At times, a cat's tail can look like it has a mind of its own, twitching back and forth and communicating a cat's mood even while his body sits stationary. Because the tail is always moving separately from the rest of a cat's body, it is prone to injury. A cat's tail is an extension of the spine so a tail injury is a serious matter. If you suspect your cat has a tail injury, you need to treat it right away.
In cats with long or dense fur, bacteria that accumulates and does not have enough exposure to air cannot breathe, and infections can result. PetEducation states these moist areas on the skin that become inflamed due to infection are known as hot spots.
Signs of Hot Spots
- Broken skin
- Open sore
- Warm area with redness or pinkness
- Oozing or crusted over pus
- Intense itching
The area around the hot spot will need to be shaved to allow the wound to breathe and your vet to assess the extent of the damage. Many cats become agitated during shaving, so unless you have experience shaving a cat, you should leave the shaving to your veterinarian. Your vet will also clean the wound with ointment, and he may prescribe antibiotics.
Cats are scrappy animals, but if they happen to get into a tussle with a wild animal, dog or even another cat, the easiest part of the body for their opponents to grab onto is the tail. Bites can result in infection, so prompt and proper care for the wound is essential.
Bites aren't the only way a cat's tail can become injured, though. Sometimes, when a cat seeks shelter from the cold weather under the hood of a car, his tail can get mangled in the engine. Other common accidents include being stepped on, getting the tail caught in a fence, and unfortunately, sometimes people inflict harm and deliberately injure a cat's tail.
Signs of a Wound
- Visible scratch or laceration
- Bite marks
- Skin or fur missing
- Discoloration (may be due to infection)
If the tail is bleeding, getting the bleeding to stop is the first thing you need to do. PetCareRX states you can attempt to stop the bleeding on small wounds by applying pressure to the area with a sterile piece of gauze. Once the bleeding stops, use antibacterial soap on the area and cover it with a clean bandage. Scratches and bites can both lead to serious infection, so after you apply the bandage, bring your cat to the veterinarian so she can determine if antibiotics, stitches or any other care is needed. If your cat's injury seems dire, do not wait to clean up the cut yourself; bring your cat to the vet immediately.
Outdoor cats have a much higher chance of experiencing tail injuries due to being subject to wild animals, cars and exposure to the elements, so it's always best to keep your cat indoors unless you are supervising them outside.
Broken, Fractured or Dislocated Tail
Contrary to old wives' tales, cats do not always land on their feet. In fact, PetCareRX reports the majority of breaks and fractures in the tail occur from falls. Breaks, fractures and dislocations can also result from a tail being run over by a car, being stepped on, or by being accidentally caught in a shutting door. Even children can dislocate a cat's tail if they yank on it.
Signs of Break, Fracture or Dislocation
- Kink or bump in the tail
- Swelling in tail
- Slightly drooping tail
- Pain or sensitivity
- No movement in tail
Any of these symptoms may signal a break, fracture or dislocation. If the tail is dislocated at the base, your cat may also have some issues attempting to use the litter box.
A broken tail may heal without a splint by applying ice and administering pain medication prescribed by your veterinarian for discomfort. However, some cases require surgery. If you see any signs of a break, you should bring your cat to the vet as soon as possible so she can assess for nerve damage. A veterinarian may be able to tell if there is a break or dislocation just by looking at the tail, but she will likely want to x-ray your cat's tail. If there appears to be nerve damage, further treatment may be necessary.
Injuries that involve pulling can damage the nerves of a cat's tail. These injuries, known as avulsion injuries, not only affect the nerves of the tail, but also the nerves that cats use to urinate and defecate.
Signs of Tail Nerve Damage
- Visible break
- Limp tail
- Swelling at base of tail
- Difficulty walking
- Pain or sensitivity
- Involuntary urination or defecation
If your cat experiences nerve damage with a tail injury, you may have to assist them with eliminating on a daily basis until the injury has healed.
Your vet may want to do a series of tests, including an x-ray, complete blood count and urinalysis. Depending on the damage, the nerves may heal eventually, but if the damage is severe, or the tail becomes paralyzed, your vet may recommend amputation.
Nerve damage is a serious ailment in cats, and immediate veterinary care is crucial.
Assessing Your Cat's Tail Injury
Tail injuries are common, and larger complications may result if the injury is not treated promptly. If something seems off about your cat's tail, take a closer look. You could be saving your cat a lot of stress by being diligent.