Sunday, May 13, 2012

The Tale of the Cat's Tail

Peppy showed up at his home Sunday afternoon dragging his tail awkwardly behind him. An adult neutered country cat, Peppy occasionally sneaked out of the house in the evening and stayed away all night. This time, he barely made it back to the house alive and definitely not in one piece.

feline tail degloving injury
Tail degloving injury before amputation
Peppy's owners noticed a gaping wound on his tail and what appeared to be a fang mark on his back. They rushed him over to my clinic for inspection and treatment.

Poor Peppy had what we veterinarians refer to as a "degloving" injury. This means the skin on his tail had been peeled back exposing the muscle and tendons beneath. He also suffered from multiple bite wounds on his back and hocks (ankles). Our best guess is Peppy barely escaped from some large predator such as a coyote or dog.

Aside from being horribly contaminated--full of straw, hair and dirt--the major problem with Peppy's injury was the extent of the wound and the location. Simply suturing the skin together would not do. Peppy's tail skin was torn way up by his rump and merely a narrow strip of skin held it to his body at all. This meant there was a poor blood supply which would be needed for healing. Moreover, the injury had happened hours ago and was no longer bleeding, meaning the tissue was not fresh and any closure would probably just fall apart. Amputation of the tail was the answer.

It may seem drastic, but amputation of a mangled appendage (tail or limb) in a dog or cat is often the best course of treatment. Pets don't feel sorry for themselves like people often do and hardly miss the painful, damaged limb or tail. In fact, they often consider it a relief to have the injured part off.

feline tail amputation
Peppy after tail amputation
Peppy was hospitalized overnight for antibiotic therapy, fluids to treat mild dehydration and pain medications. He hunkered in a corner of the kennel unwilling to move his mangled tail. The next morning Peppy's tail was amputated.  After recovering, Peppy was a different cat. He moved around his kennel easily (in fact he stayed still barely long enough for the post-op photo), ate hungrily and was extremely affectionate. I do not doubt he will have some issues jumping at first not having a tail for balance, but he will learn.

It's not just outdoor cats that end up needing tail amputation. This past winter I amputated the tail of a fluffy indoor kitty who had lost the blood supply to the end of her tail when a decorative ribbon became too tight. While she managed to keep most of her tail (only the damaged part needed to be removed), she too appeared to feel great relief after the amputation.

I appreciate my patients' attitude toward the injuries and insults they endure. Most pets take the loss of a limb or tail in stride and happily get on with life. As I often say to their owners, "We have a lot to learn from our animals!"


  1. We adopted our male cat one week after he had his left front leg amputated. It was clear he had been an outdoor cat and we tried very hard to keep him in feeling that it would be safer for him. It became impossible though so he is allowed out during the day but not overnight. Simon can run like the wind, catch moles and mice and even climb trees.. The only difference I see from our other cat is in the house we can hear him coming with his three legged thump thump thump...

  2. Wow, Elizabeth! Your guy has adapted extremely well. Even climbs trees?! Animals sure are amazing. Thank you for sharing your cat's "tail".

  3. Yes he can climb trees, he looks a little funny doing it though, he gets a big run on and you swear he is going to smash into it. We have had to pluck him out of a few as he sometimes is more hesitant to come down than go up..
    Great blog!