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

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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
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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