How Could a Condition Called “Happy Tail” be Bad?

Happy Tail is my favorite name for a medical condition, but it is also one of my least favorite things to see.  It saddens me that such a sweet expression of joy as tail wagging can result in injury.  Even worse – if a dog refuses to be discouraged by injury (as dogs are prone to do because they are awesome) and continues to wag, this can result in chronic happy tail.  And worst of all – you are the one who is stuck dealing with the frustrations of happy tail, all because you have a happy dog who refuses to be discouraged by life’s hardships who also happens to have a strong butt and a long, beautiful tail .

Great Dane Statue by Louise Peterson, Summit County Colorado

What is Happy Tail?

Happy tail is the name of a condition caused when a dog injures the tip of the tail secondary to wagging it against something hard, such as a kennel wall or end table.  Usually the cut is initially superficial, but because of its location at the end of the tail, bleeds quite a bit, does not heal quickly and is prone to recur.

Who Is at Risk?

Happy dogs with short fur, strong butts and long, beautiful tails are prone to happy tail.  The condition follows breed lines only because of the temperament and conformation of certain breeds, not because there is a genetic component.  It truly is a straight-forward simple trauma, which, because of its location is very difficult to get to heal.  Commonly affected dogs include Labrador Retrievers, Pit Bulls, Greyhounds and Great Danes.  Any dog with a strong tail wag, a long tail and poorly cushioned tail tip is at risk.

What are the Signs?

A cut or wound on the tail tip is the hallmark sign of this condition.  Because of the vascular nature of the tail tip and the wagging that occurs even after injury, the injury will cause anywhere from a small amount of bleeding to a Dexter episode-worthy splatter pattern.  As scary as this can be to see, the amount of blood lost is rarely dangerous.  The frustration of the injury comes in getting the tail to heal and the injury to not recur.

To the Vet’s!

Your veterinary team will assess the injury, determine if antibiotics and/or pain medication are warranted, and attempt to place a secure, padded bandage on a tapered tail that does not want to stop wagging!  The bandage will be changed regularly until the tail tip has healed.

In so far as it depends on you, try to keep your dog’s butt away from hard surfaces as the tail heals.

In chronic, non-healing cases, the veterinary team and family may decide together to have the tail partially amputated to prevent further injury.  Most cases will be able to be successfully medically managed.

Happy Tail can be a frustrating, long road for families whose dogs are dealing with this condition.  If you have words of encouragement, please share them here.

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Comments

  1. Anonymous says on  May 21, 2012 at 11:07 am

    My dog ( Am Staff) recently had happy tail for about a month and it wouldn’t heal. Even after 3 trips to the vet he decided he had enough and decided to chew about 2 inches of his own tail off. The end result was having his tail amputated and now he was a 4 inch nub left!

  2. GreyhoundMom says on  May 21, 2012 at 11:28 am

    Both of my male greyhounds are tail-amputees caused by Happy Ttail. One has half of his tail left, the other only about 4 or 5 inches. I tell people not to tell the dogs that they don’t have full tails, becuase they still wag them as if there was a whole tail back there. Them having shorter tails does not make me love them less. It’s actually less stressful for me, since I don’t worry about a long tail that can get slammed in doors! :)

  3. My sharpei/lab mix has a small wart looking sore on her tail about the size of a small watch battery. she has banged it several time and blood spatters everywhere. it heals and looks like a raised wart until she hits it again. peroxide works well for clean up. but…no one has mentioned it their dogs cuts from wall hitting look like a raised wart. the vet said it was a wart but i am not sure if warts bleed like this when being banged against a wall. i was thinking more like a cyst or some sort. she is due to go back to the vet to have it checked. i am curious if blood pools in the sore spots and forms a round sore looking similar to a wart or cyst. thank you.

  4. Have a amputated tail dog that is much less stressed now that not in pain from banging sore tail against everything. Happy tail dogs are very hard to heal without surgery.

  5. Rose Hargrove says on  November 13, 2013 at 8:37 pm

    Most of the time this happens in shelters with a frightened lonely dog. It is sad that we allow living beings to suffer such trauma.

  6. Anonymous says on  December 30, 2013 at 10:55 pm

    I have a 3 year old boxer that yes still has his tail. We are now going through this blood spattering event for the second time. It took a long time to fix it the first time and I am now going through it again. It will heal but it is an exhausting task. We go through a cleaning ritual every night. He doesn’t fight it anymore. He knows the routine and just summits to the soaking, spraying, antibiotic cream, wrapping, wrapping, and some more wrapping. We end with his favorite…cheese, a little rescue remedy and it is time for nite nite on the bed. Got to love the family!

  7. Kathleen says on  January 18, 2014 at 11:17 pm

    My 6 year old Chesapeake Bay Retriever had happy tail as a pup. It took 5 months to heal. I just came home and found my kitchen looking like a crime scene. It appears round 2 is here. Last time I cut the bottom out of M&M mini containers and placed it over the end of her tail using self grip bandage tape. It protected her tail from getting banged while allowing air so it could heal. I just read that a grain free diet could help. Anyone try this?

    • Anonymous says on  February 18, 2014 at 11:47 pm

      I read about the grain free diet as well but what does that have to do with the tail,does it make the tail stronger so it doesn’t get cut as easy?

  8. Anonymous says on  February 21, 2014 at 12:45 pm

    Through trial and error and several vet visits, I’ve found the best way to handle this. I have a 70 pound pit bull/foxhound mix. Don’t bandage the tip of the tail. Use medical or sports tape to attach one end of a hair elastic to the tail, 3-4″ above the tip. Attach a second hair elastic to the first, and slide the second hair elastic onto one of the rear legs. It should be loose. This will prevent the tail from whacking into things which will allow it to heal. You can also easily slide it off the leg in case the dog will not poop with it on.

    I also had an issue with the dog chewing bulky bandages off before we found this solution. He has a skinny, long neck and a very long tail. This meant that none of the e-collars could keep him from getting to his tail. After going through several different setups, I found one that worked. I bought a small e-collar and a large e-collar and attached them to each other with zip ties. I had to punch extra holes in the plastic to allow me to fasten them together with zip ties. This made an extra deep collar. I only used this setup while the dog was unsupervised because it’s very cumbersome.

  9. I found the perfect solution to help get your dog’s tail tip to heal:

    Items needed:
    Vet wrap
    Sports Tape
    Finger Splint with (metal covering)
    Dog cone: (recommend using inflatable one)

    Tools:
    Scissors

    Medicine if needed:
    Neosporine

    **May need assistance, to help keep your dog from moving.**

    All the items listed can be purchased at your local pharmacy all together for about $20 – $25
    Except the dog cone I recommend the inflatable one it’s easier on your dog’s
    neck, this can be purchased at a Pet shop, I know Petsmart has them.
    Depending on size about $20 – $40.

    Process:

    First apply Neosporine to affected area.

    Next wrap your dog’s tail tip in the vet wrap. Cut to size. I recommend at least 1″ to 1.5″

    Next place the finger splint over vet wrap/over tail tip.

    Squeeze the finger splint together to make it more snug. Do not squeeze too much, may hurt dog in process.
    Next wrap the sports tape around finger splint and up onto tail at least 3″ – 4″ on the tail
    above where the finger splint ends. This is key otherwise when your dog wages their tail it will fly off.
    Then place dog cone around your dog’s neck this will help your dog from getting at their tail.
    However your dog may still be able to get at tail. The metal on the finger splint will help to discourage
    your dog from biting If your dog is persistent i then recommend buying a spray that
    will discourage your dog from biting the area.

    Change the bandage every day or at most every other day to prevent infection.

  10. Anonymous says on  October 17, 2014 at 8:37 am

    I work in a boarding kennel, and we see this quite a lot. I’ll come in in the morning, and see blood streaks on the kennel wall. It looks gruesome, but the dog rarely even recognizes that it’s hurt. I had a Weimaraner bust his tail open once, and when I got in his kennel to bandage him up, he hopped right in my lap and totally oblivious to his injury, he licked my face and wagged his tail and splattered my shirt with blood. It looks a lot worse to the people seeing the blood than it really is. He was just happy as can be.

  11. Anonymous says on  December 5, 2014 at 1:16 pm

    We are on day 12 of the daily blood spatter with our mutt (terrier mix). She has been chewing off the bandaging so we just got a v colar from the vet! I like all of the tips they are going to be very helpful. She is 7 and never had this before so I hope it gets better quickly and does not re-occurr!

  12. Thanks for all the comments posted. I can relate to all of these comments. We have taken our dog to the vet several times, we wrap it, clean it, it falls off, he keeps licking it, reward it; it is just not getting better. I have even wrapped it in the pipe insulation, vet wrap, add sports wrap to secure it. May I add, my son is a vet tech, pup is on antibiotics, and pain meds, nothing seems to help. I am sadden as I know he is not feeling well. It doesn’t stop him as he is full of energy and good spirits. I am going to try the splint next, will keep you posted. Thanks again for posting!!!

  13. Meant to say, re-wrap it not reward. Sorry!

  14. My sharpei wags his tail so hard that the last 2 inches of his tail is bare of fur. And he whips his back end, right above his legs, such that he ha bald spots on both sides. Thankfully I haven’t had the bloody mess!

  15. Hi all
    we have a 2 year old Great Dane bitch that came to us with a chunk missing off her tail, (back in May 2014) bled all the time as she is a very happy girl and she kept banging it on things and of course it bled profusely. The vet covered it with Manuka honey bandaged it for a week and it has healed up beautifully, even now when she bangs her tail against things it has not happened since. It has actually calloused over, so cross fingers all good permanently. Best of luck to all, but I would at least try it!

  16. Anonymous says on  March 27, 2015 at 4:26 pm

    The tails of my rottweiler puppies were recently docked. I lost two of the puppies as a result of sores which developed at the site. Another one is getting affected, what can i do?

  17. Anonymous says on  March 27, 2015 at 4:31 pm

    Pls i need a quick reply and a solution

  18. Anonymous says on  May 3, 2015 at 11:41 am

    Hi I have a 1 1/2 yr old pit. He is handsome lets my 3 ypung boys cluddle play and ride him lol very loving. But he has had happy tail and I am wondering if u can “dock” that last 2inches of his tail off at home. He loves car rides but I dont want to stress him out by going to the vet. He is at the point where I have blood splatters on my walls, he constantly chews his tail. Trying to get it off. I have been using medical treatment but it heals and in few weeks its back :( any ideas?

    • Anonymous says on  May 5, 2015 at 12:30 pm

      I also have a pitbull who is around 2 years old. I adopted him with “happy tail” he painted my whole house the first night! But I wrapped it regularly with gauze and medical tape(sometimes neosporin) not too tight bc then it would irritated him and he would mess with it. But not loose enough that it will fling off. I also started wrapping the tape a little further up his tail(past the gauze) and it stayed on. I kept it wrapped during the day and let it air out at night. It’s been about a month and it’s almost completely healed. All of the scabbing is gone and the hair has started to grow back. Hope I could help!

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