Watch for signs of limber tail after a hard day in the marshes

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Photo © Alicia Miller

During waterfowl season, you want your hardworking, eager-to-please retriever to be healthy and well-conditioned so that he or she can assist you in the duck blind. However, after a vigorous day in the marshes, you may notice your hunting partner's tail hanging limply, as though it may be broken. Damaged tail muscles can cause this condition, known as limber tail syndrome.

Relatively common in retrievers, limber tail syndrome also has been called cold tail, limp tail, or broken tail. This condition affects the muscle at the base of a dog's tail, which plays an important role in balance and body movement.

After a heavy day of work involving a lot of tail action, the tail can become so flaccid the dog is unable to raise it. The tail appears to be painful to the touch, and retrievers can act as if they are in pain for the first 24 to 48 hours. Hair around the base of the tail may also stand up, likely due to swelling of the muscle tissue at the tail base. Exposure to wet, cold weather, underconditioning, or overexertion after being confined in a crate for long periods of time can all contribute to limber tail.

"Limber tail can often occur when a dog uses his or her tail excessively, such as after a day of duck hunting, especially when the dog has worked for a long period of time in cold water. It also is more prevalent in an underconditioned dog," says Purina Senior Manager of Sporting Dog Programs Karl Gunzer, who previously worked as a professional retriever trainer for 20 years. "While there can be several different causes, the best way to avoid limber tail is to make sure your dog is properly conditioned before the season starts. You also should be sure your dog is warm and dry while resting after a day in the marshes."

If your dog does get limber tail, experienced owners and trainers say that rest is the best management, though nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) also are commonly used to help manage the condition. Usually dogs recover within a few days, though during recovery, the tail may hang to one side. In rare cases, a dog's tail posture may be permanently altered. Dogs that recover are likely to experience limber tail again in their life.

Consider these tips to prevent limber tail in the future:

  • Make sure your retriever is properly conditioned prior to the waterfowl season. Gradually get your dog into condition so he or she doesn't experience stress or fatigue the first few outings.
  • Regardless of the season, but particularly in wet, cold conditions, be sure to keep your dog's bedding dry.
  • Make sure your retriever's crate is appropriate for his or her size. A dog should have enough room to move around.
    When traveling, make sure to get your dog out frequently to stretch his or her legs.
  • Keep your retriever fit and healthy by feeding a high-protein/high-fat performance dog food year-round, such as Purina Pro Plan SPORT Performance 30/20 Formula. This complete and balanced formula will provide your retriever with the correct nutrients needed for optimal strength, speed and endurance, while helping to keep him or her properly conditioned.

Do you feed Purina Pro Plan SPORT dog food? Take a moment to tell us about your experience feeding the brand that delivers Nutrition That Performs. How has Purina Pro Plan helped your retriever's performance in the duck blind?