Swimmer’s Tail May Cause Dog’s Yelping, Panting

Pulled muscle happens while dog is swimming.

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Q. I have two Labrador Retriever mixes that I adopted from the pound over a year ago. Two days after we brought them home, they had to be taken to the vet and treated for parvovirus. Both survived, and they are the most beautiful, loving dogs. The dogs are now 1 1/2. This morning, Murphy woke up to go outside and started yelping. This was followed by muscle shakes, then panting, and walking with his tail down. They recently had their booster vaccinations.

A. You have certainly provided me with a diagnostic challenge. I am going to take an educated guess, and even if I am wrong, readers will learn about an interesting condition that tends to affect Labrador Retrievers.

Limber tail, cold water tail, or swimmer’s tail, is an excruciatingly painful condition that seems to affect swimming breeds of dogs such as Labs. Usually the day after they are swimming or have had a bath with cold water, their tails are extremely painful, usually at the base. They will react painfully if you attempt to lift their tail, or touch them near the tail base. Often they will walk with their tail tucked.

When I first a case, I suspected perhaps there had been some abuse, because the dog’s tail was so painful. I performed a full workup including X-rays and blood tests, and all was normal. Only after I heard more about it from veterinarians in the Southeast where it is more common, did I recognize the condition.

Somehow these dogs manage to strain or pull the muscles at the base of their tails. The treatment is pain medication in the form of NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) such as Rimadyl and Metacam, and they get better.


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Susan   Suluth, Minnesota

6/4/2015 8:51:52 PM

My Boxer/Mastiff girl Dora, has swimmers tail for the third time. 2 years ago, it was virtually unheard of. We were 100s of miles out in woods. Thankfully someone had a computer phone and looked up the symptoms, that gave us a name. Most people have never heard of it. At that time, her pain was so great, she would hardly move. I sat in the warm sun/shade with her for 3 days. I had Homeopathic Arnica Montana in first aide, gave her the oral, and rubbed her tail with the oil. It helped. I have always heard of dangers of human pharmas on animals are not to be given. So she got better with the Arnica. Last year, she got it again, rest, Arnica, and the oil rub. Now June 2015, 2 days, I thought we were taking it slow, but her mom entered the fun, and once again, Dora over did it. So once again, the Arnica and oil gave some relief. Today we went to a vet and I bought her some Rimadyl. I hope we never have to use it. It is an animal safe pain killer. But, now I know how to break her into the swimming slowly, which will be hard to do, but it is a fact. She has sprained the tail muscles. I am unsure if she is more susceptible now, as sprains in humans are. It will be hard to keep her full blast out of the water. I hope this has given some insight to those that are unaware. It is very scary, but your dog will heal, and have that happy high wagging tail within a week. Healthy Dogs!

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angie - 254226   

6/24/2012 4:34:33 AM

our wirehaired pointer got it while on holiday at the lakes never heard of it before but everyone there knew what was wrong .the vet gave him a muscle relaxant as it is like a cramp so very painful for them but he was ok again after 2 days

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April - 253939   

6/21/2012 5:10:27 AM

My Honey Swirl (American bulldog/Husky mix) has had "cold water tail/swimmers tail/dead tail" twice before than last night she had us up all night in So much pain, crying and panting and couldn't get comfortable, sure enough shes got it again, this time it was from her bath she got. So we gave her buffering aspirin and Tramadol in hopes that will ease her pain. Poor thing just lost her best friend (Boxer-Sasha) on last Thursday and is now in so much discomfort. Stinks to see your baby's in so much pain. The vets can't do anything other than give you pain relievers and tell you to rest your pets. Good luck to all of you with the same problem.

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Tina   Minneapolis, MN

8/20/2011 4:29:32 PM

My Puggle swims almost every morning. 2 days ago he started yelping, panting and refusing to walk. He was in so much pain. Took him to emergency room, he was x-rayed and diagnosed with swimmer's tail had never heard about it. Was put on Rimadyl and Tramadol. 36 hours later and no sleep. Took him to vet. All vitals signs ok, more x-rays. Same diagnosis. Was given an injection with strong pain. We are now back to square 1. Dog in so much pain. I just don't know what to do. Vet says it can take up to a week for improvement. Dog refuses to pee, as well.

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