What is Tail Trauma?
Injuries to the tail, no matter how serious, warrant veterinary attention as there is no way for the owner to know the full extent of tail damage. Before rushing your cat off the vet, however, call ahead as the vet may be able to advise you over the phone if the injury is minor.
Tail trauma in cats is usually the result of accidental injury. A cat’s tail extends from the spine. The tail is an important part of a cat’s body as it provides them with a sense of direction and balance as well as control over their bowels. There are no breed, sex, or age predispositions for developing tail trauma, although outdoor cats have a higher risk for experiencing tail trauma than indoor cats.
Symptoms of Tail Trauma in Cats
Tail trauma can range in severity. It may be as minor as a small scrape or as severe as complete paralysis. Other symptoms may also be present depending on the cause of the trauma. In any case, seek immediate veterinary attention as soon as you notice any of the following symptoms:
- Limp tail
- Difficulty urinating and/or defecating
- Lack of or no movement in the tail
- Signs of pain
- Hair loss
- Skin damage
Many types of tail trauma may occur in cats, including, but not limited to:
- Bone breakage
- Nerve damage
- Complete paralysis
Causes of Tail Trauma in Cats
The primary cause of tail trauma in cats is accidental injury. These injuries may range in severity, from the tail simply being shut in a door to being hit by a car.
Diagnosis of Tail Trauma in Cats
Call your vet as soon as you can to let them know what happened; they will be able to advise you on whether or not an appointment is necessary to evaluate the damage. During the appointment, your vet will be able to make a tentative diagnosis based on a thorough physical examination and presentation of symptoms. Be sure to inform your vet of the extent and duration of your cat’s symptoms, as well as any recent accidents that may be the cause of the tail trauma.
The appearance of the tail is usually sufficient for making the definitive diagnosis. However, in more severe cases of tail trauma, blood count, urinalysis, x-rays, and other standard diagnostic testing may be utilized, particularly if the tail appears to be paralyzed.
Treatment of Tail Trauma in Cats
Treatment may vary depending on the severity of the trauma. Your vet will be able to advise you on a treatment plan based on your cat’s specific needs.
In minor cases of abrasions, treatment may not be necessary. For more severe abrasions, a tail wrap, coupled with the use of antibiotic ointments, may assist in the healing process. In some extremely severe cases, tail shortening may be required.
If there is a fracture in the tail, treatment will vary depending on the severity of the fracture. Minor fractures may not require any treatment at all. If the fracture is more severe and the bones in the tail have been crushed, amputation may be required. If the tail is broken, it may be able to heal by itself depending on the location and extent of the break. Surgery may be required, although vets tend to prefer to allow the tail to heal on its own before taking this route.
Nerve damage may require more invasive treatment. Depending on the severity and extent of the nerve damage, surgery may be required to restore normal bowel and/or urinary function. If the tail has been completely paralyzed, amputation is generally required. In some cases, full nerve function may return after a month or longer.
Recovery of Tail Trauma in Cats
Recovery and prognosis may vary depending on the cause and severity of tail trauma. Always follow your vet’s post-treatment and/or post-operative instructions carefully. Never apply any antibiotic ointments made for human use unless specifically instructed to do so by your vet.
You may want to limit your cat’s outdoor activity during the recovery period. You may also have to assist your cat in urinating and defecting normally if the tail has undergone nerve damage, is limp, or otherwise unable to move.
If your cat has undergone surgery or amputation, do not allow them to irritate the surgery site. Ensure they have a warm, safe place to rest for the duration of the recovery period. Your vet will be able to advise you on helping your cat adjust following amputation.
Your vet may or may not schedule follow-up appointments as needed to monitor healing. If you have any questions, or if the tail does not seem to be healing with treatment, contact your vet immediately.