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Broken Dog Tail: How to Heal Your Pup’s Busted Wagger

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Dog Health By Ben Team 10 min read September 21, 2020 22 Comments

dog broken tail 1

Your dog uses his tail for a variety of things. But two of the most important things his tail helps with are balance and communication.

For example, your pup’s tail helps him relay information to other dogs, it keeps him swimming in a straight line when he uses it like a rudder, and it allows you to understand when he is scared, happy or wants something from you (spoiler alert: He always wants something from you).

Unfortunately, dogs often suffer injuries to their tail, which can cause them pain and prevent them from communicating properly with humans and other dogs.

Accordingly, you’ll want to address your dog’s wrecked wagger as soon as possible, to eliminate any pain and ensure that he can behave in the way dogs are meant to.

Below we’ll discuss the different types of tail injuries that occur, the primary methods by which they are treated, and a few ways to help avoid them.

Get to Know Your Dog’s Tail

It is important to familiarize yourself with the anatomy of your dog’s tail, so you can take care of it in the most efficient manner possible. After all, tails are pretty foreign appendages to most humans.

Contrary to many dog owners’ assumption, dogs do have bones in their tails. In fact, the bones in your dog’s tail represent the terminal end of the spinal column. The number of bones in a given dog’s tail varies, but most have between 5 and 23 separate vertebrae.

The skin and fur coating the outside of the tail are essentially identical to that covering the rest of your dog’s body. Just beneath the skin, you’d find blood vessels, connective tissue and a series of muscles. Some of the muscles at the base of your dog’s tail are also involved in controlling their bowels and bladders, so severe tail injuries can occasionally lead to incontinence.

A collection of tendons and ligaments connect muscles to other muscles and the caudal vertebrae (tail bones) which form the core of the tail. These muscles provide precision control over the tail, thereby allowing it to serve as a remarkably effective communication device.

dog broken tail 2

Types of Tail Injuries and Their Treatments

Your dog’s tail can become injured in a variety of ways, and each requires a slightly different treatment strategy. Some of the most common types of tail injuries include:

Cuts and Scrapes

Cuts (lacerations) and scrapes (abrasions) can happen for a variety of reasons, including fights with other animals, running through thorny bushes, or simply brushing up against something sharp. Cuts can also occur if your dog bites his tail (such as may occur in response to fleas), or if he slams it into something while wagging it enthusiastically. Some dogs may even suffer scrapes after wagging their tail across cement or asphalt.

Minor cuts can be treated with typical first aid techniques; just wash the wound, apply a little triple-antibiotic ointment (like Neosporin) and try to keep it clean and protected until it heals.

On the other hand, major cuts – those that will not stop bleeding, appear deep, or extend for more than an inch or two – will require veterinary attention. Such wounds may require stitches, elaborate bandages, and prescription antibiotics.

Skin Infections

The skin on your dog’s tail may become infected just like anywhere else on his body. This includes ailments like flea allergy dermatitis and hot spots, among others.

The treatment for skin infections of the tail mirror the treatments used to treat skin infections in other places, and typically involve cleaning of the afflicted area and the application of appropriate medications.

Your dog may also need to be fitted with an e-collar to prevent him from licking or chewing on the afflicted area.

Strains and Sprains

The muscles, ligaments, and tendons in your dog’s tail can become strained or sprained just like any other muscles — a condition vets often call “limber tail.” This normally occurs following overuse, but it can also precipitate from some type of trauma.

Many dogs suffer tail sprains or strains following extended swimming sessions, although hunting and herding dogs can also develop similar problems after working long hours.

These types of injuries usually resolve on their own with a few days of rest. However, it is important to visit your veterinarian if these types of problems linger.

Breaks and Dislocations

Breaks and dislocations are some of the more serious tail problems from which dogs can suffer. These types of injuries frequently occur when a dog’s tail is stepped upon, shut in a door or pulled (please do not pull your dog’s tail). In the case of a break, one or more vertebrae are fractured; in the case of a dislocation, two or more vertebrae are separated.

Broken or dislocated tails are often extremely painful, so immediate veterinary attention is warranted. It isn’t usually possible to place a cast on a dog’s tail, so the treatment options are relatively limited. Nevertheless, broken and dislocated tails usually heal with time, rest and protection. However, they are often permanently kinked at the damaged spot.

Nerve Damage

The nerves connecting to your dog’s tail can become damaged through traumatic events, such as being hit by a car, or as a byproduct of slipped or damaged vertebral discs (in the back or tail). Because some of the nerves and muscles in your dog’s tail are connected to his rectum and bladder, these types of injuries can significantly compromise your pup’s quality of life.

Nerve damage can sometimes be treated through the use of steroids, and pain medications can help keep your dog comfortable. It will usually be necessary to treat the underlying cause (such as disc-related diseases) to achieve a satisfactory outcome.

Symptoms of a Tail Injury

A variety of different symptoms and signs can indicate that your dog is suffering from a tail injury. Some are more obvious than others, so you need to be observant in order to give your dog the best chance to heal completely.

A few of the most common symptoms of tail injury include:

  • Carrying the tail in an unusual position
  • Wagging the tail to one side*
  • Alterations in your pet’s gait
  • Repeated licking or biting at the tail
  • Guarding the tail
  • Limp tail that hangs
  • Inability to move the tail
  • Whimpering and other vocalizations that do not seem to be associated with other ailments
  • Hair loss
  • Any changes in your dog’s normal tail-wagging behavior
  • Foul odors coming from the tail
  • Incontinence

* Some dogs normally wag to one side or the other, which is not a problem. Sudden changes, however, do indicate a potential injury.

Broken Tail FAQs

We’ll try to answer some of the most common questions owners have when faced with a broken-tailed dog, below.

How much does it usually cost to repair a broken dog tail at the vet?

We understand that treatment costs will be one of the first things many owners will wonder after noticing their pup’s busted wager. And while we’d love to give you an estimate, it’s just not possible.

The severity of the injury, your dog’s breed and health status, and the treatment you opt for will cause the prices to vary significantly.

If your pet’s tail isn’t badly broken, and your vet suspects it’ll heal on its own, you may only find yourself paying for a basic vet office visit, X-ray, and some pain meds. This will likely cost you about $100 to $200.

On the other hand, if your pet ends up needing surgery, you’ll likely find the costs soar into the thousands.

Can a dog’s broken tail heal on its own?

Some broken tails can heal on their own, but others will not. There’s no way for you to know this without your vet’s help, so it is always a good idea to take your dog in for an examination – especially if he appears to be in pain.

How long does it take to heal a broken tail bone?

Healing time will vary based on the exact nature of your dog’s injury and the treatment plan you and your vet have undertaken. Minor fractures or sprains may heal in as little as a week or two, while more serious injuries may take a month or more to completely heal.

What can I give my dog for inflammation?

Never give your dog any medication without your vet’s approval – many common people medications can be very toxic to dogs. Your vet may instruct you to administer an over-the-counter pain medicine to your pet, or he or she may prescribe a pain-killing medication that is specifically formulated for dogs.

How can you tell if your dog’s tail is broken or merely sprained?

The only way to be 100% sure that a dog’s tail is, in fact, broken is by X-raying the tail (your vet may be able to achieve a pretty high level of confidence by feeling the tail, but you’ll probably lack the experience to do so – besides, this will likely hurt for your dog).

However, it’s a good bet that your dog’s tail is broken if he is unable to wag it for a prolonged period of time (say, 24 hours or so). This is particularly true of dogs who can only wag a portion of their tail.

Preventing Tail Injuries

Some of the best ways to avoid tail injuries are so obvious that they really needn’t be said. But we’ll remind you just in case!

Be careful that you don’t step on your dog’s tail, try to avoid letting other animals bite your dog’s tail, and be careful when visiting rocking chair factories.

 Keep your dog on a leash anytime he is in an unsecured area and don’t leave your samurai sword sitting around at tail height.

However, there are a few other ways to avoid injuries that aren’t so obvious.

 For example, you should be careful when letting your dog jump down from high places, as his tail may get caught in the process.

 It’s a good idea to avoid letting your dog over-exert his tail, by suddenly beginning an intense physical activity. Don’t, for example, let your dog swim around for hours if he doesn’t get the chance to swim very often, avoid letting your dog swim in very cold water, and introduce working dogs to their activities slowly.

 It’s also important to use a good preventative flea treatment to nip flea allergy dermatitis in the bud. You may want to pick a product designed to kill ticks too, especially if you and your pup frequent tick-infested areas.

dog broken tail 3

If your dog spends a lot of time on abrasive surfaces (such as a driveway or cement-bottomed kennel), be sure to inspect his tail frequently for signs of scrapes or injury.

You also want to be sure to give your dog plenty of exercise, stimulation, and companionship, to avoid stress-related biting and licking, as the tail is often the focal point for such behaviors.

One of the trickiest problems to avoid is the so-called “happy dog” syndrome, in which a dog’s exuberant wagging results in repeated injuries. For starters, you’ll want to remove as many tail-height hazards in your home. But this will rarely eliminate the problem entirely; you can’t very well move the walls in your home, for example.

You can speak to your vet about padding your dog’s tail (or at least the afflicted region), and there is at least one type of tail-tip protector you can use in such attempts. However, you may have no other choice but to have part of your dog’s tail amputated to prevent further injury and suffering.

***

Has your pup ever suffered from a broken or injured tail? How did it happen? Were you able to help him heal at home, or did he require veterinary care? We’d love to hear all about it in the comments below.

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Written by

Ben Team

Ben is the senior content editor for K9 of Mine and has spent most of his adult life working as a wildlife educator and animal-care professional. Ben’s had the chance to work with hundreds of different species, but his favorite animals have always been dogs. He currently lives in Atlanta, GA with his spoiled-rotten Rottweiler named J.B. Chances are, she’s currently giving him the eyes and begging to go to the park.

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22 Comments

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Russ

My 9 month old boxer was wrestling with the 3 year old boxer and landed on his docked tail after poor dismount while jumping. After much yelping and hunched scooting around, it’s got a kink near the end now, and he keeps licking it. I’ll see how he handles it today, and if it gives him any more trouble, I’ll take him into the vet. Thanks for the tips.

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Ben Team

Glad the article helped, Russ, but we’d recommend going ahead and visiting the vet.
The kink may be caused by a broken or dislocated bone, which is undoubtedly very painful.
Best of luck! Let us know what your vet says!

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Debbie

Hi – my Pomeranian mix dog had surgery on his tail about 4 weeks ago to remove a mass. After many emergency visits for pain control, etc. he seems to be doing better except for the fact that he keeps wanting to go after his tail. We’re still giving him Gabapentin and trazadone and recently started giving him amantadine. He seems to like pressure on his tail, usually by us holding it, or wrapping it tightly with vetwrap. He was initially also given carprofen, but we stopped shortly after surgery because we thought it was causing him to have constipation (didn’t go to bathroom for 5 days). Should we have continued with the carprofen? Would that help the problem he seems to be having with his tail? It’s been a rough month for us, but especially for him. Just love to have him back to his old sweet self without having his tail wrapped.

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Ben Team

Hey, Debbie. So sorry to hear about your pooch’s troubles — poor little guy!
We’re not vets, and we recommend following your vet’s advice regarding your pup’s care. That said, it does appear that carprofen can cause constipation, but — according to one study — it doesn’t seem to do so terribly often.
It’s probably a good idea to revisit the subject with your vet and take things from there.
We’ve got our fingers crossed for your pupper!

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Jeff eby

Carl ran off for about 4 hours yesterday and when I found him I saw that he had an altercation with some wild animal. I suspect a large groundhog because the bite marks have no punctures but are scraped clean of hair and a layer of skin. No bleeding. But he is very protective of his tail and is keeping it tight to his body. He hasn’t wagged it since and I haven’t seen it in his normal position, up and curled over his back. He is quite subdued and timid, which, although he IS normally a calm dog for his age, 9 months, is somewhat unusual. I am taking him to my vet today and will see what she thinks but will accept any advise here. Thanks.

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Ben Team

Hey, Jeff.
First of all, we’re glad you found your pooch and that he was more-or-less in one piece!
His behavior and wounds would definitely give us cause for concern, and a trip to the vet seems very wise.
We don’t have much more advice to provide at this point, but we’ve got our fingers crossed for your pupper!
Let us know what the vet says.

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Elizabeth Van Der Velde

The article states that a veterinarian may advise to give a dog ibuprofen for pain or something specific to dogs… a vet would Never recommend giving a dog ibuprofen as it can kill a dog I like aspirin. Stating that in your write up is naive and dangerous as it. iPod lead pet owners to think it is ok to give it to their dog. A better word would be baby aspirin if a. None toon to a human drug must be made that a vet might recommend. Please do more research before posting what a vet might prescribe.

Never give your dog any medication without your vet’s approval – many common people medications can be very toxic to dogs. Your vet may instruct you to administer ibuprofen or some other over-the-counter pain medicine to your pet, or he or she may prescribe a pain-killing medication that is specifically formulated for dogs.”

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Ben Team

Hi, Elizabeth. It’s rare, but some vets do recommend Ibuprofen under some circumstances.
Thanks for reading!

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Jennifer Sperry

Thank you, this information gives me ideas as to what I should be looking for. And, that if the tail is looking better in a day or two, then I should seek help from my vet. All good tips thanks again!

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Camille

Hello, I can’t seem to tell if my dog has broken her tail or just badly spranged her tail. It happened about 7 days ago. She is a cavalier and we also have a boxer and they were running around in our backyard like they always do. My little cavalier always try’s to keep right up with him so what I’m thinking might have happened because nothing else makes sense, is if he accidentally stepped on her tail while they were running side by side, and it her may have jerked her tail. It happened within the matter of seconds because I went inside to get a drink and came outside and she was sitting in the grass looking really strage like something was up. My whole family was outside but no one was watching nor saw what might have happened. So that’s our best assumption. I immediately went to call her and she wouldn’t run to me so I went up to her and had to pick her up, and as soon as I did she yelped really loudly. So I brought her inside and we started to try to figure out what was hurting her. It was her tail but it’s at the part where it connects to her body that hurts her. We tried lifting it to look and maybe see is she had gotten stung but she started yelping/ screeching over and over a couple times in a row bc it was so painful for it to be lifted and so we couldn’t look around her tail at all because she would cry. I decided to wait a day because my mom was convinced a wasp stung her but she was still just in so much pain the next day I brought her to the vet. The vet tried lifting her tail to look and my little cavalier just couldn’t bare the pain. So she just started to feel around her tail without lifting it and she just was kinda uncomfortable but nothing that was causing her major pain. So the vet decided to give me liqiud pain medication and steroids to give her twice a day. I’ve been giving her all her medication for about 5 days now and she seems to being doing a little bit better but she still doesn’t want anyone touching or really being near her tail. She doesn’t lift is near as has high as she used to when she wags it but I just don’t know if I should take her back to the vet or not. I just hate seeing her in pain but also don’t want to waste money going if it’s just going to heal on its own, when I’ve also already been given the medication needed to treat it. Thank you so much.

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Ben

Hey, Camille. So sorry about your pup. It’s probably a good idea to go back in to the vet, just to be on the safe side. Maybe give the vet a call first and explain what’s going on. The vet may be able to reassure you without the need for an office visit.
Best of luck — let us know how it turns out!

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James Martin

My dog has broken his tail in two places. It was done maybe 5 to 8 days ago. He has been licking it constantly. Hair has began to fall off the tail on the tip where his licking.

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Megan

I volunteer at an animal rescue, and we took in a dog with a completely broken/detached tail bone. She is the happiest little girl who loves human affection. She was once adopted because of her beautiful look and happy personality, but sadly returned because of incontinence. Her story breaks everyone’s hearts because she is less likely to be adopted due to her broken tail. Can surgery fix her up to get bladder and bowel control back? Are there other remedies to this problem other people have encountered?

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Ben

Hey, Megan. That is heartbreaking. 🙁

I don’t know if they can restore nerve function or not. Does your rescue work with a vet? I’d recommend consulting with him or her.

Either way, I thank you on behalf of the dog for doing all you are doing to help her.

Best of luck — keep us updated!

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Lisa DVM

Ben, please, please, PLEASE!
NEVER list ibuprofen on your website as something you can give your dog! I have seen so many dogs very sick or die if they’re given ibuprofen. MAYBE a little aspirin, although when people give it, it limits what better antiinflamories I can give them until they’ve been off the aspirin for at least 5-7 days.
Lots of human meds are fine for dogs, but NSAIDS are a class of drugs that you have to be very careful with in dogs. They are much more sensitive to them than humans are. The BEST thing to do is get a safe antiinflammatory from you vet, or if you must give something OTC, the next best thing is a little aspirin. And watch for vomiting, diarrhea, and loss of appetite with use of any anti-inflammatories. If they have any of these symptoms, stop the medication and call the vet.
Phew! Sorry, reading that raised my blood pressure, so I had to get that off my chest! 🙂
You give great information otherwise, so thanks!

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Ben

Hey, Lisa. Thanks for reading and for your comments. If you go back and look, I actually said

“Your vet may instruct you to administer ibuprofen or some other over-the-counter pain medicine to your pet, or he or she may prescribe a pain-killing medication that is specifically formulated for dogs”

I’d never recommend giving any pain meds to a dog without first consulting your vet.
🙂

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Richard M Hooper

We moved into a house that had been vacant for sometime almost a year ago. There were two squirrels who had made themselves at home in the backyard. One morning we noticed a chunk of hair gone from around our dogs tail and their were bite marks around her tail. It was red and swelled up. We took her to the vet and they couldn’t figure it out and put her on antibiotics. The swelling didn’t go down and the vet couldn’t figure out what the swelling and oozing was from even though I believed it was a squirrel bite. My otherwise very healthy dog who is 13 years old but in shape like a 5 year old started having weird symptoms of seizures, dementia, epilepsy, and balance problems. I put bentonite clay on the area which pulled out the infection and cleared it up, but balance problems seemed to persist. In August, (two weeks ago) she screamed like a cat being eaten by a mountain lion and was in so much pain that she didn’t recognize us. I gave her tramadol and a week later it happened again. I took her back to the vet, he took an xray and didn’t see anything out of the ordinary, but when the vet tech asked me when the last time she wagged her tail; I responded that I couldn’t remember and thought her health was declining and she was depressed. The vet prescribed Carprofen (an anti-inflammatory) and with two days she is jumping around and wagging her tail. Her dizziness, leg shaking, and seizure type symptoms are gone. I read on this site to find that it only stands to reason that the squirrel did bite her and it did affect her tail. I will be taking her back in for lab tests to see if she has any parasites or something that the squirrel could have given her, but for the most part I think the vet tech’s question was light a light bulb that answered the question. The vet didn’t say anything regarding her question and I think ruled it out, but the meds he prescribed surely did the trick. I hope this might help someone who sees the weakening of their dog’s back end and unbalanced back legs ask their vet to prescribe the Carprofen to see if it helps and realize that it might be their tail connected to the spine that might be the issue.

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Annie

Our Labrador is an exuberant tail wagger. This afternoon when we came outside her tail had a definite kink about half way down which everyone noticed immediately. I gently felt the area and it appeared to bother her a little bit she still kept wagging her tail as much as ever. She did seem reluctance to sit unless the tail moved to the side. After about 10 minutes of wondering if we needed a trip to the vet, the tail suddenly straightened. Any ideas???? She has a fairly high pain tolerance, runs into walls and just shakes it off for example. I’m wondering if she may have dislocated the tail and knocked it back in with constant wagging and knocking it against floor and timber House posts.

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Pia Briccocola

My Lhasa Apso has hurt/broken her tail in the middle and can’t lift it at all. She cries out if her tail is touched and tries to bite my hand. It seems quite painful. What can I do? Will it heal on its own?

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Kare Garrett

Our dachshund began curving his tail under his rear 3-4 days ago. He usually carries it upright or straight out and lifts it when going potty. Since he can’t lift it I gently lift it to clean his back end and he cries in pain. I’m not sure if it’s his tail or lower spine. Other than rest do you have other treatment suggestions? We are seeing the vet on Monday.

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Tracy

My dog had “swimmers tail” before and her curled under to her belly and she could not wag it. A few days later she could wag it a little. She had a complete recovery to her happy “helicopter tail”

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Kate Garrett

Tracy, How long did it take before your pups tail was back to normal? Our dachshund is having trouble squatting to poop and keeps his tail curved underneath.

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