when tail wagging can be a bad thing

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dog wagging tail | happy tail in dogs
Posted by Dr. Kim Smyth on Jun 12 2017

Dog tails do a lot. Not only are they an important source of communication (both among dogs and between dogs and their humans), but they also serve as balancing tools, rudders while swimming and, of course, coffee table sweepers.

As a veterinarian, I see dogs will all kinds of tails: short tails, long tails, pointy tails, curly tails, tails tucked between legs and tails wildly wagging. But there’s one kind of tail that I hate seeing: happy tail. You know how hitting your funny bone is not funny at all? Well, that’s kind of what happy tail is like.

Happy tail in dogs

“Happy tail” is the name we give to a frustrating condition that affects the tip of the tail in particularly waggy dogs. Generally, victims of happy tail are big, short-haired dogs with big, strong tails. This combination sets them up for disaster, as their short hair leaves the tip of their big, strong tail vulnerable to trauma. These dogs risk injury every time they get excited, as one whack of the tail against a wall (or anything hard, really) can damage the tail tip.

For anyone who has returned home to discover happy tail, you know how messy this condition is. The tip of the tail is highly vascular, meaning that it has a robust blood supply. One tiny laceration to the tail tip can end up making your home look like a crime scene, especially when your oblivious pet keeps wagging that happy tail and splattering blood all over your white sofa and walls.

To make matters worse, happy tail is the gift that keeps on giving. Once the delicate tissues of the tail tip are damaged, it seems virtually impossible to get them to heal because the patient just simply cannot NOT be happy and wag that happy tail! Each new thwack against a wall (or your leg) opens the healing wound all over again.

Believe me when I say that there is nothing I like seeing more than a happy dog wagging their tail, but when a dog has the tail injury known as happy tail, I am far from a happy camper. That’s because I know how hard it is to get these tails to heal, and I know how frustrating the case becomes for the parent of a happy tail dog, because it’s their house that ends up looking like a scene from Dexter.

Treating tail injuries 

That being said, as a professional, we have come up with some pretty clever ways to try to get these tails to heal. First and foremost, we have to protect the tail tip—from both the wall AND the dog. We could try bandaging the tail tip, but we all know that nothing makes happy dogs happier than chewing off their bandages.

From wrapping a tail in a pool noodle to covering it with a protective plastic syringe case, veterinarians will try ANYTHING to protect a happy tail while it is healing to prevent re-injury. Of course, where there is happy tail, there will also very likely be an e-collar, which can rapidly turn a happy dog into an unhappy dog, but will keep the tail tip safe from curious happy mouths.

So, if you see a dog walking down the street with a strange contraption on its back side, rest assured that you’re not seeing things. You’re just seeing a happy tail!

Updated October 17, 2019