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208 Breeds, 422 Health Conditions  |  Find a Vet

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Tail Infections View In Dogs

First Aid Condition

First aid health condition




Condition Overview

Tail infections are common in cats who fight and get caught by teeth or claws as they run away. Dogs can also develop tail infections from bite wounds or from trauma if their tails are banged, caught in fences, or lacerated by thorns.


An infected tail is swollen and sore. It may drain pus and make the fur look nasty. Your pet may hold his tail in an odd way to keep it from being touched.


There are many various causes for tail infections.


Diagnosis can be made by physical examination of the tail.


Infections usually need antibiotics, but first aid can keep the infection from getting worse and help speed healing. If your pet has a fever, is not eating, has something that appears to be an abscess (a fluid filled, soft swelling), or you think that he may have stud tail, see your vet right away.

  1. Trim the fur - Clip off the fur surrounding the infected area. Fur collects infectious material and can re-contaminate the sore. Removing the fur also makes the infection easier to treat. Electric clippers are the best choice, but even an electric razor or mustache trimmer will work. If you don't have these, slip your index and second fingers through the fur and hold them against he skin. Use blunt scissors to cut the fur level with your fingers.
  2. Wash the area - Clean up the wound with an antiseptic liquid soap like Betadine skin cleanser, unless there is an oily or waxy residue clogging the skin that caused the infection. Dawn and Sunlight dish washing liquids are effective at cutting this buildup. You don't need to bathe the entire body, just dip the tail in a pan of warm water, lather up the affected area, rinse well to get the soap off the coat, and blot dry with a towel.
  3. Gently press out pus - If the wound is already open, press out any puss that you can. Put an absorbent sanitary napkin or other material on top of the wound and gently press on each side to clean out infectious material - the pad will absorb and capture the debris. Again, do this only if the wound is already open and draining pus. If the wound is not open, do not attempt to drain it.
  4. Apply a hot compress - Heat dilates the blood vessels and brings in blood, antibodies, and white blood cells to the wound to fight infection and promote healing. Soak a washcloth in water as hot as you can stand, wring it out, and hold the compress against the wound, 5 minutes on and 5 minutes off until the cloth cools 2 - 5 times a day. The warm moisture will also help soften and remove the scab, which can act like a cork in a bottle to hold in infection and prompt an abscess to form.
  5. Keep your pet confined - If the tail is very messy, it is best to confine a cat or small dog to a carrier. Otherwise, he may swish his tail around, spray or smear infectious fluid everywhere, and potentially cause more damage to the tail. If your dog is too large or you don't have a carrier, keep him confined to a small room that is easy to clean, such as a bathroom or laundry room.
  6. Fit your pet with an Elizabethan collar - Pets usually want to lick at the tail infection. Prevent your pet from bother the wound by fitting him with a cone shaped collar restraint.


Tail wag trauma - Very large dogs like Labrador retrievers and Irish wolfhounds have such long tails that they often injure themselves just by wagging and banging them into objects. Usually, it is just the tip of the tail that is injured. Typically, it will bleed, the dog licks at it, and even after it has healed - the cycle repeats, and the tail is injured over and over again. When the injury isn't treated promptly or the tail is repeatedly injured, it can become infected. Some dogs end up losing the damaged part when it must be amputated.

Most of the time, minor tail wag trauma can be treated at home. An antihistamine like Benadryl can reduce the swelling. The liquid form of Benadryl usually comes in a dose of 12.5mg per teaspoon and pills are 25mg each. Pets will need 1mg per pound of body weight (up to your veterinarians advised limit) every 6 - 8 hours. Something as simple as moving the furniture out of the way can keep the sore from becoming worse and prevent re-injury. If it doesn't heal in a week, or it happens again, take your dog to the vet.


Continue to apply hot compresses to the infection as described in treatments. The moist heat will speed up the healing and keep scabs from forming so that the wound drains out infectious material.

Give oral antibiotics as prescribed, usually for 7 - 10 days. Most dogs will take pills readily if you hide them in tasty treats. Cats can be tricky to pill, but most medicines can be crushed with the bowl of a spoon and mixed into strong smelling canned cat food so that your cat will eat it willingly.

A prescription ointment like Panalog Ointment or Otomax helps control the inflammation and relieves the pain. Use it according to your veterinarians instructions.

Some tail infections need to be bandaged. Cats hate having their tails bandaged, but it can help keep dogs from doing further damage to the area. First wrap gauze around the tail. Start from the tip and work toward to body, keeping the wrap firm but not tight. Then tear strips of tape and wrap each one individually over the gauze (this will help keep you from taping the bandage too tight and cutting off circulation). Be sure that the tape extends beyond the gauze and sticks directly to the fur to be sure you dog can't peel it off.

For dogs who try to lick or chew the bandage, try dabbing on Bitter Apple or Variton ointment, which is available from your veterinarian.

Show Sources & Contributors +


The First Aid Companion for Dogs And Cats

Publisher: Rodale Inc, 2001

Website: http://www.rodalebooks.com/

Authors: Amy D. Shojai, Shane Bateman DVM

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