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.
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.
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.
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.
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
* 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.
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.