Created 24 Feb 2001, Updated 14apr2008 ( 2nd new link added)

Toby's & Mickey's

Warning about tail injuries
Get them x-rayed and treated immediately!

First: our advice to anyone is:

If your dog ever injures his tail, - maybe it just hangs, or looks bent,
then get him to a vet *as soon as possible* to have it x-rayed.

(unless you know definately that it is no more than something
minor , like just a superficial scape or some minor cut.)

What may *seem* on the surface to be no more than a probably simple bruised bone or muscle, or just a simple fracture, might actually be a quite serious fracture or dislocation. It's better to find out for sure in case it need immediate treatment.

In our dog's case, a vet could have fixed his tail (and it would look normal today) if we had only been able to get him immediate medical attention!

we had to learn the hard way...

I want to tell you about our experience, so hopefully you can avoid ever having a similar experience to ours:

This is what his tail looked like *before* he broke it:

As fate would have it, our 7 month old Dalmatian in his infinite glee and enthusiasm managed to break his tail while playing in the garden last summer. He was racing around, rough-housing, jumping over things, and then suddenly landed on the ground with all his weight on his tail. He yelped only once and then just laid down for a few moments before getting up and slowly walking onto the terrace.

... Oddly enough, he showed no signs of pain when we touched and examined his tail. But it was hanging crooked and limp:


I wish we had known *then* what we know *now* ... our dog's tail could have been treated so it would have been back to normal today.

Unfortunately the day it happened our vet was on vacation. All the other vets we knew were either also on vacation, or told us we'd have to find a specialist.
In desperation, I called a vet I did not know and whose name I found in the phone book - that vet told me that we should bring him in because if the tail was broken he would have to dock it!! I said goodbye and hung up the phone.

 Within an hour, we all (us, the breeder, and breeder friends) all thought it was probably just a simple fracture at most, since the tail wasn't sensitive, and he didn't seem to have any pain and was again behaving normally.

It turned out we were wrong. As soon as our vet got back from vacation three weeks later, he x-rayed him, and discoverd it was a dislocation.

this is a sketch I made of what the x-ray showed:

Our vet immediately consulted with several specialists, and then he sent us to an othopedic specialist vet.

The specialist discovered, and told us, that it was a a complicated dislocation of one vertebrae with some slight damage to the adjoining vertebrae.

By that time it was more than 3 weeks after the injury and there was already a lot of new bone growth - regeneration. The vertebrae were already growing together. Also, because tests showed there was life in the tail (nerves, blood flow all working), an operation would be extremely dangerous because of the risk of damaging nerves and blood vessels and also because the new bone was surrounding them as well.

In other words, it was too late to operate; an operation would have to have been done immediately, before any new bone started growing.

He had us try a special splint to help it to grow back straight, without that 'kink'. But it kept falling off, and when we could get it to stay on, it would chafe so he got raw damp bare spots on his tail. We tried different kind of splints... no success. The specialist told to stop using splints, so off came the splint.

The specialist also said it could very likely straighten out on its own, but that would be a slow process. He said that even the top of that dislocated vertebrae that sticks up (which forms the "kink" ) might eventually disapeaar; since the natural bone regeneration process attempts to recreate the bone as it should normally be - in other words, Mother Nature, that natural healing process would let that protuding portion disentegrate and smooth out.

Well, today (6 month later) our dog's tail *looks* a bit more normal, with the exception of that kink at the top. But instead of three hinged vertebra, all three vertebra have fused together into one whole piece. So, that part is rigid instead of being able to move normally as three separate sections.

It seems that serious tail injuries are rare - at least the kind that can leave permanent damage. I could find very little on the Internet about broken tails.

Many minor tail injuries can heal naturally. Our own Dals have had small temporary injuries.
Very often they wag their tails too hard and bang it against something and it bleeds. With a small bandage that will usually heal within a week.
And they can bruise a tail so that it just hangs limp and they won't wag it for a while until the bruising has healed.

So it's now been six months since our dog broke his tail. Happily, he still has his tail which he loves to wag.
It is slowly straightening up, and he has no trouble moving it up, down, or sideways.

you can see how the 3 vertebra are fused together now - that's the section between the base of the tail and the top of the dislocated vertebrae:
these three photos were taken today

Being the happy Dal that he is, his tail gets lots of exercise which we hope also can help.

.....But we know now that the kink in his tail wouldn't still be there if a veterinarian had been able to fix the dislocation within a day or two of the accident.

 "Forewarned is forearmed!"

 Rosemarie Sweeny, 24 Feb 2001

* Interesting links *

First, let me say that *I* do not like the idea of docking, but of course my breed, the Dalmatian, is not a "docked" breed. When I was a child,my father's hunting Spaniels had docked tails, that was quite usual then, as it prevented them from getting their tails stuck in briars while working in the field...
Our Dals certainly wag their tails a lot, and sometimes get 'bleeding tail' injuries because of that - BUT - those superficial injuries heal up rather quickly with the aid of a bandage... In my opinion, tail docking to avoid superficial or minor tail injuries is just not justifiable - I find that a cruel idea...
I would certainly never have the tail of one of my dogs docked unless there was an extremely critical injury and there was no other valid veterinary/medical option. I hope that other Dalmatian (and other breeds ) owners feel the same way.
Of course these are just my humble opinions...

These links here may be interesting to you:


  • Cold Water Tail - Labrador Retriever Club article - Quote: " "Cold water tail," "limber tail syndrome," "broken tail," "dead tail," "broken wag" are all euphemisms for a relatively common occurrence in sporting dogs. The tail of the dog hangs down from the tail base or is held horizontal for three or four inches and then drops down. " (link added 2008-04-01)


  • Ask The Vet: Limp Tail - answer to question about: "...I have a 6 month old beagle who just recently started hanging her tail between her legs..."



  • Dog Left Alone in Yard, Now Has Injured Tail