Happy Tail Syndrome Sounds Cute…But It Isn’t

Winnie (and friend Sunny) with bandaged tail pre-amputation. Image courtesy of Elizabeth Morabito.

By: Elizabeth Morabito

The Crime Scene

The first time I experienced Happy Tail Syndrome it seemed I had been transported into the TV series “Dexter”. There were blood splatters everywhere. All over the white walls. Furniture. Cabinets. Appliances. The floor. The only unsplattered part of the house was the ceiling. I was totally freaked out!

After some sleuthing, it turned out the only offense committed was against the tail of my sweet pitbull, Wally. And the crime was being too darn happy.

What is it?

Happy Tail Syndrome occurs when the thin skin at the tip of a dog’s tail breaks open after repeatedly wagging/whacking objects such as furniture and walls. Although the name is cute, the wound is quite painful and the ensuing mess and potential longevity of the injury is anything but cute. Big, strong dogs such as Pit Bulls, Labradors, Great Danes, and Dobermans are most susceptible due to their long, muscular tails covered in short hair that provides little protection.

A Tail Tale

I experienced happy tail injuries a few more times over the years with Wally and Winnie, another pittie. Although messy, with some cleaning and monitoring their tails always healed fine. 

That is, until this last time. I didn’t think too much about it at first given the past experiences. However, after a few weeks, it suddenly took a turn for the worse, becoming an ugly swollen purple color and causing Winnie considerable pain. 

Ann Arbor Animal Hospital hooked her up with a fancy bandage contraption, antibiotics, an anti-inflammatory medication, pain killers, and the dreaded e-collar. I figured we were in the home stretch now and everything would soon be fine. I was wrong.

After about four weeks of intensive efforts, including bringing Winnie into the vet three times a week for a Menuka honey application and bandage changes, Dr. Heather Jarrett felt amputation was unavoidable. Winnie’s tail was shortened to about 8” long. We wanted to leave her with something to wag! It healed quite quickly and with no problems. Today she is a happy, waggy girl, but her tail no longer bruises our legs or breaks open after hitting the wall or furniture. 

Tips

I would hate for anyone else’s pup to go through a similar two-month ordeal, so I offer these Happy Tail Syndrome at-home care tips. I am simply speaking from personal experience, but am not an animal medical professional.

  • To stop the bleeding, dip the tail in cold water for a few minutes and pat dry.
  • Bandage the tip of the tail. This can be very difficult to do since it will be highly sensitive and wraps tend to slip off.
  • Prevent the injured tail from hitting objects that could cause the wound to reopen.
  • Use an e-collar to prevent tail licking or bandage removal.
  • Monitor closely as the injury can become infected with complications escalating quickly.

It is better to be safe than sorry, so the best precaution is to take your dog to the vet right away.

Happy waggin’!