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Tail Trauma

By: Dr. John McDonnell

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Tail trauma is an occasional problem mainly in outdoor cats. Also known as broken tail, luxated-subluxated tail or dislocated tail, clinical signs can vary from a kink in the tail to complete paralysis with fecal-urinary incontinence.

Most cats with tail trauma have a flaccid, paralyzed tail. Lacerations may or may not be present.

What to Watch For

  • Returning from outside with a limp tail
  • Pain at the base of tail
  • Urinary-fecal incontinence

    The most important factor in regards to your pet's prognosis is the nerve sensation to the tail and area around the rectum. This is best assessed by your veterinarian. Although your cat can live with a paralyzed tail, it can become soiled with urine and feces. Removal (amputation) may be recommended. Cats with urinary incontinence have a higher incidence of infection of the urinary bladder and infection of the kidney.

    Diagnostic Tests

    Your veterinarian will perform a complete physical and neurologic examination to assess your cat's injury. If your cat cannot feel his tail and has absent anal tone, treatment options will be limited.

    Other tests your veterinarian may recommend include:

  • Chemistry profile
  • CBC
  • Urinalysis
  • Radiograph (x-ray) of your cat's spine and chest

    Treatment

    If your cat can feel his tail, rest may be the best treatment, although surgical repair may be attempted. Tails can be surgically repaired when the vertebrae are luxated (dislocated) or even repaired if there is a fracture through one of the tail bones. Surgery may not be needed as tails seem to heal well without surgery.

    If your cat cannot feel his tail and there is urinary/fecal incontinence, there is a small chance that he will be able to regain some urinary-fecal function.

    In cases of a traumatic-paralyzed tail, most veterinarians recommend that the cat's tail be amputated to prevent further injury to the nerves that supply the urethra and anus. A cat with an amputated tail is not handicapped in the least.

    Treatment also involves helping your cat urinate and defecate. Your veterinarian may recommend stool softeners if your cat becomes constipated. Your cat may need his bladder expressed if there is no sensation to the urethra. There are some medications that may help your cat urinate more normally.

    Home Care

    Your cat will need to rest in a crate or cage following tail trauma. Your veterinarian will need to re-evaluate your cat with a neurologic examination and sometimes radiographs.

    If your cat has difficulty urinating, your veterinarian may need to monitor his urine for infection. Finding the right balance of medications for your cat will take time and patience. Your cat's need for medication may change over time.

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