TAILS THAT ARE BROKEN (FELINE)
(Sacrocaudal Fractures in the Cat)
The cat in this radiograph has a dislocation of the tail
Cats get their tails pulled or broken through an assortment of traumas: A child might pull a tail or a tail might get caught in a closing door. A tail can get bitten during a cat fight and, of course, automobile accidents can easily lead to dislocated or broken tails. One might think a tail break would involve an obvious external wound but usually this is not the case; instead, signs of nerve damage (from stretching of the cauda equina nerves) are often the only tip-off.
WHAT MIGHT BE NOTICEABLE AT HOME
Cats with broken tails might show any of these symptoms:
Any of these symptoms might lead the cat into the vet’s office for an evaluation. Some additional findings the veterinarian might notice include:
A radiograph such as the one at the top of this web page will often show a break in the tail or a dislocation though in some cases the tail bones are intact. How permanent these signs are largely depends on whether the cauda equina nerves have been over-stretched or actually torn. In many cases if a trauma is severe enough to break the tail, there may be additional injuries as well.
CLASSIFICATION OF THE INJURY
In a 1985 study by Smeak and Olmstead, sacrocaudal fractures in cats were divided into five groups.
These individuals are minimally affected and, while they may have a chronically sensitive tail head, they are expected to otherwise have a full recovery.
These cats are expected to recover tail function completely and have an excellent prognosis.
Most cats will have a complete recovery.
This group of cats has about a 75% recovery rate, meaning 75% of the cats that fit this description should recover.
This group of cats has about a 50% recovery rate, meaning about half of the cats with this description will eventually recover.
If it is not clear whether a cat has partial anal sphincter tone or not, it may be possible to have a test called an “Electromyogram.” The muscles of the anal sphincter and tail can be tested to see if they are receiving any nerve input at all. If they are, there is reasonable potential for recovery. The EMG test is highly specialized test and not readily available except at practices with a neurology specialty. Referral will probably be necessary.
In a more recent study (Nov 2009 issue of the Journal of Small Animal Practice) Tatton and Holmes found that an excellent predictor of bladder function return in the presence of pain detection at the tail head. In the 21 cats with sacrocaudal fracture/dislocation, all 11 cats that had pain sensation at the tail head on the first day after the injury had regained bladder function within 3 days. Absence of pain sensation in this area on the first day did not necessarily mean that bladder control would not return; 60% of cats without tail head sensation on the first day had recovered bladder control by 30 days after the injury.
SHOULD THE TAIL BE AMPUTATED?
If the tail is not expected to recover mobility or sensation, there are some reasons to consider amputation. If the cat cannot lift its tail, he may soil it regularly creating an infection issue or simply an odor issue. Further, the weight of the tail dragging may further stretch the cauda equina nerves. Whether or not tail amputation is helpful or speeds recovery is controversial but certainly amputation could solve a soiling problem.
MANAGEMENT OF THE BLADDER
It is important not to allow the bladder to over-stretch. The fine muscles of the bladder can become so stretched out that even if the nerves recover, the bladder may still remain unable to empty fully. This means the cat’s bladder must be gently squeezed 3 or 4 times daily to keep it from over-distending. Medications can also be used to assist the bladder’s own ability to contract (bethanechol chloride) or to relax the urinary sphincter (diazepam or phenoxybenzamine). Since urine retention tends to promote infection, patients will periodically require some sort of monitoring urine tests. If constipation is a problem, periodic enemas or regular administration of stool softening medications can be given.
Nerves heal notoriously slowly. It has been said that a good six months must pass before one can say the maximum recovery has occurred and no more positive progress can be expected. Most cats who are going to recovery function do so in a one week period and most cats who do not recover urinary control after a month probably will remain incontinent. Tail function and sensation tends to take longer.
INFORMATION FOR THIS ARTICLE WAS LARGELY DRAWN FROM:
Page last updated: 9/3/10