail, the dog is reluctant to wag it and many will be uncomfortable and distressed.

As part of some recent studies in the UK, LTS was reported in approximately 0.5 to 0.7 per cent of the Labrador retrievers whose owners took part. Furthermore, assuming that swimming may be considered a form of vigorous exercise, the vast majority of cases experienced some form of vigorous exercise prior to developing LTS and about half of those dogs had been both cold and wet. These studies demonstrate that swimming in cold water is not a prerequisite to developing the condition.

The precise cause is unknown, though it is most likely a sign of muscular damage, probably muscular fatigue. This would make sense because the tail is a powerful organ used a lot while working and particularly for swimming.

How is the condition treated?

Treatment is rest. Recovery will be spontaneous, albeit over a period of several hours or days. A non-steroidal inflammatory drug such as Metacam will help to reduce inflammation.