Medically known as caudectomy, tail amputation refers to the surgical removal of the cat’s tail due to injury, trauma or paralysis. The cat’s flexible tail is an extension of the spine and is used to help with balance as well as communicate with others.
Tail paralysis due to trauma and degloving injuries are the most common causes of tail amputations in cats. Unfortunately as blood circulation to the tail is not very good, therefore damaged tails don’t heal well.
- When an infection or bite wound occurs in the tail that fails to respond to antibiotics.
- If the skin on the tail has died, this can happen with severe frostbite.
- Degloving injuries occur when the skin of the tail is peeled back from the bone, the most common cause is accidents involving doors or motor vehicle trauma.
- Self-trauma, such as constant biting or chewing.
- Strangulation injuries occur when an object is placed or becomes wrapped around the tail which cuts off the blood supply.
- Tumours of the tail (rare).
Amputations of the tail may be complete or partial, depending on the type of injury and the location.
The most obvious sign of trauma is a limp, flaccid tail or an area of exposed bone if the cat has suffered a degloving injury. Some cats may also suffer from fecal and urinary incontinence.
A broken tail will have a kink or bend.
Swelling and or discharge if your cat has an abscess or infection.
Your veterinarian will perform a complete physical and neurological examination of your cat and obtain a medical history from you.
Xrays will be necessary to evaluate the tail and determine the extent of the damage.
If the cat has been involved in a traffic accident or has a tumour on the tail, your veterinarian may also want to perform chest and abdominal xrays to look for signs of internal injury or signs metastasis (spread of a tumour from its original location to another part of the body).
If amputation is recommended, the veterinarian may want to perform some routine blood tests before surgery to evaluate the overall health of your cat.
Tail amputation surgery
The cat will need to have fasted from the night before (unless your veterinarian tells you otherwise).
- The cat is put under general anesthetic and the area is shaved and disinfected.
- An incision is made between two vertebrae and the ligaments are cut. Due to the proximity to the anus, where possible, the veterinarian will try to leave a stub (one or two vertebrae of the tail), but this is not always possible.
- The blood vessels are cauterised to seal them and prevent bleeding.
- Surrounding skin is then sutured over the bone to seal the area.
If the surgery is performed due to cancer, the tissue will be submitted to a laboratory for histopathology to determine the type of cancer.
- Wound re-opening (dehiscence)
- Decreased anal tone/sensation
- Slow wound healing
Recovery time can vary depending on any other trauma your cat may have. If the cat has normal limb function and can urinate and defecate on its own, the prognosis is very good.
Once your cat returns home, he will need to be kept quiet until he has completely healed. During this time the cat should not be allowed outside.
- An Elizabethan collar will be put on your cat to prevent the cat from damaging the area.
- The cat will be sent home with painkillers and antibiotics. Follow your veterinarian’s instruction when administering medication.
- Sutures will be removed 10-14 days after surgery.
- Monitor your cat’s litter box use while he is recovering. If he has any difficulty urinating or defecating, contact your veterinarian immediately.
- The cat may find it difficult to climb into the litter tray for the first few days, if this happens, consider replacing it with a tray with low sides or even a very sturdy box, lined with plastic and cut one side out (I did this for my cat while he recovered from a broken pelvis). Fruit shops can often supply strong/wax-lined boxes for free.
- Complications from this surgery can be quite common, most often associated with poor wound healing. Monitor the area for signs of redness, swelling, heat, discharge, and infection. If you notice this, your cat will need to be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
- While the wound is healing, try to keep your cat’s environment as clean as possible. Regularly change the bedding and avoid using dusty types of cat litter, paper brands are recommended while the cat is healing.
- Scoop litter trays at least twice a day to remove solids and urine-soaked litter.
A follow-up appointment will be scheduled 2-3 days post-surgery to check the surgery site and ensure the cat is healing well.
Nobody wants to see their cat have to lose a tail, and prevention is always better than cure.
Have your cat desexed, entire cats are much more likely to get into fights with other cats.
Never pull a cat by the tail and reinforce this message to children. Even a gentle pull can be enough to cause trauma. Very young children should ALWAYS be supervised when they are around cats and give your cat places to escape if need be.
It is always better to keep your cat indoors to avoid injury from cars, other animals or cruelty. If you don’t feel comfortable having an indoor-only cat, consider a compromise and build him a cat enclosure. Benefits of an enclosure include stimulation, exercise and the cat gets to enjoy the great outdoors in a safe and controlled environment.
Avoid slamming doors and use door wedges to prevent doors from accidentally slamming in the wind.
A final note
Once your cat is recovered and out of his crate, you may notice the balance is affected.
Cats adjust well to a life without a tail, but it is recommended you keep cats indoors and try to prevent jumping and climbing at least until the cat has made a full recovery.