Dead Tail Syndrome: Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

If your dog suddenly stops wagging its tail and its tail looks sad and droopy (even broken!) it might have Acute Caudal Myopathy. It’s commonly known by several terms:

Dead tail
Cold tail
Swimmer’s tail
Limber tail
Limp tail

Dead tail can occur in any breed with a tail. But the pointing and retrieving dogs are particularly susceptible to it.

What is it?

Dead tail results from overexertion of the tail muscles. It is an acute inflammation. The tail goes limp and the dog may have pain near the base of the tail.  Almost all affected dogs will return to normal within a week.


The syndrome seems to be caused by muscle injury possibly brought on by overexertion, says Janet Steiss, DVM, PhD. Steiss is coauthor of the 1999 study on limber tail published in the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine. The study linked the condition to damage in muscles at the base of the tail. Researchers used electromyography (EMG), imaging, and tissue testing on dogs affected with limber tail and concluded that the coccygeal muscles near the base of the tail had sustained damage.  The damage did not affect the tail bone, only the tail muscles. There was also no indication of joint and ligament damage so they concluded that dead tail is a muscular issue.

What causes it?


The exact cause is unknown but there are a few key risk factors:

1. Overexertion.

Vigorous activity within the previous 24 hours. Your dog may seem fine immediately following the activity but wakes up in pain the next day. Dead tail is not always associated with swimming or water. It can happen after a heavy day of work that involves a lot of tail action.

2. Exposure to very cold water or cold weather.

3. Lack of conditioning.

Overexertion seems to be a common precursor, especially if a dog is thrown into rigourous exercise when he or she is not in good condition. Gradually condition your dog to avoid muscle fatigue.



1. Limp tail. The tail may droop lifeless between your dog’s rear legs or it may stick out a couple of inches before drooping.

2. Difficulty sitting or standing because dogs use their tails for balance.


3. Difficulty finding a comfortable sitting position. You may see him shifting his weight from side to side. The dog may also be reluctant to squat to defecate.

4. Off food. Your dog may be so distracted by his pain that he might not feel like eating.

5. Dog may have raised hair near the base of the tail because of swelling.

 6. Occurs after extreme activity.
Dead tail will show up soon after the triggering event usually within hours or overnight. Determine what factors caused the dead tail and avoid them in the future.

7. Good vital signs and dog is still eating and drinking normally despite the floppy tail. Dead tail usually does not hamper most dogs’ ability to function normally.

8. The tail shows gradual improvement over a few days.

9 Occurs after sudden climate change.


What to Do If Your Dog Has DEAD Tail

 1. Check with your vet to rule out any other possible ailments.  There are some medical problems that resemble dead tail:
    •    Tail fracture
    •    Lower back pain from a diseased intervertebral disk or osteoarthritis
    •    Infection or inflammation of the anal glands
    •    Prostate disease

 2. Rest your dog until the tail returns to normal. And then ease your dog into any intense activity.

3. Give anti-inflammatory medication within 24 hours. Anecdotal reports suggest that anti-inflammatory drugs administered within 24 hours shortens recovery time. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are commonly used to reduce pain, though they don’t usually affect swelling. 

5. To hasten recovery for competition dogs, visit a muscle therapist.

6. Keep bedding dry especially in cold, wet weather