Erect-tail dysfunction: why dogs lose their wag in the north
Cold weather and swimming is likely to be behind 'limber tail'
They were so different in many ways yet they loved one very special town
Dogs in the north may lose their wag because it is colder than in the south, a new study suggests.
Edinburgh University has been investigating the phenomenon known as ‘limber tail’ which causes a dog’s tail to become limp and difficult to move.
The condition is known to affect larger working breeds, such as Labrador retrievers but until now nobody knew what caused the problem.
But a study of dozens of dogs with limber tail suggests that cold conditions are behind the illness. The chance of a dog developing the condition rose by 50 per cent for each additional degree of latitude further north.
Working dogs, who spend more time outdoors and those who had been swimming were also around five times more likely to develop ‘limber tail’ which is also known as ‘cold tail.’
“We were surprised by how many owners were reporting limber tail to us but it meant we had the chance to do a detailed investigation,” said Dr Carys Pugh, of The Roslin Institute and Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies.
“We have been able to add evidence to a lot of internet speculation about risk factors and the new findings relating to geographical region and family links give us avenues to pursue in understanding and avoiding the condition.”
The condition, which was first reported in the scientific press in 1997, is thought to affect around 60,000 dogs in Britain, but owners often struggle to find out what is wrong with their pets as there is little literature available.
The team at the University of Edinburgh compared 38 cases of limber tail that were identified from owners’ reports about their dogs’ health with 86 dogs that had no symptoms.
Their goal was to gain insight into habits and lifestyle factors that might explain why some dogs are affected and not others.
The majority of dogs in the study were pets but those affected by limber tail were more likely to be working dogs, they found.
Swimming has previously been thought to be a risk factor for limber tail, which is sometimes known as ‘swimmers’ tail’.
The symptoms usually resolve within a few days or weeks so many cases are not reported to vets. However, owners report that it can be very painful and distressing for the animals.
Some but not all of the affected dogs had been swimming prior to the onset of symptoms, the study found.
Swimming dogs are more likely to develop limber tail
Labradors that had suffered limber tail were more likely to be related to each other than unaffected dogs, which may indicate an underlying genetic risk.
Experts hope that further studies will identify genes associated with the condition, which could one day help breeders to identify animals that are likely to be affected. Caroline Kisko, Secretary of Kennel Club which funded the research through its charitable trust, said owners should be careful not to over-expose their dogs to the cold.
“The condition is rare, but is it most often seen in working dogs such as Labrador Retrievers, Flat Coated Retrievers and Pointers. Dogs usually recover their normal tail posture and function over a period of days or weeks, however it can be painful.
“This research suggests that dogs may have an underlying genetic predisposition to developing the condition, however, owners should be aware of the risk factors including cold weather and swimming in cold water.”
Teaching your dog to turn in a circlePlay!01:35
But Gudrun Ravetz, Junior Vice President, British Veterinary Association warned owners not to become so worried about the cold that they stop exercising their pets.
“Limber tail is rarely seen in veterinary practices and the research indicates that most owners do not seek veterinary attention for this problem,” she said.
“While it is useful for dog owners, particularly working dog owners, and vets to be more aware of this condition at the same time it is important that pet owners carry on enjoying exercise with their dogs in all weathers, as the health and welfare risks of not exercising dogs properly are considerable.
“We would recommend any owner who is concerned about this problem or thinks their dog may be suffering from Limber Tail to talk to their local vet.”