Equine tail syndrome in dogs: causes, symptoms and treatments

Canine equine tail syndrome represents all conditions that affect the nerve roots contained in the spine at the base of the tail. There is pain, lameness of the hind limbs and incontinence. The diagnosis of canine equine syndrome requires imaging tests such as CT or MRI.

A dog that has difficulty getting up, is lame, or has difficulty retaining feces, may have a nerve condition called “equine tail.” This disease most often affects large breed animals such as German Shepherds or Bernese Mountain Dogs. Canine equine syndrome is sometimes difficult to diagnose because of the similarity of its symptoms to other conditions that affect these large dogs.

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Symptoms of Equine Tail Syndrome in Dogs

The clinical signs of this disease are:

  • Difficulty getting up or jumping
  • Lameness on the rear axle
  • Pain at the base of the tail
  • Urinary incontinence
  • Fecal incontinence
  • Posterior leg paralysis
  • A flaccid tail

Not all symptoms are necessarily present at the same time in the same dog. They depend on equine tail nerve damage. In general, the process worsens from simple pain to great difficulty moving associated with fecal and / or urinary incontinence.

Some symptoms of canine equine syndrome are common with other pathologies affecting large breed animals, such as hip dysplasia or prostatitis in males; which sometimes makes diagnosis difficult.

Causes of Canine Ponytail Syndrome

To understand this pathology, you need to do a little anatomy!

The equine tail is made up of all the nerves that end in the spinal cord at the level of the lumbosacral junction, that is, between the last lumbar vertebra (L7) and the first sacral vertebra (S1). Therefore, this bundle of nerves is contained in a rigid canal (the base of the tail) perforated with holes to let out the nerves in the hind legs, but also in the bladder and anal sphincter.

In the case of an abnormality in these nerves or this channel, the nerve roots are damaged, giving rise to the symptoms described above (pain, paralysis, incontinence, etc.).

One of the most common causes of canine equine syndrome is degenerative lumbosacral stenosis. It is linked to the compression of the nerve roots of the spinal canal by different processes: osteoarthritis, herniated disc, fibrosis … This condition affects relatively young animals and twice as many males as females. Dalmatians and rottweilers are predisposed.

Other causes include:

  • L7-S1 intervertebral space infections (discospondylitis)
  • Spina bifida (narrowing of the spinal canal of congenital origin)
  • Equine tail tumors
  • Trauma (fractures, spinal dislocations)

In the latter case, there are often accident memorials. The symptoms appear suddenly and are immediately severe.

Cat ponytail syndrome is less common. Symptoms are common with those of the dog. The causes are usually traumatic (accidents, bites) or tumors (lymphoma). Some feline diseases such as aortic thromboembolism or diabetes can mimic equine tail syndrome in cats.

Equine tail syndrome in dogs: causes, symptoms and treatments
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Diagnosis and treatment of horsetail syndrome in dogs

After a clinical examination that reveals compatible symptoms, the doctor can confirm the damage to the equine region by several imaging tests.

X-rays can be offered first. It highlights important bone injuries. It can be supplemented with an injection of contrast agent into the spinal canal to visualize any narrowing.

When available, CT or MRI scans are more sensitive tests to confirm equine tail syndrome in dogs.

Treatment depends on the underlying cause and the degree of disability of the animal.

In moderate cases, painkillers may be prescribed to limit the pain. Physiotherapy is helpful in maintaining good muscle mass.

In case of discospondylitis, treatment with antibiotics for several weeks is indicated.

For the most severely affected dogs, the treatment will be surgical: it consists of decompressing the nerves of the equine tail by removing portions of the vertebrae (laminectomy) and widening the openings at the level of the nerve roots (foraminotomy). This operation requires the assistance of a specialist veterinarian. The prognosis is good in case of early involvement. It is much darker when symptoms are severe (incontinence) and old.

Canine equine syndrome is a rare and very debilitating disease that should not be taken lightly. A quick diagnosis and treatment are the promises of hope for the cure of these fairly young animals.

Read also: Deprivation syndrome in dogs

Dr. Isabelle Vixege


Equine tail syndrome in dogs: causes, symptoms and treatments

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