Limber tail syndrome is a temporary affliction that can affect dogs from time to time, and that is also sometimes referred to as swimmer’s tail or the rather frightening-sounding acute caudal myopathy.
For dog owners that have never seen the condition before or are not aware of it, it can be quite frightening to witness one’s own dog suffering from the condition, which can easily be confused with a broken tail but without the associated trauma needed to cause one.
When a dog is suffering from limber tail, their tail falls limp and unable to hold itself in its normal carriage, nor support its own weight. It can also be painful, and will mean that your dog will not be able to move their tail freely nor wag it, and in some cases, be unable to lie down or get comfortable either.
The condition occurs when the muscles at the base of the tail or further up the spine become strained or otherwise damaged, and because the tail of the dog is not a standalone appendage but actually a continuation of the dog’s spine, complete with discs, cartilage and nerves, can be very painful, and affect the dog’s movement.
Muscle damage or strain in the tail can occur if the normal flow of blood through the tail is restricted, which can be caused by a great many factors, with the most common of these being excessive wagging or spending a long time swimming energetically, hence one of the alternate names for the condition being “swimmer’s tail.”
When a dog swims, they use their tail as a type of rudder, to help them to direct themselves through the water, and provide balance and propulsion. While swimming is great exercise for dogs and in many cases, even better than walking and running, it does also provide a full muscle workout, and for dogs that swim either very regularly and energetically or that are not used to swimming, it is all too easy for the muscles at the base of the tail to become pulled or strained.
This can occur not long after the dog has left the water, or may take up to a day to become apparent-however, it usually resolves itself over time, although this can take anything from a day or so to up to a couple of weeks. In the meantime, the dog may suffer from pain and lack of normal movement, and if this is particularly problematic for them, may require the prescription of painkillers, anti-inflammatories, and/or muscle relaxants.
Whilst all of this information makes good sense when explained, there is another aspect to limber tail or swimmer’s tail in dogs that is a little harder to understand-limber tail has been identified as much more common in dogs in the north of the UK than it is in the south!
In this article, we will look at some of the reasons behind this, and consider the issue in more detail. Read on to learn more.
The Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies at Edinburgh University conducted the first large-scale study into limber tail in dogs, and published their results earlier this year.
The study began due to the high numbers of dogs recorded to have presented with the condition since limber tail became classed as a condition in its own right and so, became better understood-in total, around 60,000 dogs in the UK are known to have suffered from the condition on at least one occasion, based on veterinary reporting. However, a great many more cases are likely to have gone undiagnosed, or not been reported as it resolves itself over time.
As well as identifying the potential scale of the condition across the UK as a whole and the breeds and types of dogs that were most likely to be affected by it (such as large breeds and working dogs in particular, like the Labrador retriever), the study also determined that for every additional degree of latitude further north a dog lived, their chances of suffering from the condition rose by a fairly significant 50%!
Additionally, dogs that swim a lot or that work outdoors, particularly in the north of the country, are up to five times more likely to present with the condition than other dogs.
Ultimately, the study concluded that the reason behind why limber tail is more common in the north, and that the risk factors for the condition increase significantly for every additional degree north in latitude that a dog goes is due to the fact that the weather gets progressively colder the further north you go.
Muscle strain and damage is most likely to occur when the muscles are cool or have not warmed up properly, and even in dogs that are physically warm and moving around a lot, the combination of the cooler temperature in the north and the effect that cold has on the muscles combined increase the odds of dogs in the north suffering from the condition, particularly when swimming.
If you are exercising your dog, letting them swim or use them for a working role, it is vitally important to understand how cold can affect the dog’s muscles and tendons, and warming them up and cooling them down properly before and after exercise is more important than ever.
Avoid allowing your dog to swim in particularly cool water, and remember that just because the air is warm, it does not mean that the water will be too!