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

  1. 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.

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  2. 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.

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  3. 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.

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  4. 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!

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  5. 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!!!

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  6. 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!

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