Question: My cat, Chuckles got outside recently and we did not find her until the next morning. She ate ravenously when she got home and was happy to see us! She seems fine, but she is moving a little slow and doesn’t hold her tail up or move it like she normally does. Her tail seems to hang. I have seen her licking her backside a lot and when she got up and walked, some little drips of urine came out. This has never happened before.
Answer: This sounds like an injury to her tail. If she is walking normally and able to jump, it may be a bite wound on her tail, or a sprained or broken tail. Gently touch her rump and down the tail to see if she is sensitive or if there is any swelling.
It is not unusual for cats to get their tails damaged from a child pulling on it, it getting stepped on, or caught in a door. They may even fracture the tail after a close call with an automobile. The trauma can cause damage to the skin, muscle, and nerves in the area. The spinal cord ends at the lower back, but nerves fan out from there and continue down the tail.
It is possible for these long nerve fibers to get injured when a tail is bitten, crushed, or pulled. This is probably why your cat can’t lift or move her tail. A bite from another cat can cause damage and an infection, but you should be able to find tiny puncture wounds in the skin from the cat’s teeth.
The nerve leading to the urinary sphincter can also get damaged. This could be why you are seeing urine drip from your cat. More importantly, the bladder may not be able to empty completely on its own — it may be stretched out and only overflow drips are coming out.
It is important to get your cat to a veterinarian immediately. If she has a bite wound that has abscessed, it needs to be lanced and drained. She will need antibiotics and anti-inflammatory medications. If she doesn’t have a bite wound, then a neurological assessment needs to be done to determine the extent of the injury and to pinpoint the exact location. X-rays, or EMGs or other neurological tests may need to be done to determine what treatment is needed.
Her bladder will need to be manually expressed, or possibly catheterized to empty the urine. Keep the bladder empty so that it does not remain overstretched for too long and cause permanent damage. Sometimes, giving her a medication to help the bladder contract can be helpful.
Most cats that have control of their bowel movements and anal tone will make a good recovery with anti-inflammatory medications and physical therapy. Many of them are close to normal in three days. Cats with severe damage may need up to six months to allow the slow repairing nerves to fully heal. After six months, if the tail is still not functional, it will probably remain this way for the cat’s life. Most cats can cope with this well. Some cats may not be able to lift their tails to go to the bathroom, and feces can pack under it, causing problems. The tail rarely needs to be amputated unless this is a severe issue.