Tail Bandage for Minor Wounds
April 23, 2018
Ah, spring after a long winter. A time for being outside and… getting hurt? Unfortunately, with nicer weather we see an uptick in bumps, bruises, scrapes, cuts, and pulled muscles in our dogs as they cut loose their cabin fever.
Tail tip injuries (sometimes called “happy tail”) are common and frustrating. Because dogs wag their tails, they easily and repeatedly re-traumatize minor injuries, which can then quickly become much worse. Traditional bandages have their place but can trap heat and moisture, which in some cases is counter-productive.
In this post, I am going to demonstrate a tail bandaging technique that can help protect the tail while still allowing for good air circulation. (Disclaimer: This bandage should only be used for very minor tail tip injuries or at the direction of one of our doctors. If in doubt, always call the clinic for advice.)
The supplies you will need are simple: Scissors, medical tape, foam pipe insulation (available at any hardware or home-improvement store) of an appropriate diameter (more on that to come), and (optionally) co-flex or vet-wrap.
The diameter of the pipe insulation will depend on the size of your dog’s tail. We do NOT want any pressure or compression, the foam is simply acting as a shield for the tail tip. It should fit loosely around the tail. If in doubt, size up. If your dog is large, try to get thinner-walled foam; if it is too heavy most dogs will chew or pull the bandage off.
Next, cut the foam into an appropriate length. It should should be long enough to extend roughly 1-3″ from the tail tip in both directions. Stay on the shorter end for smaller pets to prevent it from being too heavy.
Now cut it open along its entire length. This prevents the foam from being too tight as well as allowing you to place it on the tail more easily.
Gently wrap the foam around the tail. The end of the foam should NOT be flush with the tip of the tail; the tail tip should rather sit right in the middle of your length of foam. We want the foam to be longer than the tail, so the tip is protected from being wagged on surfaces and re-injured.
Use the medical tape to secure the foam in place. Start with tape on just the foam and work your way up the tail. It is VERY important that the tape simply be used to secure the foam but not be tight. If the tape is too tight, it can cut off the blood supply to the tail and cause severe damage.
Please note: The thin medical tape in these pictures is NOT the ideal type to use for this bandage. It was all I had on hand when I was taking these pictures, but I recommend the thicker, opaque white tape or Elastikon brand by 3M. (Both available in the first aid section of drug stores.)
Cutting or tearing the tape into strips rather than unrolling directly from the roll can help prevent applying it too tightly. Also, refrain from “squeezing” the tape until it is all applied.
When you are done, tug very gentle on the end of the foam. If needed, you can add a little extra tape at the top to secure it. If the foam ends up sticking so far past the tail tip that it is cumbersome, simply trim it (be careful you don’t cut the tail!).
If you like, you can add a layer of vet-wrap or co-flex to the top of the tape. This will not necessarily make the bandage stay on better, but will add a layer of protection to the tape so it doesn’t wear out as fast, and makes it look cute. Again, make sure you are not putting it on tightly.
Because you can see the tail tip without removing the bandage, you can keep a close eye on the wound. Check at least once daily for any abnormal discharge, swelling, excessive heat or redness, moisture, or sudden discomfort in a dog who was previously tolerating the bandage well. Change or remove the bandage immediately if you notice any of these signs or if it becomes wet or dirty.
There are two common problems with any bandage on the tail. One, because the tail is essentially a hairy tube, it is very easy for bandages to just slide right off the end. This can be addressed by using a more adhesive tape or adding a little extra tape to the top. For some dogs, you may need to extend the tape several inches up the tail. Alternatively, something very small and light like a finger splint sold at drug stores could be used for smaller pets.
Two, many dogs are very bothered by anything on their tail and want to lick or chew with or without a bandage. This type of bandage is not designed to prevent licking or chewing, it is meant only to protect the tail tip from re-injury. If your dog insists on licking or chewing, a cone or collar will be needed in addition to the bandage.
Again, I cannot stress enough how important it is to make sure the tail is not squeezed or compressed by the foam or the tape. Also, this is not appropriate for major injuries. If in doubt, always feel free to contact the clinic.
Karen Christopherson, DVM