Wednesday, July 25, 2012

What is Happy Tail Syndrome in Dogs?

By Linda Cole

You know when your dog is happy by the way he excitedly wags his tail. For some dogs, all you have to do to get their tails whipping back and forth is to look at them. My dogs wag their tail a mile a minute when I talk to them and when we're playing. A dog's tail is one way they communicate with us. You wouldn't think a happy, excited tail could be a problem for your dog, but it can. A medical condition called Happy Tail syndrome can cause serious injury to your dog's tail.

What is Happy Tail Syndrome?

When a dog is excited and wags his tail rapidly, like most dogs are prone to do when happy, they can injure their tail knocking it against a hard surface like a table leg or wall. Happy tail syndrome is also known as kennel tail, splitting tail and bleeding tail. A dog can whack his tail hard enough on a hard surface that it causes a small cut or split on the tip of his tail. The cut tends to bleed a lot and as he continues to wag his tail, blood is splattered around the area.

It may not sound like a serious condition, but because it's on the tip of his tail, it doesn't heal fast, it can be hard to stop the bleeding, and it can be recurring if the dog wags his tail against a hard surface. Infection is a concern; antibiotics should be given to help prevent infection, and pain medication may need to be prescribed. In a worst case scenario, a portion of the tail may be amputated.

Treatment can be difficult because the tail needs to be bandaged to protect it from further damage, and it's hard to keep a tail bandaged. You should consult a vet for proper instructions on how to wrap a dog's tail and determine if he needs any medications. It's important to keep the injury clean. Never use duct tape to wrap your dog's tail. The material doesn't stretch, and no air can move through it. You want a breathable, flexible type of bandage that protects the tip of the tail. Because infection can occur, the bandage needs to be changed every day and the wound inspected.

Dogs prone to Happy Tail syndrome are short haired dogs with long tails and strong behinds that can wag a tail with some force. It's usually seen in larger breeds like Great Danes, Pit Bulls, Greyhounds and Labs. However, any short haired dog that can wag his tail with some force can damage the tip when it hits something hard. Dogs with feathered tails and smaller canines aren't as likely to have problems.

Prevention. You know your dog best, and if he is one that gets so excited his entire body is moving when he wags his tail, make sure there's nothing around he can bang the tip of his tail against. If you're in close quarters with table legs, end tables, walls or any other hard surface, stay calm so you can keep your dog from becoming too excited. Keep him calm when going outside for walks or just to play.

Pay attention to solid objects around your dog that could get in the way of his wagging tail. If you think he might become excited, have him sit or lie down to help keep him calm, especially if he has injured his tail. Swishing the tail along the floor will keep him from knocking it against something that could re-injure it. Save those excited tail wags for areas in the home or outside where it's safe for him to swing his tail as much as he wants with nothing hard that can get in the way.

A proper diet can make a big difference, too. CANIDAE All Life Stages dog food provides all of the vitamins and nutrients your dog needs. A natural, high quality diet rich in Omega 6 & 3 fatty acids promotes a healthy coat and skin, and can help most injuries heal faster. A healthy diet is as important for our pets as it is for us.

Happy Tail syndrome isn't a happy experience for you or your dog, and it can be painful for him. I have a lab mix with a very strong tail, and he is a dog that shakes all over when he wags his tail. If you've ever been hit in the shin by an excited and strong tail, it gives you an idea of how hard a dog can wag his tail. Thankfully, I have plenty of room in my home where he can flick his tail as much as he wants when he's happy.

Photo by Bill McChesney

Read more articles by Linda Cole


  1. It can be scary to see too. There was mastiff at a shelter where I used to volunteer and one morning we came in and it looked like someone had died in his kennel - all from happy tail. He got bandaged (which was fun since he so wanted to help) and then was "upgraded" to hanging out in the medical department until a foster home could be found for him. He was such a sweet boy and BIG puppy and the kennel was just not a good space for him. He healed up quick and did great in foster care (and found a home pretty quickly as well).

  2. Our cousin Gypsy had happy tail. After repeated attempts to bandage it and let it heal, she ended up getting docked. Not anything her family wanted to do but her tail was just too happy for her own good. She is doing great even with her little stub:)

    Woos - Phantom, Thunder, Ciara, and Lightning

  3. I don't think I have ever had that happen to any of my dogs. Of course, one reason is that I have always had Australian Shepherds and they have short tails. But that is great info and sounds like it could be a huge problem.

  4. Never knew of this, but glad I did read this.

  5. Funny- I swoosh my tail back and forth when I sit up on the back of my mom's chair, brushing it against her face and making her and dad laugh! I think that means I'm happy, too.

  6. My dog has happy dog syndrome . She is not going to be happy with me tomorrow as she is going to the vet to get it docked. Whenever she hits it hard off something it's like a blood bath not fair on her it must be sore . So tomorrow I shall have happy owner syndrome x

  7. We noticed brown lines on our walls for a few weeks but thought our chocolate lab was getting into mud or worse, poo, and slinging it. We came home Christmas night to find the house looking like a crime scene. It literally looked as if someone had taken a bad paint brush and went at the walls with blood. It was on the fridge, dishwasher, clothes, piano, WII, X-box, flat screen tv, computer, curtains....and any other thing in the downstairs area and as high up as 5 ft. (He is a VERY happy Labrador!) Clean up took hours. The vet said (at 9 am the next morning) to switch to a grain free diet to address the dry skin and cracking skin on his tail. We are watching his tail for signs of cracking and taking measures to help Coco not lose his tail.

  8. I am thinking about some sort doggy coat with a tail "sleeve" to protect the tail or some sort of edible but nasty tasting foam spray that you spray onto the dog's tail to form a sort of protective sponge once dry.

  9. Not strictly on topic but looking for some informed advice ...I've been offered a Great Dane pup from a very reputable breeder. The "problem" ( if it is one) is that the puppy is a bobtail.

    The puppy will be a family pet and ( hopefully) watchdog and I've no interest in showing BUT I am worried that there may be as yet unknown health issues associated with the recessive gene/developmental issues which have resulted in the shortened tail.

    In the meantime the puppy seems healthy and is thriving. I've seen both parents and saw dam while she was pregnant - no issue at all with temperament.

    I am torn between this puppy and a tailed sibling - and yes this is a heart v head decision so any constructive help very much appreciated.


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