Saving Lucy's Tail

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Diagnosis: Happy Tail

Lucy's was the first case Dave and I had seen of what's often called Happy Tail. There are some dogs who wag their tails so hard and so indiscriminately that they open a bleeding wound. It can be quite impressive. Dave and I came home one day to find that our foyer looked as though someone had just filmed scenes from a slasher movie. We washed blood off the walls, door frames, floor, carpet, and furniture. Every time we looked at Lucy, she wagged her tail; each time, she'd send blood flying. Vets usually wrap the tail. In my experience the dressings they apply seldom last. If the condition becomes chronic, tail amputation is recommended.

I wanted to find a way that I could protect Lucy's tail while allowing it to heal. That meant protecting it while still allowing for air circulation. I decided to improvise. I fashioned a dressing using an empty toilet paper roll and surgical tape. Much to my surprise, Lucy left the roll alone. The early versions lasted two to five days. The last one she needed lasted two weeks. And they worked! Lucy wore a toilet paper roll for several months during her first bout of happy tail. When it recurred about a year later, I used it again and only needed it for two weeks. It's been over a year and a half since the her second episode, and her tail has remained unscathed. In the meantime, I've applied the roll to two more Labs threatened with amputation. Both still have their tails.

When the wound first occurs, I apply pressure until bleeding stops, then I go straight to the toilet paper roll dressing. To prevent the sore from reopening, I leave the dressing on until the wound heals, the scab is gone, and the new skin has a chance to toughen up. That means leaving it on until the tail looks completely normal (except for the attached toilet paper roll.) If the skin is still tender, one whack on a door frame can open it right up.

Here is a step by step description of the way I apply the Happy Tail wound dressing:

Supplies

  • 1-inch Clear First Aid Tape (Nexcare Transpore by 3M)
  • 1-inch Adhesive Tape (waterproof--use if your dog is very active and/or if the weather is wet)
  • Empty toilet paper roll

The tape should be available at your local drug store.

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Starting at one end of the toilet paper roll, wrap the clear tape around the roll so that you completely cover the roll, ending at the other end. Do not tear the tape. Leave the tape roll attached as you proceed to the next step.

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Position the tail within the roll so that the wound is protected by the roll. Continue attaching the tape, now to the tail, until it is secured one to two inches above the roll.

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Finish the attachment by bringing the tape back onto the roll so that at least an inch of it is attached to the roll. Tear the tape.

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If your dog is sendentary and the weather isn't wet, you can stop here. For further reinforcement, continue with the adhesive tape.

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Note that the tip of the tail within the edges of the roll so that the sore is completely protected while allowing air circulation to promote healing. If the wound can't be contained wthin a toilet paper roll, you can use an empty paper towel roll or attach two toilet paper rolls to make a longer dressing.

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To waterproof your dressing and to make it more durable, add a layer of adhesive tape. Start at the end nearest the tail tip and work up, over the dressing and to the top of the first tape layer.

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End the adhesive tape layer the same way you did the clear tape layer, by bringing at least an inch down over the roll. It makes it easier to find the end if you need to remove the dressing.

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Here's the final product. Don't be discouraged if your early attempts don't last long. It takes some practice and a cooperative dog (or a human assistant with plenty of treats) to apply a lasting dressing. Be sure to make it a good experience for your dog; offer plenty of tummy rubs and treats. If your dog thinks that having you play with his tail is a good thing, it makes it an easier experience for everyone. Lucy is an active girl, but she holds very still for the whole process, even when modeling it over a year after she needed it.

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Here's Lucy with an early version of the dressing. She's chewing on a bone.

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Obviously, if your dog has a persistent tail wound, you'll need to consult your vet. Don't be afraid to show her your innovative dressing, though; my vet thought it was ingenious, and it's saved at least three Lab tails in the past 2-1/2 years. You'll see some loss of tail fur, but it's a small price to pay for saving a tail!

If you have questions or comments about this method, please e-mail me. I'm NurseBobbi and my domain is cox.net. I'm not providing a link in the hope of avoiding spam.

Lucy, my yellow Lab, was adopted from Lab Rescue of the LRCP, Inc. Save a life; adopt your next canine companion! For more information on Lab Rescue, please visit www.lab-rescue.com.

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Last updated 12 December 2004
E-mail Bobbi at NurseBobbi AT cox DOT net.
© copyright 2000-2004 Bobbi Pasternak