Broken tail syndrome goes by a variety of other names: cold water tail, limber tail syndrome;, dead tail and more. With all these names, you get the idea that something is wrong with the dog's tail. Quite common in Labs, especially sporting dogs, it looks worse than it is.
Your Lab's tail will indeed appear broken. However, the damage is not to the tail bone, but the tail muscles. It's the equivalent of a sprain. Your dog's tail might be just be a little droopy, or it can hang straight down without looking like there's any muscle tone at all. The condition may be painful, and your Lab might not want you to touch it.
One of the reasons the syndrome is also called "cold tail" is because it often appears in Labrador retrievers and other hunting dogs after they've been swimming in cold water. However, your dog doesn't even have to get damp to suffer from broken tail syndrome. Overexertion is often the culprit. Weekend warrior dogs pay for their pleasures in strains and sprains just like their owners.
Get your dog in shape before going out hunting or any other strenuous activity. If your dog already had an episode of broken tail syndrome, try to recall exactly what may have brought it on. Was your Lab swimming in icy water? You'd hate to keep a water-loving Lab out of a pond or lake, but perhaps it's not a good idea to let him swim in cold weather. Of course, that's not practical if you use your dog for hunting. Since it could be a one-time problem, think twice before retiring your sporting Lab unless broken tail syndrome recurs because of hunting conditions. Traveling in a crate for several hours, as often occurs with hunting or competition dogs, may also trigger broken tail syndrome.
One problem with limber tail is that vets who aren't familiar with sporting dogs might mistake it for something far more serious. Of course, a limp tail can indicate an actual broken bone, spinal injury or other problem. Broken tail syndrome occurs suddenly. It's not a case of the tail getting progressively weaker over time. Your dog's tail was fine, and then it wasn't. This information might help the vet in making a diagnosis.
Generally, broken tail syndrome resolves itself within a week or so. Keep your Lab quiet, and don't take him out for any more sport until his tail returns to normal. Your vet may prescribe some mild painkillers to ease the soreness. You can also put warm compresses on your dog's tail. It might not help him that much, but he'll know how much you love him. The condition may or may not occur again.
Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.