Do Dogs Have Bones in Their Tails? +5 Dog Tail Problems

I used to know a very sweet Greyhound with a tail like an alligator’s. Whenever he got excited, his tail would painfully whip the legs of any nearby human. Why was this otherwise lovable dog’s tail so painful to his two-legged friends and just what are dogs’ tails made of?

Do Dogs Have Bones in Their Tails?

A dog’s tail has multiple, connected small bones inside it. There are an average of 20 bones in a dog’s full-length tail. The tail is an extension of a dog’s spine, so the bones in the tail are actually small vertebrae. Canine tails also contain blood vessels, nerves and connective tissue. 

Anatomy of a Dog’s Tail

In addition to bones, a dog’s tail has arteries (caudal arteries) and veins (caudal veins) to carry blood to and from this important body part. These blood vessels branch off of larger arteries and veins in the pelvic area. 

When a dog requires surgery in that area, it can bleed a lot if the blood vessels are not tied off with suture or cauterized. A tail injury tends to bleed non-stop because dogs keep traumatizing the wound by wagging and it never has a chance to fully clot. 

Illustration of dog tail anatomy (do dogs have bones in their tails?)
Anatomy of a dog’s tail with bones and blood vessels.

Do Dogs Feel Pain in Their Tails?

Dogs can definitely feel pain in their tails. The nerves in dog tails send messages to the brain about temperature and pressure so your dog can move away from things that hurt. Another interesting fact-even though the tail is an extension of the spinal column, the spinal cord does not extend into the tail.  

Do All Dogs Have Tails?

Not all dogs are born with tails. Some breeds, such as the Australian Shepherd and Old English Sheepdogs are born without tails. 

Other breeds, such as the Rottweiler, Doberman Pinscher, and Yorkshire Terriers may have their tails docked or surgically removed shortly after birth.

Why Do People Cut Off Dog Tails?

The most common motivation for people to cut off, or dock a dog tail is to conform to a breed standard. Individual breed clubs have a standard for how the perfect specimen should look and that may include a requirement for a docked tail. 

The traditional reason for removing a dog’s tail often revolves around avoiding tail injury while working or hunting. The American Kennel Club recognizes at least 62 dog breeds with docked tails

Owners of any breed of dog have no moral or legal obligation to dock the tail. Unfortunately, puppies usually already have their tail docked when people buy or adopt them so you don’t get to make that choice. 

Tail docking is falling out of favor in the U.S. and is illegal in some countries. A few U.S. states and localities have laws banning or regulating the practice. 

Other reasons for tail docking include treatment for injuries, untreatable infections and to remove cancerous tumors.

Can a Dog Break Their Tail?

Dogs can break their tail and it can be very painful. Tail fractures usually result from trauma such as being closed in a door. Broken tails may hang at a strange angle or become swollen. X-ray imaging of a dog’s tail is used to identify fractures in the bones or dislocations of the caudal vertebrae.

Treatment of a broken tail depends on the severity and location of the injury. Since long dog tails are extremely difficult to fix in place well enough to heal, severe injuries require tail amputation. Less severe tail injuries heal on their own in time but the dog may have a permanent kink in the tail.

Happy Tail in Dogs Is No Joke

“Happy Tail” is a condition that can occur from the tail wagging against a hard surface in a confined space, the sides of a kennel. Chronic trauma causes ulceration, inflammation and bleeding from the tail tip. Big dog breeds (Great Danes, Greyhounds, etc.) with long, boney tails are most at risk. 

The treatment for Happy Tail might include bandaging the tail tip to protect it from trauma so it can heal. Once the wound has healed, a dog owner must take steps to prevent re-injury by providing a larger crate or not confining the dog in small areas. 

Some dogs require surgery to shorten their tail to prevent the recurrence of wounds. 

Why Do Dogs Get Limber Tail?

Limber tail is a condition in dogs that causes sudden changes in tail carriage, pain and decreased ability to move the tail. Other terms for this syndrome include cold tail, dead tail and rudder tail.

Affected dogs may have a completely limp tail, a stiff tail or a tail that is stiff at the base and limp beyond that. Dog owners often notice their pup isn’t wagging their tail like normal.

The disease was first identified in hunting dogs who had been confined for a period of time or had been swimming in cold water. (1) The Labrador retriever seems more susceptible to the condition.

The cause of this condition is not well-understood, but it may be a sort of compartment syndrome that affects several muscles in the tail area. Biopsies from affected dogs have shown muscle injury from lack of blood flow to the area. 

Treatment involves rest, pain management and anti-inflammatory drugs

bulldog on a beach
Bulldog tails are cute but sometimes they cause problems!

Does Your Dog Have Screw Tail?

Screw tail is a skin condition that occurs in brachycephalic dogs (short-faced breeds like the English and French Bulldog) that are born with short tails that curl into the tissue at the base. The skin folds in the area become inflamed and infected.  

Screw tail is initially treated as any other skin infection is, using cleaning, antibiotics and anti-inflammatories. Some dogs continue to have problems despite proper treatment due to their anatomy. In these cases, surgical correction of the skin folds and tail remnant may improve the tendency for recurrent infections. 

Stud Tail Is Nothing to Be Proud Of!

Stud tail is the layman’s term for a skin condition affecting the base of a dog’s tail. It’s caused when the oil-producing glands in the area become overactive and sometimes get infected. 

Dog owners notice greasy, clumpy hair on the top surface of the tail near where it joins the body. Some dogs lose hair and have obvious blackheads in the affected area.

Intact males, neutered males and even female dogs can get stud tail. The condition is sometimes related to excess male hormone but can also be part of a larger skin condition. 

Treatment involves clipping and cleaning affected skin with therapeutic shampoo and treating any infection that is present. Neutering intact male dogs may or may not resolve the condition.

Summary

A dog’s tail is a continuation of the spine. It’s made up of around 20 vertebrae, arteries, veins, muscles, nerves, cartilage, connective tissue, skin and fur. Some dogs are born without tails and others have them docked when they are only days old.

Several diseases can affect a dog’s tail–ranging from tail injury trauma to muscle conditions and skin conditions. 

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References

  1. Steiss, J., Braund, K., Wright, J., Lenz, S., Hudson, J., Brawner, W., … & Home, R. (1999). Coccygeal muscle injury in English Pointers (limber tail). Journal of veterinary internal medicine, 13(6), 540-548.