Unlike people, in healthy dogs and puppies, the bones of the spine extend way beyond the pelvis to form a long straight tail.
But there are genes that dogs carry, which can alter the state of that tail to form a corkscrew or curled effect.
But sadly there are some serious adverse effects to the cute curly tail.
Screw tails can come with some serious baggage.
Dogs With Curly Tails
Some breeds of dogs have a natural curl or bend to their tails. But others have been selectively bred to take this curl to an extreme, cork-screw shape.
If you are thinking of buying or currently own a screw tailed dog breed, you need to be aware of the importance of keeping them clean and the possibility of dealing with hemivertebrae.
Cleaning A Dog’s Screw Tail
If your dog has a screw tail, you must help him to keep it clean. This will reduce the chances of the area becoming dirty or infected.
Every time your puppy poops, you will need to check the tail area.
Curly tails can get very grubby. Especially the small gap underneath the screw tail, where faeces can become lodged.
Use a cotton wool pad or ball, dipped into warm water for the first wipe, and then dry with another clean pad or ball.
This will reduce the dirt, smell and potential for infection in this area.
What Are Hemivertebrae?
Hemivertebrae are malformed spinal bones, or ‘vertebrae’, which are common in dogs with a screw tail.
Hemivertebrae have an odd shape that can cause the whole spinal column to twist.
If these bones are confined to the tail, the twisting may not affect the dog’s spine in any significant way.
But if there are deformed hemivertebrae bones in the main part of the spine, the twisting can put pressure on the spinal nerves that lie within the column of vertebrae and result in neurological problems for the dog.
A dog that is suffering from spinal compression due to hemivertebrae may exhibit weakness in his back legs and he may become incontinent. He might even have visible outward signs such as defined scoliosis (curvature of the spine).
He may also suffer from severe back pain, and find it hard to keep his tail clean.
These symptoms may appear in puppyhood in a screwtailed puppy, who will then need to be examined by a veterinary surgeon in order to make a diagnosis. The condition may worsen as the puppy continues to grow.
If you suspect that your puppy might be suffering from hemivertebrae, then you will need to make an appointment to see your veterinarian. She will use an X-ray to confirm the diagnosis.
Once a diagnosis of hemivertebrae has been made, your vet will be in a position to advice you on a programme of treatment.
Some dogs with hemiverterbrae will never exhibit any symptoms at all, and won’t be adversely affected by the condition. They won’t require any treatment, and will be able to live normal lives. Although it will be advisable not to encourage jumping or other jolting activities, just in case this exacerbates the issue.
Other puppies will be less lucky. Some will be affected mildly, and some may be severely affected.
It may be possible to treat a mildly affected dog with anti-inflammatory drugs. These will reduce swelling and act as painkillers. Giving your dog more freedom of movement and comfort.
Unfortunately though, many significantly affected dogs will need surgery.
Hemivertebrae surgery is a very specialised procedure and an expensive one. It can be very successful at improving movement, but there can be some immediate or long term complications associated with it.
One of the problems with hemivertebrae surgery, is that it requires anaesthesia. Most dog breeds with curly tails are also brachycephalic.
Subjecting these dogs to anaesthetic procedures is more risky than in breeds with a healthy skull shape, as they have compromised breathing already.
If your dog is diagnosed with hemivertebrae, this something which need to be considered and discussed with your vet before the operation.
Skin Problems With Screw Tails
As we have mentioned above, dogs with screw tails are also susceptible to skin fold infections. Especially where the curl in the tail is very tight.
Sometimes the tail can prevent the dog from pooping hygienically, so it is very important to clean them every day.
Treating Dogs With Infected Tails
In some dogs, the tail may become embedded in a deep skin pocket and be very prone to infection.
Treatment involves careful cleaning, antibiotics where necessary and sometimes amputation of the affected tail.
Not all screw tailed dogs suffer from spinal compression. Prevention of hemivertebrae is theoretically possible by carrying out X-rays of all breeding stock, and only breeding from dogs free from malformed spinal bones.
However, screw tails are potentially problematical even where the rest of the spine is not affected.
If you are thinking of purchasing a puppy from one of the susceptible breeds, you might want to ensure that both parents have been shown to be clear (by X-ray) of this nasty condition.
The only way to be fairly certain of avoiding the problems discussed on this page is to avoid the corkscrew tailed breeds of dog.
These include the Boston Terrier, the Pug, the Bulldog, and the French Bulldog. You will find that these breeds’ health problems mean that they are a lot more expensive to insure than other dogs.
You can find out more about the recent research being carried out into the health of dogs with screw tails below:
- Imaging Findings and Surgical Treatment of Hemivertebrae in Dogs
- Thoracic Kyphosis Associated with Hemivertebra
- Surgical Treatment of Dorsal Hemivertebrae
Does Your Puppy Have A Screw Tail
Has your dog had surgery for hemivertebrae? Does he have an ingrown tail?
If so, sharing your experiences below may help other readers.
This post has been revised and updated for 2016.