Excessive exercise is the most common cause of limber tail, especially if the dog is not accustomed to that level of exertion.
"We get more phone calls asking about limber tail in athletic dogs at the start of the season when dogs are going back into heavy training," says Dr. Steiss. "For example, if hunting dogs have been laid off for the summer and suddenly, in September, the owner takes them out hunting all day Saturday, and Sunday, too, then by Sunday night suddenly the dog may show signs of limber tail."
Prolonged cage transport, exposure to cold water or a combination of these can also cause limber tail. If your dog has been in cold water, or if a trainer transports dogs and leaves them on the truck for 12 hours or more without stopping to air them, and then within the next day, the tail falls limp and seems painful, you should probably suspect limber tail.
The good news is, limber tail is not life threatening, or even life altering (for more than a few days or weeks). It probably causes some pain for your dog for a day or two. Dr. Steiss says the most important thing is to rest the dog for several days, at least until the normal tail action has returned.
"But even after the tail action looks normal again, the muscle still needs time to heal," she says. "Also, it helps to give an anti-inflammatory for the first day or two, especially for dogs who seem to be in pain. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as Rimadyl or Deramaxx are good examples, and your veterinarian can prescribe these. Or if you can't reach a veterinarian, try buffered aspirin for a day or two. Some veterinarians will give your dog a corticosteroid injection, which also is effective in alleviating the pain and inflammation."
Hunting dogs are notorious for pushing their bodies to the point of exhaustion, so it's up to their handlers to set limits. Dog trainers and owners can help prevent limber tail by gradually working their dogs into shape and avoiding extremely cold water—especially when dogs are not in peak physical condition.
Also, avoid extended confinement. If you are going on a long trip, be aware that limber tail is more likely to affect dogs crated for long periods. Let your dog out of his crate every few hours to stretch.
Fortunately, limber tail is becoming a more recognized condition, especially in retrievers and pointers, and with awareness comes prevention.
"As dog handlers become more familiar with the condition, they're also learning how to prevent it," says Dr. Steiss. "The best way to prevent limber tail is to become aware of the specific risk factors and avoid them."