Cats are known for their highly expressive tails. Their tail is usually held proudly up in the air, rubbed against our legs, or can even be found twitching from side to side if your cat is feeling a bit cross! So, it can be worrying when their tail appears floppy and motionless. This is usually caused by trauma, though it can occur due to other conditions on occasion too. Let’s explore this in more detail.

Tail trauma

Trauma to the tail can occur in different forms, as well as different degrees of severity from mild to very severe injuries. Here are some of the types of injury that can occur to the tail –

  • Abscesses – usually from cat bite wounds
  • Wounds – like grazes and cuts
  • Fractures – a broken tail could occur from road traffic accidents or a serious fall
  • Dislocation – separation between the joints occurs, usually from a road traffic incident or a severe pull on the tail
  • Neurological (nerve) issues – can occur alongside other injuries like fractures or dislocations

Sometimes trauma is referred to as a ‘tail pull injury’. This usually occurs when the cat’s tail is trapped and the cat keeps moving, leading to a severe pull on the tail. Examples of this would be the tail being trapped under the wheel of a car whilst the cat is trying to run away or jumping down from a fence when the tail is trapped. Not only can this cause severe damage to the tail, like fracture or dislocation, but also the nerves nearby that control things like the hind legs and toileting function. 

Sometimes this nerve injury is temporary, and the sensation returns. On other occasions the damage is permanent and the cat’s quality of life becomes compromised.

Other causes of a floppy tail

Less commonly a floppy tail can be caused by other conditions –

  • Anal gland problems – Full and impacted glands can cause discomfort leading to a drooping tail
  • Neurological conditions – Underlying issues with the nerves that control muscles and movement could lead to a floppy tail
  • Cancer – certain tumours could cause your cat’s tail to droop

What should I do if my cat’s tail is floppy?

You must take your cat to a vet if their tail is floppy. Your vet will be able to diagnose the problem and suggest some suitable treatment for your pet. They might be able to work out what is going on from a physical examination alone, especially if there are signs of obvious wounds or infection.

On other occasions, things are less obvious and your vet might suggest performing some additional tests such as x-rays to look for fractures or dislocations. If they have concerns about your cat’s nerve function they may need to be hospitalised for monitoring too.

What is the treatment for a floppy tail?

The treatment for a cat with a floppy tail will depend on the underlying cause. Most cases will benefit from some pain relief, usually in the form of anti-inflammatories. Though something stronger could be required if your cat has a severe injury. Antibiotics may be prescribed if there is an infection occurring, which could contribute towards swelling and discomfort.

Sometimes surgery is required to help your pet. In very severe cases amputation of the tail might be advised, especially if much of the tail is damaged or if there is a severe loss of nerve sensation.

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If a cat has lost sensation permanently, then this can lead to the tail becoming ‘a dead weight’ and can negatively affect their movement and balance. There is also a risk of the tail becoming further traumatised or injured in the future because the cat is unable to feel any pain in it. For example, a tail with no sensation wouldn’t feel the heat from a hot stovetop, or might not feel a laceration on a barbed-wire fence. So, although it might seem drastic, amputation can lead to the best outcome for your pet in some cases.

On occasion euthanasia may be recommended if your cat has irreversibly damaged nerves that control their bladder or rectum, leading to loss of proper function.

How can I stop my cat from getting a floppy tail?

Sadly, there is no foolproof way to stop your cat from getting a floppy tail. Indoor cats are much less likely to traumatise their tails than cats that go out regularly. Outdoor cats are at greater risk due to road traffic accidents, fights with other cats and falls (from trees, fences etc). So, the risk is lower in cats that live indoors but accidents can still happen. Cats can fall from a balcony or down the stairs or even trap their tail in a door. Plus, your cat could develop an underlying condition such as a nerve issue or anal gland problem whether they are indoor or outdoor.

Conclusion

Tail injuries are very common in cats, occurring in different degrees of severity. Some mild cases may require only painkillers and rest, others could require investigation and even a tail amputation. Always seek advice from your vet as soon as possible, as they will be able to help diagnose your pet’s issue and get them feeling comfortable again.

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