Dogs wag their tails to communicate and the more excited or agitated they are, the more vigorous the wag. A damaged tail is extremely painful for a dog and can turn a happy pooch into a miserable mutt. Knowing what causes a tail injury will help you identify the problem and take steps to fix it, or your dog could suffer permanent disability.
About the Tail
Veterinarian John A. Bukowski explains that tails are a continuation of the spine and made up of six to 23 additional vertebrae. A dog's tail, whether it is curly or straight, starts at the pelvis and runs to the tip. Important nerves near the base of the tail contribute to a dog's control of his bowel movements.
Injuries to the tail are common. A tail can be bitten by another dog, caught in a door, even stepped on. Vigorous wagging may smack the tail hard against a wall or piece of furniture, causing a break, bruise or sprain. The injured tail will droop and the dog will walk carefully because of the pain. When your dog stops wagging his tail, you know there's something wrong. Check for swelling and tenderness.
If the dog's been in a fight, bite wounds can become infected, so the wound needs to be cleaned and bandaged quickly. If severe, seek the attention of a veterinarian. It's not unusual for a dog to chew his own tail and create open sores. Irritation like fleas and ticks--or more serious problems like benign or cancerous tumours--can incite a dog to chew the area as a way to seek relief. Cauda equina syndrome--or lumbosacral stenosis--is an instability of the vertebrae where the tail attaches to the pelvis. According to veterinarian Holly Nash, it's an arthritic condition caused by nerve damage and is more common in large breed dogs. There is no cure, though pain can be relieved with medication. The only other alternative is amputation.
Tail injuries can be extremely painful. If the skin is broken, as in the case of a bite or laceration, bleeding may be severe. If a broken tail is crooked, it could heal that way if not set and splinted correctly. If an injury occurs at the base of the tail, it might mean damage to vital nerves in the area, which could lead to fecal incontinence. If the damage to the tail base is severe enough, permanent sagging of the tail may result.
Repair and Care
Severe injuries could require amputation, which is done by a veterinarian under general anaesthesia. The stump is sewn closed and bandaged. Tail injuries typically heal well when protected from chewing or wagging. Treat bandages with bitter apple or some other offensive taste to prevent chewing. A cone-type collar may also be used to keep the dog's mouth away from the bandaged area. Bandages should be changed every two to three days.