Why Is My Dog’s Tail Swollen At The Base?

Photo by Tim Regan on Flickr

The moment you walk through the door and your dog greets you with a wagging tail is one of the best parts of the day. 

What happens when your beloved pet doesn’t seem too excited to see you back?

You ask yourself what’s wrong with the dog and give him a reassuring pat on the back only to discover his tail is all swollen at the base. 

What’s wrong with my dog? Should I be concerned? 

Not necessarily.

There are many reasons why a dog might be a bit swollen at the base of the tail and most aren’t serious.

The pain might be serious for the dog, though, and you should do something about it.

Here’s all you need to know about the most common conditions affecting a dog’s tail.

Why might a dog’s tail be swollen at its base?

It might be nothing or it might be something serious. One of the most common reasons your dog’s tail might appear a bit swollen is over exertion, pure and simple. And this includes too much wagging.

This condition is known as limber tail.

Read on to learn everything about this unpleasant but easily treatable condition.

On the other hand, if that swelling seems more like a lump, that might indicate a tumor, and it’s up to the vet to say if it’s benign or malignant.

However, this kind of tumor is very rare.

Also, the swelling might be nothing but a bit of fat tissue, once again not very serious.

Are there any other symptoms apart from swelling?

Some pet owners report that their dog’s tail is not only swollen, but also a bit itchy.

This indicates a completely different problem, generally a skin condition such as an allergy triggered by parasite infestation.

Check out the tail area to look for a rash. If a dog has a flea problem he might lick his tail raw and some swelling is to be expected.

You should see a vet and treat the flea problem if you want to see that tail wagging as it used to.

Also, look for signs of wounds indicating a recent trauma, such as a nasty fall, a car accident or a dog bite. 

What is limber tail? And what are the main causes?

Limber tail is also known as swimmer’s tail, cold water tail or even dead tail.

The condition has many names as it can be triggered by a variety of reasons.

The first sign you’ll notice is that the dog doesn’t seem very joyful when you get home and there’s little tail wagging, if any. 

The tail is limp, hanging between the dog’s hind legs. It might also cause the dog pain and he will react angrily if you try to touch his tail.

Let’s have a look at the most common causes of limber tail.

Exercise

Limber tail is caused by too much exertion.

A dog that swims too much might get the condition, particularly if the water is cold.

Dogs use their tails as a rudder when they swim and this can lead to muscular strain.

The ligaments in the tail will become stressed, which explains why your dog isn’t as eager to show his affection by wagging. 

It can also appear after strenuous physical exercise if the dog lacks proper conditioning and training.

It’s a common problem for hunting dogs especially at the beginning of the season.

Even if you don’t take your dog out hunting, a long hike on difficult terrain might cause the same problem.

You cannot keep the dog languishing around the house all day and then expect him to be in top form when you decide to take him on a hiking trail.

Dogs use their tail to balance themselves and excessive movement can injure the nerves and blood vessels at the base of the tail, causing pain and swelling. 

Fierce waggers can also injure their tail if they cannot control their enthusiasm so if you know your dog gets overly excited try to teach him to calm down. 

Improper crating

Keeping the dog confined for prolonged periods of time can also cause limber tail.

This tends to happen when the dog is kept in a small crate that doesn’t allow him to move or get into a comfortable position.

If the tail is forced into an unnatural position or is pressed against the crate’s wall this can cause nerve damage and swelling.

Cold weather

Senior dogs are more sensitive to weather changes and have a lower tolerance for cold.

If you have an old dog don’t be surprised to see he’s a bit swollen at the base of the tail, which hangs flaccid between the legs.

What are the breeds more prone to limber tail?

Any dog can suffer from limber tail, but the condition is more prevalent in sport and hunting dogs.

The breeds that are more likely to end up with a limp tail after some vigorous physical activity are:

  • Golden Retriever
  • Labrador Retriever
  • Beagle
  • English Pointer or Setter
  • Foxhound

How should limber tail be treated?

If your dog was left with a swollen tail after a day full of vigorous activity, the obvious solution is to let the poor thing rest. Look for any potentially worrying symptoms, but if you don’t find anything wrong, other than the swelling, there’s no need to go to the vet. 

The dog will appear a bit lethargic if he’s in pain so he won’t be interested in jumping around anyway.

Make him as comfortable as possible in his bed, bring his food and water closer and leave him be.

Applying warm pads on the affected area can also help relieve the pain. Make sure to touch his tail as little as possible and don’t put any extra pressure on an already sore spot. 

As for pain medication, you should be very careful as many human over-the counter medications, including Tylenol and Advil, are toxic to dogs

Aspirin can help with the dog’s pain and inflammation, and it’s generally considered to be safe for dogs.

You should, however, talk to your vet and have him recommend the correct dosage. 

Generally speaking, a Beagle weighing between 10 and 20 pounds can be safely given 100-200 mg of aspirin, or half a tablet intended for adult use.

A 40-60lbs Labrador Retriever can have as much as 300-600 mg of aspirin (1-2 tablets).

Aspirin should only be used short term as it can cause gastrointestinal problems and bleeding.

What are the other main types of injuries that dogs get to their tails? 

While a limp tail is a major symptom for limber tail, there are other problems that can cause sensitivity and swelling. 

Fracture/Dislocation

A dog can fracture or dislocate  his tail by banging it against the furniture and this can cause some swelling.

If the dog’s tail is fractured or dislocated there isn’t much you can do.

A limb fracture requires heavy bandages to keep it imobile, but that’s not really an option when the tail is concerned.

It’s nearly impossible to bandage the base of the tail so you’ll have to wait for it to heal on its own. 

Bites

While in a fight dogs tend to go for each other’s neck, they’ll bite whatever part they can grab, including the tail.

If your dog seems to have a problem with his tail check it out for possible bite wounds, disinfect them and apply an antiseptic ointment to prevent infection. 

Impacted anal glands

Your dog hates it when the vet expresses his anal glands, but it’s a necessary thing. If your dog hasn’t had the procedure in a while, his anal glands might get impacted, causing him a lot of discomfort.

Intervertebral disc disease

When your dog doesn’t wag his tail like he used to, you should also consider intervertebral disc disease.

This is a major concern for elderly dogs or for animals that have sustained some recent trauma.

A car accident, for instance, can cause spinal trauma and nerve damage, which will only become apparent after some time.

Your dog might require surgery to reduce nerve compression, but in many cases, anti-inflammatory medication, pain relief and lots of rest might solve the problem. 

Tail cancer

This is a rare form of cancer in dogs, but if you find a strange lump at the base of your dog’s tail, have it checked out by a vet.

Perianal adenomas can cause swelling in the tail area.

They account for 80% of all tumors in the perianal area, but the good news is that they’re benign and they can be surgically removed.

They are more prevalent in intact dogs, so your vet might also recommend castration. 

How can you prevent limber tail?


If the problems are caused by physical exertion, you need to increase your dog’s stamina and endurance.

Increase the length and intensity of his physical exercise sessions.

Start with longer walks at an alert place and introduce more physical games as part of his daily routine. 

If you need to crate the dog, try getting a bigger crate that allows him more freedom to move.

Also, make sure the dog gets plenty of exercise when you get home.

This way he will be in a better physical condition and won’t get a sprain when you take him for a swim or a hike. 

Closing Thoughts

When a dog loses his wag, it can be very frustrating.

For you, but even more so for the dog.

If he gets limber tail, caused by too much wagging or intense exercise, it will pass in a few days with a lot of rest, warm pads and pain relievers. 

If the dog isn’t back to his old tricks in a few days and you don’t see that tail wagging again, you should take him to a vet.

Sometimes the problems can be caused by a fracture or another type of injury. 

If you notice a lump around the base of his tail, don’t fly into a panic.

It might be a tumor, but that doesn’t mean your dog has cancer. Most tumors in this area are bening and they can easily be treated.