Monday, February 11, 2008

Lab Endurance and Broken Wag (Limber Tail, Cold Water Tail)

I just read a wonderfully encouraging article over at Just Labradors, a free, on-line forum for Lab owners loosely connected with the print magazine Just Labs (to which we subscribe and read cover-to-cover!).

What was so heart-warming about the article was its account of a three-year-old Lab's survival through an avalanche and several subsequent days in the wild. Pretty amazing (click the link above to read the article).

It got me thinking again about just how marvelous the Labbie breed is (no comparison in my book). And just how strong, optimistic, and uncomplaining they are.

And that, of course, reminded me of my gang here, but in particular (today, anyway), our girl Kenya.


You read in yesterday's post about Kenya's and Elsie's romp in a cold, muddy run-off stream in our lower backyard.

What I didn't know then was that the sweet Kenya Bean would develop Limber Tail Syndrome just a few moments after they came in from their adventure and subsequent bath.

This is our Kenya, the waggle tail gal:
  • Our wiggle butt.
  • The one who wags so hard and fast you think her tail will fall off.
  • The one whose tail-wag I can never capture in a photo because it only comes out as a blur.
  • She's our exuberant-for-anything-in-life pup whose tail-wags start at her front shoulders and work their way back to the tip of her tail so her whole body wiggles and jiggles when she wags (unlike the rest of the gang who seem able to confine their wagging to their hindquarters and beyond).
And this happy-go-lucky Kenya, for a while there yesterday, couldn't wiggle at all. Her tail only drooped. Take a look at her limply hanging, immobile tail:





No doubt about it: she'd developed Limber Tail Syndrome, or Broken Wag, or Limp Tail, or Cold Water Tail or whatever of the other several names by which it's known you'd like to call it -- a little-known-by-vets-but-common-to-retrievers condition that often occurs after the dogs come in contact with cold water.

I posted about this injury three years ago when Ridge came back from a summer trip to the cottage where he'd spent lots of time swimming and retrieving in the spring-fed lake there.

And that post, the one about Limber Tail Syndrome, is, by far, the most commonly "hit" by people using search engines of the nearly 600 posts I've included in nearly four years of LabTails postings.

I've lost count of how many dog owners (of Labs and other breeds) have contacted me about their dogs' injured, non-wagging tails. I get dozens of hits on that page per day.

So why don't more veterinarians know about it? Do they think it's some myth or old wives' tale?

Believe me, the condition is real and very painful for the dog. Kenya, Elsie, and Ridge can attest to that. All three have experienced it, Ridge the most often and the most severe.

No, it's not a critical injury. And, from what I've read, most dogs with Limber Tail Syndrome regain their tail-wag within two weeks (the longest waglessness here lasted five days). Kenya's recent bout, in fact, lasted only about 10 hours.

And, of course, our Labs are strong, enduring, and uncomplaining.

Still, it's a very uncomfortable condition for the dogs, and one about which (IHMO) vets showed be informed.

And it's one that breaks our hearts to see. There's nothing so pathetic as a Lab with pain-filled eyes and a lifeless tail.

The least we can do (besides treat them) is advocate for them.

So talk to your vets, folks.
  • Copy this article about Limber Tail from the AKC's Labrador Retriever Club and take it to your veterinarian.
  • Read this update by Woodhaven Labs and discuss it.
  • Find out what you can -- even ESPN has coverage on this condition (click here to see ESPN's article).
  • Educate yourselves, then pass on what you've learned. It's the only way we'll educate others, including professionals, about this condition.
And in the meantime, we'll be helping our pleading-eyed Labs, even if they are the most understanding, uncomplaining breed in the world.

'Til next time,
Joan (who's happy to report that Kenya has her wag back today!)

28 comments:

JuliaR said...

Uma had this once and had been swimming in cold water. We had never heard of it but our vet had. However, they x-rayed her tail to be sure and there was a BREAK right across one of the tail vertebrae! They pumped her full of steroids and the tail came back as good as new in a few days. For ever after, she had a palpable lump at that point in the tail, about three vertebrae from the base of the tail (close to the bum). Weird.

Mary said...

Thank you for sharing your information on this. We often take our Lab to the lake and let her swim during the winter....granted, we live in the South and the water doesn't get as cold as Pennsylvania, but it does get rather cool for down here. Once again, you are the best lab person I know!

Jamie said...

My first experience with this was a client - a beagle- she developed this and the owner was clueless and the vet was too. It slowly got better but at least once more she had the same thing happen again. I am thankful for the reference and plan to print the article and send it to my client so she can possibly help Gracie the beagle to avoid it in the future. Plus a valuable piece of info for a pet sitter/lab owner like myself to have on hand.

Christan said...

Love your blog! This happened to my dog after a long day of hunting. We were clueless and rushed to the emergency vet. Thankfully the vet we took her too knew of limber tail. Mainly because there are lot hunting dogs in the area she practices. Your resources are great! They are hard to find online unless you search on the right key words.

Mandi said...

Thank you for this article! I took my lab Sasha swimming yesterday and then gave her a quick hose bath. With in an hour she had Cold Water Tail. You are so right about it being heart breaking. Once you get used to a Lab's exubarant energy seeing them sad and in pain is really hard!

Mandi said...

Thank you for this article! I took my lab Sasha swimming yesterday and then gave her a quick hose bath. With in an hour she had Cold Water Tail. You are so right about it being heart breaking. Once you get used to a Lab's exubarant energy seeing them sad and in pain is really hard!

Christine said...

Wow! I think my beagle girl, Sadie, may have this! She and her brother both had their baths on Tuesday night. She's good in the tub but needs to be lifted in. And I usually close the bathroom door to towel them off so soppin wet beagles don't go racing all over the house. The vent from the air conditioner is right there too. That in combo with wet beagle and an awkward lift into the tub may have done the deed! Her tail is hanging and she looked to have a bit of difficultly squatting to pee. She seems better today but we'll keep an eye on her. Thanks for all the good info and links.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this post. I gave our Lab/Golden mix a bath in the back yard yesterday(Ice cold well water). By last night he was crying and crawling into my husbands lap. Imagine that 90lbs of black lab in your lap. The only thing we noticed at first was his tail and we were racking our brains trying to figure out how he might have broken it. I was ready to take him to the vet but by morning he was eating again and considerably better with only limp tail which is slowly starting to come back tonight. I have already started telling my lab loving friends. It was heart wrenching and we were so upset trying to figure out what was wrong with him. We now know for the future. Thank you again.

Anonymous said...

Thanks! Our Buster went to the "end of season" Doggie Pool Party yesterday (followed by a bath from our well water) and has developed what you all have described... breaks my heart not to see "the wag" but we will monitor and look for recovery. Great Site and thanks again!

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for the info on limber tail. Ren, a lab/golden mix, is my first dog ever, and I am rather new to all the things that can occur with my baby. My husband who has had labs his entire life has never heard of limber tail and has always assumed his dog's tails were broke. I gave Ren a bath Tuesday night with the garden hose because she decided to roll in dead animal and by Wednesday evening her tail was limp and she is in so much pain. I thought for sure it would be an emergency trip to the vet until I came across your site and saw pictures of your dog. My dog's tail looks the same, and her personality and eating habits haven't changed. Thank you so much for helping an absolutely hysterical pet owner calm down!! :)

Anonymous said...

Good evening, I am up right now with my yellow lab Lucy who is so uncomfortable from limp tail she just keeps moving from one room to another. She will lie down in one place, try to get comfortable, and get up and move again. This is her second episode after a bath. Of course it is Sunday night. But I will call the vet first thing in the morning. My vet was familiar with limp tail the first time and prescribed Prednisone and it went away quickly. Thanks for this web site, its making me feel better.

Joe said...

Thanks for this blog... my Zoey was swimming last night in some cooler water than normal only to come home with this syndrome. I am headed to the vet for some precautionary x-rays, but she has all the symptoms and looks EXACTLY like your lab... down to the eyes! Her tail has a lump towards the base, but she does not respond negatively when it is touched... only when she tries to sit down.

Anonymous said...

I had no idea about this, but on Christmas morning after being out in snow and playing,Sophee came in whining and with her tail between her legs. She is a 1 yr old lab/shepard mix and is constantly "happy" and wagging. It was pathetic and we took her to the oncall Vet and after xrays etc.this was the dx. They gave us a rx for Rimadyl bid for 7 day. She is comfortable and finally able to open her presents, but no wagging yet. They said it will be better in about 2 weeks. Thanks for this site, who would have known...

Reikigirl22 said...

Yesterday it was so warm out we went down to the river with Jesse James so he could have his first swim of the season. He was not bothered by the water had a blast and all seemed well. My husband hosed him off and we went inside. It was in the late night that JJ was pacing and lying down only to get up again...behavior highly irregular for him! Since I was up all night with a stomach flu we thought it was in response to me! He hasn't made any noise but I noticed his tail is just limp..and he looks back at it often as if something is bothering him. I gave him Rimadyl, the last in the bottle. We keep around for his knee injury. Hope this helps him to feel more comfortable. It is pathetic to see my baby's tail hang down he is a real wagger as labs usually are. I hope this is over with quickly! Does anyone know how to prevent this ailment form happening again?!

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this wonderful Site. I took my Lab Coda to camp this weekend, and on Sunday I could tell something was wrong with his tail. He had gone swimming all weekend even though the ice just dropped a few days ago. As you probably know, try keeping a Black Lab out of the lake. This site eased my mind considerably. Thank you.

Amanda said...

Thanks for this site. It really helped me calm down a bit. My dog Fay needed a bath today so we whipped out the plastic kiddie pool and let her play in the water. She loves the hose. It was about 90 outside today. After some play time we washed her and now she's lying on my bed whimpering and she can wag her tail, but only from about half way down. This is the dog that will beat down a door with her tail because she's so excited. I hope this is what she has. The water was very cold, coming from the hose and she sat in the pool. I gave her some baby asprin and pray it gets better.

Michael H. in SC said...

OH MY GOD!! I love you! My girlfriend and I were going CRAZY worrying and trying to figure out what was wrong with our choclate girl "Cookie". Limp tail! It's so sad. She swam for a few hours yesterday chasing her ball. This morning, well, limp tail. I sincerely thank you for the service you're providing to lab lovers everywhere. You've earned a fan for life!!

Pam said...

Our Black Lab Shyla just experienced the same thing. Had a great day of duck hunting and by that evening was roaming the house, moaning, and would not even sit down. Off to the vet we went and $300.00 later we went home with steroids and no definitive diagnosis. Her tail was limp and extremely sensitive to touch. Our vet had never heard of such a thing but was confident that no matter what it was that is would resolve with no lasting effects. It is sites like this that helps put my mind at ease. Great posts.

Jodi Starr said...

I just heard of it over the weekend! My black lab Oliver (3yo) went swimming in a central Florida lake the last two days and has Limp Tail now. Fortunately, the people we were with had a Lab breeder amongt them who filled me in. He's on anti inflamitories and I am told that he will be fine after a few days to a couple of weeks. Learn something new every day, and thanks to Jen, I saved an expensive vet visit.

Anonymous said...

I would like to tell everyone that this is not just a sports injury. We opened our pool in May and Bella our golden lab couldn't wait to get in the water. that night we had to take her to the vets and $800.00 later the vet said he thought it was " Lab Tail" he gave her pain meda and nsaid'S. I read an article not to give the NSAId's that they could cause death, so pain meds were all we could do. Now yesterday pool is 80 degrees and she swam for 3 hours straight, last night a reacurrance of the strange injury. The pain seems to radiate down to her stomach in spasams.Poor Bella it makes me sad she is in so much pain. She is just a common house pet that likes to swim.

Ann Marie said...

We have 4 Labs, and one of them had her tail do that shortly after adopting her. We thought it was from too much rough housing with the others. My heart goes out to you, for having 6 Labs.......4 of them drive us nuts sometimes.

Action Dog! said...

Our poor girl Sandy lost her wag yesterday after a lot of swimming here in Oakland in the bay. Definitely surprised and scared us, hopefully she'll be back to her happy self after a few days also. Thanks for the great article and links to other helpful resources!

Jessica D said...

My dog had a bath yesterday and I think this may be what he has; however, after all the research I have done I did not hear about this other symptom he has. There is a slight indentation where his tail begins. Is this common with cold tail? Or perhaps he dislocated it? Thanks for your input!

Anonymous said...

My Lab mix Roxie gets this everytime she swims in cold water and everytime I give her a bath, even in warm water! She gets very restless, moving around head and tail down and a very sad look on her face. She has trouble sitting down as her tail gets in the way. Generall this condition resolves on its own - no meds needed. After a couple of days she feels better but it can take up to 2 weeks for the tail to come back up. My boyfriend hates that I dont like to bathe her - but this happens every time! So she is stinky and happy most of the time!

Anonymous said...

My 11 year old lab is experiencing this as I type. He is resting and does not appear to be in pain. Luckily I found your website before rushing him to emerg. I was so frightened when his tail wouldn't wag...not the norm at all. It was a very cold day and after his run thru the woods he laid outside on the ground for a period of time and then within the hour his tail wouldn't wag. Thank you and this site. I was so nervous.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this info ... Emma-Mei our almost 5 years old chocolate lab ... Had this condition after a day on the park followed by a good hose bath.
It was a late Sunday and there was no vet available, it was very sad seeing her like that. After of reading your blog a was a bit more peace and as you mentioned after 3 days that tal was good as new!!

Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Our 6 year old yellow lab mix gets this once a year. We own a house on a lake and it's impossible to keep her out of the water. My vet thinks we are crazy, but I know this is for real. She is in so much pain and it usually last's 3 to 7 days. Thank you for making me feel normal and for helping all the other owners know that this is for real!!

Anonymous said...

I took my 1 year old yellow lab to the beach off the California coast. After getting out of the cold water his tail was "dead". I was feeling rather guilty for taking him... thank you soooo much for your information on Cold Water Tail; it has comforted me greatly knowing it will be okay soon.