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Tail Injuries in Dogs and Cats

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Tail injuries are relatively common in dogs and cats.  Tails can be bitten, caught in doors, stepped on, or even broken.  Injured tails tend to droop or sag, and are generally quite painful.  The dog or cat often walks very gingerly in the hindquarters.

The bones in the tail are a line of progressively smaller vertebrae that are a continuation of the spine and run from the pelvis to the tail tip.  Muscles and nerves run along the length of the tail, controlling sensation and movement.  Important nerves near the base of the tail also contribute to control of bowel movements.

Bite wounds on the tail are usually treated by clipping away the hair and cleaning the injury, with antibiotics prescribed to control the infection that frequently accompanies a bite.  Cuts are usually treated in a similar manner, except that they often need to be sutured closed rather than left open.  Severe injury, fracture, or dislocation of the tail often requires amputation; under general anesthesia, the damaged area is removed, and the remaining tail or stump is sewn over and bandaged.

Cuts, bite wounds, and amputations typically heal well so long as care is taken to protect the area from further injury caused by chewing or vigorous wagging.  Tail injuries are often bandaged to collect any seepage and to protect the wound during healing.  Bandages can be treated with bitter apple or some other offensive taste to limit chewing, or an Elizabethan collar can be used to physically prevent licking of the bandage and tail.

Injuries near the base of the tail warrant special concern, because damage to important nerves in this area can sometimes lead to fecal incontinence.  Injuries to the tail base can also be very painful.  Most dogs with a bruised tail base respond well to rest and administration of corticosteroids to reduce inflammation and pain.  However, severe injuries to the tail base can result in permanent drooping of the tail and (rarely) permanent fecal incontinence.

Q&A

How are tail wounds in cats and dogs treated?

Wounds are cleaned and either sutured or left open to drain, with a bandage used to protect the area.  Severe injuries often require tail amputation.

What is the prognosis after a tail injury?

Cuts, bite wounds, and amputations of the tail typically heal well so long as care is taken to protect the area from further injury caused by chewing or vigorous wagging.  However, in severe injuries near the base of the tail, temporary or permanent fecal incontinence is a concern.

Will tail amputation affect my pet’s quality of life?

Tail amputation is major surgery, but most pets recover uneventfully with no lasting impact on quality of life.

Credit: Written and reviewed by John A. Bukowski, DVM, MPH, PhDand Susan E. Aiello, DVM, ELS
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