Tail trauma is a common concern of cats given the inquisitive, playful and energetic nature of these animals. Kitty can have a luxated or subluxated tail because of a car accident. Tails caught in doors can be broken. Trauma to the tail occurs because cats have bones in their tails.
Are you aware of the fact that your pet cat has more bones than you? Humans have 206 bones while cats have 290 and almost 10% of these bones are located in the tail. A cat’s tail is an amazing engineering feat…a magnificent mechanism. Felines use the tail to communicate. A perceptive cat parent will be able to understand the cat’s moods and the message it wants to convey simply by looking at the position of the tail. Cats are the only animal species that can hold the tail in a vertical position while walking. Cats use the tail as balance especially when it is running after a prey. This is probably the reason why cats can walk in narrow ledges without losing their balance and also one of the reasons why cats that fall from great heights would land on their feet. The tail has other uses too. A Maine Coon cat for instance would wrap the beautiful and bushy tail around its body for warmth.
The bones in a cat’s tail are called caudal vertebrae. Twenty eight bones are held together by tendons, ligaments and voluntary muscles. The tail that appears to be an extension of the spine is attached to the body in the spot that is called “tail head”. The first caudal vertebra is actually attached to the sacrum, the special backbone that connects the tail to the lumbar vertebra. This means that trauma to the tail will not affect the cat’s spinal cord. However, a tail injury, especially a serious one can cause damage to the nerves that provides sensation and control not only to the tail but also to the urinary bladder, large intestines and anus. The nerves of the hind legs can be affected as well. The cat can have broken tail or a luxated or subluxated (dislocated) tail. Tail trauma can occur if the tail got caught in a closing door or if the tail is stepped on. Tail trauma can result from vehicular accident or from fighting with other cats. Children can inadvertently cause the trauma by pulling the tail of a running cat.
Cats are stoic when it comes to pain. Cats generally hide their injuries thus a cat owner has to be aware of the abnormal behavior being shown by the pet. A cat with tail trauma can come home with a paralyzed tail so that it would not be able to hold the tail high. The cat may limp and may also be dragging the tail. Incontinence or involuntary urinating is another sign of tail trauma. The tail is not connected to the spine although it may appear so. Therefore, tail trauma would not affect the spine. The injury though can affect the bladder, the large intestine and the anus because the trauma can damage the nerves at the base of the tail. Tail trauma can cause the loss of sensation of the urethral sphincters and the anus so that the cat would have fecal and urinary incontinence.
Nerves are slow healers. The pet that would not recover sensation and mobility of the tail at once would regularly soil the anal area. This is an invitation for infection. Additionally, the cat owner may need to manually express the pet’s bladder 2 to 3 times a day. If the damage to the bones is severe and prognosis for the recovery of nerve function is very poor, the vet may consider amputating the damaged tail.