The Kinked Tail – More Than It Appears

It’s not life threatening, it only happens occasionally, it doesn’t make them sick and it can easily be remedied with a quick and relatively painless surgery while they’re still babies. Sounds pretty harmless, nothing to be worried about or to take too seriously…or is it?

Photo by Bob Segal
Photo by Bob Segal

Over the years I’ve been privy to a few conversations among Gordon Setter people about puppies born with a kink in their tail. I once heard someone say that the puppy’s tail was kinked because it was a huge litter and the puppy was crowded in the uterus, so the tail didn’t have room to grow properly….really? Another time I heard it said that the bitch was crazy wild while she was pregnant and her rough-housing probably broke the tail before the pup was born and the tail healed wrong…uhmmm no.

So, understanding that there may be folks who don’t understand this phenomenon I thought I’d put a little something out here as food for thought. The best article on the topic that I’ve found so far was written by Ms MA J.H.C. Brooijmans-SchallenbergThe Kink in the Tail“.   “If we wish our pedigree dogs to have good futures, we will need to step up and take our collective responsibility for it.”  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI’d advise you to read the article in full, I am not an expert and cannot be responsible for fully explaining everything in as much detail. I will only attempt a brief summary to get you started.

The tail is an extension of the spinal column, which consists of vertebrae that are built differently depending on their function. Congenital aberrations of the tail shape can be found in many animals including the dog, and these generally cause no issue as long as the defect is only found on the tail. The warning is that breeding these affected dogs can result in offspring with serious defects in other parts of the body.

Starting with the fertilized egg three germ layers are formed, the most important layer, the Mesoderm is where the entire skeleton (excluding the crown of the skull), the heart, the blood vessels and the urogenital system are shaped. In the early stages of the embryonic development a great number of genetic factors pass on their information. Mutations occur often, and when they occur in the reproductive cells the changes are transferable to descendents.

As a result, there are many things (other than simply a kinked tail) that could be transferred to the offspring if Gordon Setters with kinked tails are used in breeding, and this is due to the formation of not only the skeleton, but also the heart, blood vessels and urogenital systems in the same layer, the Mesoderm. For example the offspring could have defects in the spinal column or any other part of the skeleton and jaw. Perhaps the defect could be an aortic atrium septum (undersized septum in the heart) or aortic stenosis (aorta too narrow in places), or the embryonic blood vessels fail to disappear after birth. Another defect could occur involving urethra running from kidney to bladder that is not implanted in the bladder past the sphincter. Females with this abnormality often display incontinent behavior. Males have two sphincters so this defect could be present but not evident. This is a very short list of the many abnormalities that can occur.

The Gordon Setter Health Survey conducted in 2004 for the Gordon Setter Club of America Inc. reported that 6.06% of the total population survey reported Kinked Tails under Musculoskeletal health problems. Certainly not a huge portion of the population but it does indicate to us as breeders that this occurs in the Gordon Setter. As breeders, I hope I’ve helped you gain a better understanding of what could be at play and the risk. I do hope our readers  and others who may be much more expert on this topic than I, will share your thoughts, additions or additional information in the comment section below!

Sally Gift, Mesa AZ


8 thoughts on “The Kinked Tail – More Than It Appears”

  1. Hi Sally, I have 2 female cattle dogs one registered one not. We’ve have 3 liters of unregistered and all pups healthy, normal, no hearing, sight deficits and NO abnormal pups. Then I replaced her with a registered female and same stud. First litter amass with problems. 7 pups, one with abnormal umbilical cord located up near heart and was born open, pup didn’t live. Out of the other 6 pups, three had normal tails and THREE had linked tails!
    I’m assuming it is a recessed T Gene in the registered female lineage. We will take the loss and not breed her ever again. It was a huge financial loss for me as I have two registered sibling sisters. Traveled great length (miles) to make attempt to make sure I had champion bloodlines and this castophophy. We will be responsible breeders and stop this here and brunt the financial losses for the irresponsible breeder that sold us our breeding stock.


  2. I saw an occasional kinked tail in some of my early litters. Of note, I had one pup born with a short tail, who also had one horseshoe kidney. He died at about 3 yrs of age of kidney failure. This is a very interesting article and substantiates many of the thoughts I have had about this anomaly.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Interesting article. I was not aware that kinked tails were considered a midline defect in development, but it does make some sense. Makes me curious to read a little more about the prevalence of midline defects in any progeny. Thanks for sharing.


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