Acute caudal myopathy, also sometimes called limber tail or swimmer’s tail is a condition where the tail of the dog suddenly becomes limp and painful, and unable to support its own weight. If your dog’s wag appears to be “broken,” or they suddenly seem unwilling to sit down properly or move much, they may have developed the condition.
While acute caudal myopathy is often mistaken for a broken tail, or a break of one of the spinal bones responsible for holding the tail, it is actually a unique condition in its own right, and does not indicate a breakage of the bone. Read on to learn more about acute caudal myopathy in dogs, what causes it, and what to do about it.
While any dog can potentially develop the condition, which is often sudden in onset, it is most likely to affect active, working dog breeds, particularly those that spend a lot of time in water or enjoy playing in the water.
Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, English Setters, English Pointers, Beagles and Foxhounds are the types of dogs most likely to suffer from the condition, with their long, strong, muscular tails.
While the condition may appear to be caused by a bone breakage at first glance, it is actually caused by pain or damage to the muscles at the base of the tail, which support normal tail carriage and movement. What exactly causes the pain or damage that indicate that the condition is present is not known, but it is thought to be related to restricted blood flow to the muscles within the tail, and at the base of the spine where the tail begins.
There are a lot of potential causes for the blood flow to the tail to become restricted, but the most common one of these can involve swimming in cold water, or vigorous swimming, leading to overexertion of the tail muscles when in the water. The condition will often begin within a day or so of swimming, hence one of the colloquial terms for the condition, “swimmer’s tail.”
However, the condition is not unique to dogs that have been swimming recently, and any activity that involves vigorous use of the tail- even too much wagging! – may potentially lead to muscle tiredness and contraction of the muscles to the tail, and the associated constriction of blood flow that leads to the condition.
Once you take your dog along to the vet, firstly they will need to rule out an actual breakage of one of the tail bones, which is usually performed by physical examination, but may involve an x-ray analysis. Your vet will also ask about what your dog has been up to recently, and particularly, if they have been swimming within the last couple of days. Muscle biopsies may be taken to be on the safe side, but these are not always necessary.
As well a potentially broken tail, very sore, impacted anal glands in the dog can also sometimes cause symptoms that look similar to acute caudal myopathy, as can pain in the lower spine and back, both of which must be ruled out as part of the diagnosis.
The symptoms of limber tail or swimmer’s tail will usually resolve themselves over time, usually within a fortnight. However, your dog’s tail may remain rather painful during this time, and so painkillers may be administered to help your dog to cope.
A dog that has developed the condition once is not at any greatly heightened risk of the condition happening again in the future, but if your dog is a keen swimmer and the right combination of circumstances are present in future, the condition can and may recur. Some breeds and types of dog are considered to be more likely to develop the condition than others, but this may be due in part to the types of activities that these dogs take part in.
Larger breed dogs with long, strong, heavy tails are rather more likely to develop the condition than small dogs, with small tails.
There is no foolproof way to prevent your dog from developing cute caudal myopathy, as it is not always obvious why the condition occurred in the first place. Avoiding allowing your dog to swim in very cold water may go some way towards stopping them from developing the condition, but this is by no means foolproof!
Cold weather in general, and the associated coldness of the muscles, may make the condition more prevalent than at other times, so ensure that your dog is able to warm up gradually and get their muscles moving freely before vigorous exercise, particularly in cold weather.