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Wagging Tails

In canines, the ability to express joy and other emotions like fear and alertness rely in part on the movement of the tail. In order to read a dog we must also take into consideration observing the facial muscles for tension, the hair coat up vs down, and the ear position.

We all love to see a dog wagging his/her tail because we assume the dog is happy. In reality, the position of a dog’s tail can communicate alertness and dominance if it is held high and still whereas if it’s high and wagging is happiness and alertness. The faster the wagging is, the more excitement the pooch is feeling. A tail held straight is signaling that the dog is inquisitive and taking the new information in. Most animal lovers correctly interpret a tail held down and between the legs as a sign of fear or submission.

In my practice, I have often discovered that there are physical issues that alter the carriage of the tails. The most common issue is to see a dog that stops wagging and is carrying the tail low when they have anal sacs that are extremely full or infected. This is a very painful issue for the dogs. The anal sacs are at each side of the anus and every time the dogs have a bowel movement it is supposed to scent it with the unique smelly chemical scent and lubricate the passage of feces. If those glands are full they block the passage of stool and they are akin to hemorrhoid pain. The solution to this issue requires firm expression of the sacs and emptying them. Antibiotics and anti-inflammatories might be needed.

Another tail ailment is commonly known as limp tail, Limber tail, or swimmer’s tail. The typical breeds affected are hunting or working breeds like Labradors and Beagles. The medical condition is caudal myopathy and it is often a sequel to prolonged crating or excessive swimming. The tail muscles affected are the Intertransversarius, Ventralis Caudalis, and Coccygeal muscles. The chemistry blood results will show an increase in the muscle enzyme called Creatine Kinase. Oftentimes the radiographs are normal and are used to rule out fractures or disk issues at the Lumbosacral space. I treat with a session or two of acupuncture and Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories. Most recover fully.

The least common tail problems include fractures that happen when doors are closed on tails or stepped on tails. The trauma can result in losing part of all the tail if the circulation is compromised. Also, intervertebral disk disease at the level of sacral and coccygeal vertebrae could result in the inability to move or lift the tail. In a recent case, I discover that morbidly obese dogs could accumulate a fat pad dorsal to the base of the tail that will impede the upward movement and cause the appearance of a limp tail. Regardless of the cause, a sad tail that isn’t wagging is a sign that your pet is not feeling his/her best. Your veterinarian can really get that tail moving again!

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