A dog's tail hanging low may be just part of his normal body language, but a dog's tail hanging low out of the blue and for no particular rhyme or reason, may denote a possible medical problem that requires professional investigation by a veterinarian. Pinpointing the problem can be difficult at times as the issue may be sourcing from several parts of the dog's body such as the dog's tail, back, or any part of the dog's rear end. In some cases, a dog's tail hanging low may be just a generalized sign of the dog feeling ill and down the dumps.
Help, My Dog's Tail is Hanging Low
If your dog's tail is hanging low, you are right to be concerned. Your dog's tail carries several important functions: it's used for communication, balance and to protect your dog's bottom from pesky flies and those annoying thermometers at the vet's office!
Your dog's tail is not an appendage that is on its own; rather, it's an extension of your dog's backbone with the vertebrae getting progressively smaller and smaller along the length of the tail. Your dog's tail is composed by bone, muscles, nerves and blood vessels, and as any other structures of your dog's body, it can be prone to injuries.
However, as mentioned, when a dog's tail is hanging low, there may be many things going on. A dog's tail hanging low may be just part of his normal body language, but a tail hanging low out of the blue and for no particular rhyme or reason, may denote a possible medical problem that requires investigation.
Pinpointing the problem can be difficult at times as the issue may be sourcing from several parts of the dog's body such as the dog's tail, back, or any part of the dog's rear end. A dog's tail hanging low may be a dog's natural response to protect a painful area. In some cases, a dog's tail hanging low may be just a generalized, vague sign of the dog feeling unwell.
Following are several potential causes for a dog's tail hanging low. While these are just potential differentials, only your vet can accurately help you pinpoint the source of the problem and provide the most appropriate treatment based on your vet's findings.
A Case of Fear
After owning your dog for some time, most likely you are accustomed to the way your dog carries his tail. Tail carriage among dogs may vary, with some breeds having a natural low tail carriage (greyhounds, whippets) and others even having upright and curly tails.
Your dog's tail as mentioned, plays an important role in communication. When dogs wag their tails, the sweeping motions are signs of a dog communicating friendliness and happiness; however, this is not a general rule of thumb. Dogs may wag their tails as well when they are nervous, upset and reactive.
In any case, a dog's tail hanging low is often a sign of a dog feeling fearful, anxious and stressed. With the tail held low, and often body crouched and ears back, the dog is trying to make himself as small as possible, almost as if wanting to hide and make themselves invisible.
Some dogs carry their tail low as a sign of submission, to manifest no intent to harm. The tucked tail in these cases, occurs in context, right when the dog is exposed to a frightening stimulus or the dog wants to manifest no intent to harm.
A Vague Sign of Not Feeling Well
However, a tucked tail may also be seen in dogs who are not feeling well. These dogs may just have a general lower energy level as it may happen when they are sick. This again, may be an adaptive trait, so to hide themselves from potential predators who may feast on them when they are sick and vulnerable.
A dog's tail hanging low due to illness is a very vague that can be attributed to many different illnesses. The dog may be suffering from a fever, an infection, abdominal discomfort, or the dog may be affected by some sort of internal organ dysfunction (liver, kidney, pancreas, etc).
Most dogs though suffering from internal organ problems though would likely show some type of systemic signs such as loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, changes in drinking and urination habits.
Due to these many possibilities, if your dog is holding his tail low and seems to be acting sickly, it is best if you bring him into your vet for a thorough examination so to pinpoint the exact problem and treat it accordingly.
An Injury to the Tail
A dog's tail may be become injured in some way or another. For instance, if the base of the dog's is swollen, this may be indicative of an abscess. An abscess may take place when a dog's skin is scratched or bitten by another animal allowing bacteria to enter.
A dog's tail hanging low may also be caused by injury to the nerves of the tail, or a broken tail, in which case there would be swelling and a lot of pain.There are also several types of skin cysts (ceruminous and oil gland cysts) that can form under the tail.
An important differential is cold tail, also known as limber tail, limp tail or broken wag which is a condition where the dog's tail suddenly hangs down. The area affected is the base of the tail where it attaches to the dog's body.
A dog with limber tail syndrome typically no longer engages in tail wagging, and the tail may appear painful. Some dogs keep the tail held out a bit horizontally and then it drops down. Based on these signs, may dog owners assume that their dog's tail is fractured.
The exact underlying causes of limber tail remains unknown, but there are a few possible factors that have been suspected in contributing to this. Based on anecdotal reports, limber tail is often seen in dogs after having a bath, swimming in cold water, a day of hunting in cold weather or exercise involving a lot of tail action.
Some breeds appear to be particularly predisposed to cold tail. Breed commonly affected include Labrador retrievers, Golden retrievers, setters, pointers, foxhounds and beagles.
The good news, is that despite the dog's tail appearing flaccid, there is often improvement after a few days, but symptoms may not subside completely until after a week or two. Treatment generally consists of a steroid injection or anti-inflammatory drugs.
A Matter of Back Pain
Sometimes, a dog's tail is hanging low due to back pain. There are several conditions that may affect a dog's back. A muscle strain in the dog's back or lumbosacral area may lead to stiffness in the back, with a dog's tail hanging low and hunched-up position. Because there is no spinal cord compression there will be no associated neurologic symptoms.
A much more serious back issue is what's known as Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD) This is basically a herniated disc, a condition that takes place when the material found in the discs between the dog's bony vertebrae ends up rupturing and putting pressure on the dog's spinal cord.
Affected dogs develop a lot of pain and decreased nerve function (dragging legs, fecal incontinence). Dogs predisposed to IVDD include primarily dachshunds, but it can virtually occur in all breeds of dogs.
To diagnose IVDD, the vet will typically perform a neurological exam where the vet will test the dog's proprioception by lifting a dog's paws and placing the upside down and watching the dog's reaction.
Treatment for IVDD includes anti-inflammatories, pain killers, muscle relaxers and/or steroids (steroids are never given together with a NSAID). The goal of treatment is to decrease the pain and swelling and improve nerve function. Severe cases may require decompression surgery which aims to remove the disc material that is compressing the spine.
A Matter of Anal Glands
At the Vet's Office
The dog's anal sacs, also known as anal glands, are glands that are found under the dog's tail at the 4 o'clock and 8 o'clock position around the dog's rectum. These glands, in a normal dog with healthy glands are normally the size of a chickpea.
A small tube connects these anal sacs to the anal opening, allowing them to drain a few drops of fluid every time the dog defecates.
These anal gland fluids deposited with the dog's stool allow dogs to leave around scent and other pertinent information that other dogs can detect with a specialized organ located up their noses (vomeronasal organ, also known as Jacobson's organ). This explains why so many dogs are interesting in sniffing each other's feces. On top of being deposited on a dog's stool, anal gland fluids may be released when a dog is frightened, hence leaving around alarm pheromones to give other dogs a "heads' up" of impending danger.
Now, solid stools are needed in order to exert enough pressure to allow the glands to drain when the dog defecates. Problems often start when the dog has soft stools for some time as these glands fail to drain as they should. Soon, the tubes get blocked, and since a dog's anal gland fluid is continually produced, it starts piling up clogging and impacting the dog's gland.
With the sacs more and more full, affected dogs may experience discomfort and pain. A dog's tail hanging low, scooting and licking of the area may be tell-tale signs of impacted anal glands and possibly anal gland infections.
Treatment for anal gland problems in dogs may vary between simply having the vet or groomer express the dog's anal glands (emptying them through manual pressure) or a course of antibiotics, should there be an infection.
Your vet will likely ask several questions pertaining to the symptoms observed. He or she will then perform a physical examination to pinpoint the source of pain. This may include palpating the tail, manipulating the spine and looking under the tail for signs of abscesses or anal gland problems.
Several diagnostic tests may include x-rays, blood work, urine tests and fine needle aspiration if there are any suspicious lumps or bumps. Treatment will obviously vary based on the vet's findings.
As seen, the causes for a dog's tail hanging low can be several. Best to see your vet for proper diagnosis and treatment. Hopefully, in no time your dog's tail will be back to wagging and your dog will be back to his normal happy self!