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Tail Trauma in Cats

By: Dr. John McDonnell

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Tail trauma is known also as broken tail, luxated-subluxated tail, or dislocated tail. It is an occasional problem mainly in outdoor cats and can be the result of vehicle accidents, tails caught in doors or, unfortunately, malicious causes.

The most important factor in your pet's prognosis is the sensation to the tail and area around the rectum. The nerve, the pudendal nerve, that supplies the sphincters of the urethra and anus is located on the spinal cord at the base of the tail. Trauma to the tail often causes forcible separation or detachment of the pudendal and coccygeal (tail) nerves, or avulsion.

Nerve trauma is classified pathologically as neuropraxis, axonotmesis and neurotmesis depending on the amount of damage that has occurred to the nerve. The classification scheme allows your veterinarian to give a prognosis.

  • Neuropraxis indicates sensation is still present and carries a good prognosis for return to function. It usually takes up to 30 days before you can determine if your cat's nerve function will return.

  • Axonotmesis is a less severe nerve trauma that indicates separation of the nerve with preservation of the myelin and other support structures to the nerve. In the early stages of axonotmesis, sensation may be lost but should return in 10-14 days after the trauma. Prognosis is guarded for full return to function.

  • Neurotmesis indicates complete separation of the nerve and supporting structures. Prognosis is grave for any improvement in nerve function.

    Management of a cat with no urinary or fecal control is a challenge to the most committed owner. Most animals need to have their bladder expressed 2-3 times per day. Bathing and drying the tail area is also required at least daily. Cats with urinary incontinence have a higher incidence of infection of the urinary bladder (cystitis) and kidney (nephritis). Animals also have problems with decubital ulcers (bedsores), urine scald and fecal dermatitis when they cannot control the urinary and anal sphincters.

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