Here’s Why “Happy Tail” Should Really Be Called Sad Tail

Ouch! Find out what happens when a dog wags his tail so hard, it slams against a wall and starts spurting blood everywhere.

What is happy tail
There’s nothing “happy” about it. By: hermitsmoores/Flickr

I was not too familiar with the term “happy tail,” so when I was given this writing assignment, I immediately sought my husband’s input.

Doug prides himself on having hands-on knowledge of many dog issues. When I asked him, “What is happy tail?” his quick reply was: “That’s when a dog is wagging his tail because he is happy to see you.” (So much for his intelligence on the subject!)

This led me to do a small survey among some friends. Out of the six people I asked about happy tail, all of them gave me pretty much the same answer my husband had given. Thus began my real research.

Happy tail, sometimes known as kennel tail, is actually an injury caused when a dog wags his tail (maybe from happiness) so hard that the tail hits against hard objects, such as walls or floors. This can cause the tail to break open and bleed — very painful.

Sometimes dogs may even wag so hard that the skin and blood vessels at the tip of the tail will rupture. Wagging tails with blood slinging all over the place are enough to scare any pet owner, but thankfully the amount of blood lost is actually very little. The bad news is that even when you do get the tail bandaged and finally healed, the dog very well might start wagging all over again and re-injure himself, time and time again.

At Risk: Big Dogs with Short Hair

Large-breed short-hair dogs are more likely to get happy tail for two reasons:

  1. The tail is thicker in large breeds; therefore the force of the tip of the tail hitting a hard surface is stronger.
  2. Short hair allows the tail to wag faster through the air — it’s more aerodynamic without hair getting in the way.

Treatment

Although this condition is not a life-threatening situation, it can be hard to treat. Stopping the bleeding is the first step in treating happy tail. I read of one woman who has a shepherd mix with happy tail who prepared a do-it-yourself bandage using a tube sock and duct tape to hold the injured tail together. I am sure the owner had her pup’s best interest at heart, but this is definitely not the right fix.

Dog tails are not easily bandaged — the bandaging tends to slip. However, Grassmere Animal Hospital of Nashville has developed a way to successfully bandage the tail for help in healing. Your pet will probably need to wear one of those cone collars to keep him from chewing the bandage.

As a general rule, happy tail injuries in a dog require a veterinarian’s attention, especially if bleeding cannot be controlled. Antibiotics will be needed to prevent infection. The worst-case scenario if you can’t stop constant injuries from recurring is that up to two-thirds of the tail may be removed through amputation.

Prevention

To help prevent injury, do not confine your happy pet to areas where he can hit his tail against walls. This includes crates, which should be just large enough so that the pet is comfortable.

Additional Resources

Gayle Hickman

View posts by Gayle Hickman
Gayle Hickman has been researching and writing about pet behaviors since 2011. In addition to Petful, her articles have appeared on Reader's Digest, Yahoo Shine and WebVet, to name a few.

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