My Dog's Tail Is Painful and He Can't Wag It - What Happened?

Chihuahua on a stool
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Your otherwise healthy dog comes in from the backyard, a swim or a day hiking and you are shocked to find that he can't lift his tail all of the way. What happened? Is this an emergency? Read on to find out more about this fairly common tail occurrence of large breed dogs.

Caution is advised whenever an animal is hurt. Even the most docile pets can be a bite risk if they are in pain or fearful.

This condition is known by many nicknames including limp tail, dead tail, cold tail, and broken tail.

Commonly seen in large active dogs, it often appears suddenly and after vigorous exercise or activity. Other cases have been reported after long periods of being in the same position, such as being in a crate.

The exact cause is not known, but it is thought that the muscles that "run" the tail become overworked or injured, resulting in pain and inability/reluctance to move the tail. Rest is usually curative in a few days.

Other Reasons Dogs Lose Their Wag

It is important to note that there are other causes of odd tail movement, reluctance to wag tail, or tail flaccidity; some of them serious and requiring immediate veterinary attention.

  • Your dog's tail may have an injury -- caught in a door, someone grabbed the tail or anything that physically pulls on it, causing muscle separation/tearing.
  • A bite wound or other skin-damaging wound that could become abscessed, requiring drainage and antibiotics.
  • Back problems or injury.
  • Generalized weakness from neuromuscular or metabolic disease.

Any time your pet is in pain or not feeling well warrants a call to your veterinarian. This article is not intended to "diagnose" a limp tail; there may be other reasons why a tail is limp that could be quite serious.

Your veterinarian can advise you if any treatment or pain medication is necessary. Because it is not often known what the cause is, please see your veterinarian first before administering any home remedies or medications. Never give your pet human medications, unless under your veterinarian's recommendation and care.

Please note: this article has been provided for informational purposes only. If your pet is showing any signs of illness, please consult a veterinarian as quickly as possible.