Is My Cat’s Tail Broken?! Investigating Potential Tail Fractures
Veterinarian Reviewed by Dr. Janice Huntingford, DVM on February 14, 2019
Posted in Cat Injury
Your cat’s tail might appear to have a mind of its own sometimes, swishing and curling around its body or your legs. When you pair unexpected tail placement with a misstep, a door that closed too quickly or more severe accidents, you might come face-to-face with a very scared cat and a potentially broken tail.
A cat’s tail extends from its spine. Like other parts of the body, the tail contains bones, muscles, blood vessels and nerves. It can easily be injured in an accident. Tail trauma is usually pretty serious, since cats rely on their tails for a number of daily activities, including balancing and using the litter box.
It can be difficult for cat owners to really understand the severity of a tail injury. It’s typically best to have a veterinarian examine the tail professionally to make sure nothing is going wrong underneath the skin. However, if you witness an injury or notice your cat acting strangely, there are a few things that can clue you in to whether a tail injury needs attention.
Understanding common tail traumas
The most common symptoms of tail injuries include a limp tail; lack of tail movement; hair loss; bleeding; signs of pain from your cat such as hiding, aggression and vocalization; difficulty controlling bowels; and swelling.
Not every tail injury will result in a complete break. Like many limbs on humans, a cat’s tail can be fractured, broken and even dislocated. Minor cases may only consist of a skin-level scrape or cut with hair loss and minor bleeding. In severe cases, nerve damage or paralysis might occur.
However, tail fractures are some of the most common tail injuries and can be caused by a wide variety of accidents. Fractures that are closer to the base of the tail (near the cat’s body) are typically more severe than ones near the tip of the tail, since the base has more nerves and blood vessels to potentially damage.
If your cat’s tail has been injured near the base, it may have also suffered nerve damage. The nerves in this area help control your cat’s urination and defecation. Thus, in the event of nerve damage, your cat might not be able to control its bowels properly. If your cat is having trouble using the litter box and has recently sustained a tail injury, there’s a good chance it has a fracture and/or nerve damage.
Nerve damage is also usually indicated by a limp or immobile tail. Cat’s tails generally wag and stand semi-erect. If your cat’s tail is hanging low constantly and can’t move on its own, it most likely suffered nerve damage in an injury.
What to do if your cat injures its tail
Whether you witness a tail injury or not, you’re most likely going to be able to identify that something is wrong with your cat’s tail. Here are the steps you should take to get your cat the help it needs.
- Calm it down: Cats that are in pain can be severely distressed and may end up injuring themselves more. Try to calm your cat down as much as possible before you take a look at the tail. Give it a calming, pain-relief supplement, try to pet it or put it in a safe place where it can relax.
- Visually examine the tail: Check your cat’s tail for any cuts, signs of bleeding, strange angles or kinks and signs of movement. Try to avoid touching the tail, as this might cause your cat pain. If you must touch it, be extremely gentle and move slowly. Do not manipulate it or you may end up worsening the injury.
- Call your vet: If you believe your cat is suffering from a tail injury, you should contact your vet right away. They will be able to ask questions about the trauma and your cat’s symptoms to deduce whether you should bring the cat in for an examination. Usually, fractures and serious tail injuries are not visible to the naked eye and will require X-rays and other examination for final diagnosis.
Treatments for fractured tails
The treatment plan for your cat’s injured tail will need to come from your vet, since every injury must be treated differently. For many tail fractures and “clean” breaks, the tail can heal itself naturally over time. Your cat may require some form of pain relief to ease its discomfort.
In more severe fractures or breaks, your vet may decide that amputation is necessary. This is common in crushed tails that won’t heal by themselves. Thankfully, most cats heal extremely well after this procedure and adapt to their shorter tails fairly quickly.
If there has been nerve damage due to the injury, your cat may need surgery to repair the nerves and restore proper function. This is usually one of the most severe outcomes, and your vet can provide more information about your cat’s particular injury and treatment plan.
The most important part of identifying and treating tail injuries is fast action. If you think your cat has sustained trauma to its tail, don’t hesitate to call your vet and make an appointment for examination. The faster your cat’s injury can be assessed, the faster you’ll be able to relieve its pain and get it on the path to healing.
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Janice Huntingford, DVM, has been in veterinary practice for over 30 years and has founded two veterinary clinics since receiving her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at the Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph. She has studied extensively in both conventional and holistic modalities. Ask Dr. Jan