Accidents happen — and sometimes when a cat gets into an accident, injuries follow. As a pet parent, you’ll want to know how to treat a cat tail injury.
But before we get into the most common injuries, let’s first get a little more familiar with the tail. The tail is made up of many small vertebrae, ligaments, tendons, and nerve bundles. The first vertebra of the tail connects to the sacrum, a special backbone. The spinal cord ends inches above the sacrum, but nerve endings extend down and through the tail. These nerve endings are responsible for feeling and control in the hind legs, as well as bladder, large intestine, and anal muscles.
Now that you’re more familiar with a cat’s tail, here are 7 common cat tail injuries — including their causes and treatments:
Wounds and Burns
Whether your cat has sustained a bite to the tail during a fight, caught and cut their tail in a fence, or suffered a burn while exploring near a hot stove, it needs to be treated, and properly.
When treating any type of tail injury, you should first bring your cat to a familiar space that will put them at ease. If it’s a cut your treating, the next step is to apply pressure with a sterile piece of gauze; this will help slow or stop any bleeding. Then clean the area with an antibacterial soap and cover with a bandage. A scratch is a scratch, but a cut should be brought to your veterinarian's attention. He or she can gauge the severity of the injury and whether or not antibiotics, pain medication, or stitches are needed.
As for bites, call your vet right away. Cat bites, due to bacteria in feline saliva, can often lead to a bigger health issue, such as viral infection. Before you head out the door for emergency care, gently clean the area with antibacterial soap, bandage the wound, and your vet will take it from there.
Burns also call for an immediate trip to the vet. If it’s a thermal burn, caused by heat or fire, apply a cold compress and keep it in place while en route. If it’s a chemical burn, flush the area with water first.
Abscesses are actually quite common when it comes to tail injuries, typically from a cat bite or scratch. Abscesses form when bacteria from under another cat’s nails or within their saliva festers under the skin at the site of a wound and swells into a pus-filled lump.
If the infection is left untreated it could become serious. So for initial at-home treatment, clip any hair around the abscess and apply a hot, moist compress; this will begin the draining process. You’ll need to apply the compress two to three times a day for 20 minutes until completely drained, as well as clean the area with antibacterial soap and hydrogen peroxide. If you do not see improvement within three days bring your cat to the vet -- the abscess may have already become more serious and antibiotics or additional treatment may be needed.
Common causes of tail dislocation include the tail being stepped on, pulled (often by small children), caught in a door, run over by a bike or car, or yanked during a scuffle with another animal. A dislocation occurs when the vertebrae connecting the tail to the lower back slips out of place and the connective tissue that supports the tail stretches.
Your vet will need to treat this injury and they are most likely to prescribe anti inflammatory and pain medications. The injury may heal on its own, but if it is severe — involving nerve damage — there is a chance amputation may be suggested.
Fractures and Breaks
Common causes of fractures and breaks are similar to what can cause dislocations. However, falls are actually the leading cause of tail fractures and breaks in cats.
When one of the many vertebrae that comprise the tail is fractured or broken, a kinked or drooping tail may be the only sign to the untrained eye. But your vet will know, especially with the help of an x-ray. From there the treatment will be similar to that of dislocations. The likelihood of nerve damage occurring is higher with a fracture or break though, which could cause a variety of other health issues.
Nerve damage can be caused by any and all of the injuries listed above. Damage can occur in just the tip of the tail, resulting in constant pain, or to the base of the tail, resulting in paralysis. It all depends on whether or not the cauda equina nerves have been stretched or torn.
Stretched nerves can heal on their own, typically within six months. But if the nerve damage causes lameness in the hind legs and/or urinary and fecal incontinence, your vet will likely recommend amputation as the best treatment.
More on Pet Safety
A Guide to Pet First Aid Kits
Your Pet Emergency Checklist
Pet Fire Safety Checklist
This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian with respect to your pet. It has, however, been verified by a licensed veterinarian for accuracy.