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Dog Tail Injury: Signs and Causes

The tails of dogs can appear to possess independent behavior at times. They serve as manifestations of canine emotions and means of communication. While bumps and wounds are evident indicators of injury, the cessation of tail wagging in dogs typically signifies an underlying problem or concern. Below is an overview of dog tail anatomy, indicators to be mindful of, and prevalent tail-related issues.

Dog Tail Anatomy

The tail of a dog is an extension of its spinal column. It consists of numerous vertebral segments (bones) that decrease in size from the tail’s base to its tip. Surrounding the vertebrae are muscles that support the tail’s movement and wagging. Additionally, there are multiple nerves along the tail that provide sensation.

Interposed between each vertebra are specialized structures known as intervertebral discs, which serve to cushion the bones and prevent them from rubbing against each other during tail movement.

Any injury affecting the tail—whether it involves the skin, vertebrae, muscles, nerves, or intervertebral discs—can lead to a cessation of tail wagging in dogs accustomed to exhibiting such behavior.


Symptoms of a dog tail injury may manifest as follows:

  • Wounds such as lacerations, degloving (skin stripping from underlying muscle), or abrasions
  • Decreased or absent tail wagging
  • Keeping the tail held low
  • Limpness in the tail
  • Pain response upon touching
  • Swelling
  • Presence of a kink, bump, or deviation in the tail
  • Chewing at the tail or hind end


There are various types of dog tail injuries, and it’s crucial to identify the specific type and location of the injury to devise an appropriate treatment plan, if necessary. Your veterinary team plays a pivotal role in determining the underlying cause and formulating an effective approach.

Here are some common types of dog tail injuries:

Happy Tail:

“Happy tail” occurs when dogs repeatedly strike their tails against solid objects such as walls, tables, or chairs, resulting in superficial or deep wounds. These injuries can be painful, especially if they become chronic and require medical attention.

Veterinarians typically treat happy tail injuries by bandaging the wound to protect it, using Elizabethan collars to prevent licking or chewing, and sometimes prescribing pain medication and antibiotics. Bandaging allows the wound to heal while safeguarding the tail from further trauma. In severe or chronic cases, surgical amputation of the lower tail may be necessary to prevent infection, alleviate pain, and prevent ongoing injury.

Limp Tail:

Also known as swimmer’s tail or limber tail, limp tail is characterized by sudden flaccidity of the tail. It is often observed in working dogs and can manifest as complete drooping of the tail between the legs or partial drooping at the tip.

This condition is attributed to muscle strain in the tail, typically resulting from overuse due to vigorous tail wagging, strenuous activity, or prolonged confinement in a small space. Signs of limp tail include chewing at the tail base, tail swelling, pain when sitting, difficulty standing, and discomfort when attempting to move the tail. Diagnosis involves a physical examination, inquiry into the dog’s activities, and sometimes x-rays to rule out fractures.

Treatment usually entails rest and administration of anti-inflammatory medications for complete recovery, although relapses can occur.

Tail Biting or Chewing:

Tail biting or chewing can lead to wounds, swelling, and hair loss, often triggered by pain, stress, itchiness, or neurological sensations. If hair loss is accompanied by itchiness, a veterinarian should evaluate the dog for allergies, which can stem from genetic, environmental, flea-related, or food-related factors.

Stud Tail:

Stud tail results from overproduction of sebum by an oil-producing skin gland in the middle of a dog’s tail, leading to irritation and discomfort. This condition is commonly observed in intact male dogs due to hormonal influences that promote sebum production. Treatment may involve neutering, topical medications, shampoos, and sometimes antibiotics to alleviate symptoms.

Hot Spots on the Tail:

Hot spots, or moist dermatitis, can develop on a dog’s tail due to allergies, discomfort, or insect bites, leading to inflammation and subsequent licking and chewing.

Treatment typically includes trimming the fur around the affected area, cleansing with antiseptic solutions, application of topical medications, antibiotics, anti-itch medications, pain relief, and the use of an Elizabethan collar to prevent further irritation. Recurrence of hot spots may necessitate comprehensive testing to identify underlying allergies or causes.

Anal Gland Conditions

Anal gland issues in dogs and intestinal parasites like tapeworms, whipworms, hookworms, and roundworms can lead to inflammation and irritation at the base of your dog’s tail or around their anus. Chewing at the tail’s base can result in pain, infection, and hair loss.

If you notice the following signs, take your dog to the vet:

  • Persistent chewing at the hind end
  • Scooting
  • Diarrhea
  • Weight loss
  • Vomiting
  • Live worms near the anus

Your veterinarian will examine your dog and may express the anal glands or request a fecal sample for parasitic testing.

Growths, Masses, and Swelling on the Tail

Growths, masses, and swelling on the tail can vary in size and texture, depending on their underlying causes. They may be either firm or soft and filled with fluid. While some masses cause pain, others may not.

Here are some common types:

Cysts: These benign masses are typically soft and can move under the skin when pressed. Unless inflamed or infected, cysts are usually not painful.

Trauma: If your dog injures their tail by hitting it on something, swelling similar to bruising in humans may occur.

Abscess: An abscess, a pocket of infection, may form in your dog’s tail and swell with fluid.

Tumors: Both benign and malignant tumors can result in masses on your dog’s tail.

If you notice any of the following signs, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian for evaluation and potential testing, such as a needle sample to assess cells:

  • The mass does not resolve on its own within 5-7 days
  • Signs indicating your dog is in pain (excessive licking of the tail, howling upon touch, alteration in tail movement, etc.)
  • Increase in mass size
  • Worsening swelling
  • Discoloration
  • Bleeding or discharge

Tail Wounds

Tail wounds encompass abrasions, lacerations, and degloving, which are frequent injuries observed in dogs.


Abrasions are surface wounds characterized by hair loss, reddened skin, and occasionally scabbing or minor bleeding. They typically result from trauma or friction against rough surfaces.

Treatment typically involves cleansing the area with mild soap and water and preventing your dog from licking it by using an Elizabethan collar. If an abrasion displays excessive bleeding, swelling, or leakage, consult your veterinarian.


Lacerations penetrate deeper into the skin and may affect the muscles, nerves, and sometimes even bone. Bleeding is often profuse, and dogs may continue wagging their tail despite the bleeding, leading to a messy situation.

In the event of actively bleeding lacerations, wrap a towel around the tail and/or hind end and promptly seek veterinary care.


Degloving injuries are also common and occur when the tail’s skin is peeled back, exposing the underlying tissue, nerves, and muscle. These injuries frequently necessitate tail amputation unless they are minor.

Minor degloving injuries are managed by cleaning and bandaging the wound, along with the use of an Elizabethan collar to prevent chewing or licking of the bandage during the healing process.

Degloving injuries should always be addressed by a veterinarian.

Tail Fractures

Tail fractures can occur in dogs due to various reasons, such as falling or getting their tail caught in a door. Common indications of a tail fracture include an evident kink or displacement, swelling, signs of pain upon touching the tail, or even open wounds.

Determining the fracture’s location is crucial for devising an appropriate treatment plan and facilitating healing. Fractures at the tail base or those involving nerve damage from compression injuries to the vertebrae, such as from door slamming, may necessitate tail amputation. Fractures located at the tail tip typically heal independently, although they may result in a permanent bump.

Injuries from Pulling (Avulsion)

Injuries resulting from pulling, known as avulsion injuries, occur when a dog’s tail is forcibly pulled, leading to nerve breakage or severe stretching.

In severe instances, dogs may experience incontinence since many nerves in the tail control urination and defecation.

Certain types of fractures can also induce nerve damage, especially if the injury is at the tail’s base. While nerve function might recover over time, irreversible damage is more common and may necessitate additional therapy or even tail amputation.

Some dogs suffer from neurologic degenerative conditions like degenerative myelopathy, impacting nerve function in the tail and hind end. The German Shepherd is the most commonly affected breed, although other large breeds such as the Great Dane may also experience this disorder.

When to Call Your Vet for a Dog Tail Injury

Knowing when to contact your vet for a dog tail injury is crucial. The following signs indicate potential medical emergencies and warrant immediate veterinary attention:

  • Active bleeding from a laceration or abrasion
  • Signs of severe pain, such as panting, pacing, whining or crying, or excessive tail chewing
  • Obvious deviation of the tail, raising concerns of a fracture
  • Any of the above symptoms coupled with severe itching, vomiting, diarrhea, hair loss, incontinence, or difficulty walking

If your dog exhibits any of the following, schedule a veterinary appointment within a few days:

  • Holding their tail limp
  • Refusal to wag their tail
  • Demonstrating signs of pain when their tail is touched, including panting, whining or crying, or exhibiting aggressive behaviors like biting, growling, or snapping
  • Swelling, growth, or lump that persists for more than 5 days or appears painful
  • Lump or mass that starts to discharge fluid, changes color, or increases in size
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