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About our Cats' Tails
The tail is an important part of your cat. Physically, it serves to enhance the cat's balance and agility. It is also a tool of communication, displaying movements and postures that help convey your cat's mood.
The cat's tail is made of 19 to 21 small bones called caudal vertebrae - the exact number depends on the length of the tail. The bones are separated by elastic discs and support muscles and ligaments around them.
Watch that Tail for Health Issues
Your cat's behavior can be an indicator of health or sickness. Cat owners know their own cat's individual temperament and behavioral patterns, and behavioral changes can serve as early warning signs that something may be wrong.
The expressive tail can help you note such changes. The tail may be hanging lower than usual in a depressed cat, or even tucked under the body. Aggressive postures where the tail swishes around could indicate pain and discomfort. In these cases, it's not the tail itself that's the issue, but the overall mood which it helps to express.
Skin Abscesses and Cysts in Tails
An abscess is a pocket of pus which forms under a cat's skin, usually following a bite or a contaminated puncture wound. Trapped bacteria creates an infection and pus accumulates until the skin ruptures to create a smelly and often painful mess.
A cat's tail is prime abscess territory. A tail can easily get bitten during a cat fight and develop a massive abscess within days. If you think your cat's tail has been bitten, talk to your vet as soon as possible. A course of antibiotics can sometimes prevent the abscess from forming. If you discover an abscess anywhere on your cat's body, it needs to be treated by the vet, who will probably drain the abscess and provide supportive care. Special care should be taken when the abscess is located near the base of the tail, or if it's deep enough to infect the bone.
A lump on your cat's tail doesn't have to be an infected abscess. It can also be a benign cyst formed by blocked hair follicles that lead to accumulation of sebum (skin oil) or keratin under the skin. Your vet will determine if and when the cyst needs to be surgically removed. Cysts can rupture and become infected and they can ooze blood and pus. Supportive care and antibiotics may be needed as well.
Some cysts tend to recur despite removal efforts. In severe cases, a partial or complete tail amputation may be the only solution.
Stud Tail Syndrome
The base of a cat's tail has special glands that secret sebum along the hair follicles, used to lubricate the cat's skin and spread its scent for the purpose of territorial marking. When there is excessive secretion of sebum in the tail area, the fur around and on the tail can become greasy and thin. You may notice blackheads which could possibly become infected.
This condition is called feline tail gland hyperplasia and is commonly referred to as Stud Tail. While more common in intact males, it can afflict any cat, male or female, neutered or whole. Once your vet provides the diagnosis, he or she may suggest clipping the hair around the affected area and washing it with special shampoos. Intact males may need to be neutered.
Just like any other bone, the tail bones can fracture. An open fracture can get infected and can even cause a deep bone infection known as osteomyelitis.
A strong pull on a cat's tail can damage the delicate nerves that form the end of the cat's spinal cord. It's a typical car accident injury that happens when a cat runs across the street and gets its tail caught under the wheels of a passing car. Such spinal cord injuries can cause loss of control over urination and defecation, as a temporary or permanent effect.
The blood vessels in the tail can also be affected by a strong pull or a break, to the point of stopping the blood supply to the tail further away from the body. This can result in the death of tissues and in the tail having to be amputated.
Even if no obvious injury is evident after accidents involving the tail it is important to keep a close eye on the tail for a few days afterwards. As always, keeping your cat away from car traffic is the best form of prevention.
Spina Bifida is a congenital disorder where a cat is born without a tail and with malformed vertebrae of the lower back. Affected cats have limited use of their hind legs and suffer from lack of bladder control and fecal incontinence. This is a typical genetic disorder in breeds without tails, such as the Manx, that happens when both parents have no tail. It can also be caused by a random mutation and even by certain drugs taken during the mother cat's pregnancy.
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