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Broken Tails in Pets: Signs and Treatments

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A brown and white dog stands in a snowy field with their tail in their mouth

Did you know that a dog’s wagging tail indicates much more than just happiness? A simple tail wag can communicate a whole lot of information. And a cat’s tail can clue you into your cat’s mood, like when they’re irritated, and the tail angrily swooshes back and forth. For both cats and dogs, tails not only assist with balance but also play a crucial role in conveying emotions and intentions. But when a pet suffers a break to their tail, it can cause them immense pain and prevent them from communicating properly.

Broken Tails

Like any other bone, tail vertebrae can break. A fractured tail can occur when a dog or cat is hit by a car, takes a bad fall, or gets their tail slammed in a closing door or even stepped on.

Anatomy of a Tail

So, what exactly is a cat or dog tail made of? It might look soft and bendable, but the tail is essentially an extension of the spine that helps your pet balance, communicate, and express their mood.

Dogs usually have between six to twenty-three super flexible vertebrae in their tail. These vertebrae are surrounded by muscles that make the tail capable of movements like lifting it up, wagging from side to side, or tucking it down between their hind legs.

Cats, on the other hand, have tails that mostly consist of vertebrae, but the tip has some small bones too, giving it that extra oomph in flexibility. Cats have strong muscles at the base of their tail, connecting to their pelvis, so they can be extra stable and balanced while jumping and running around.

Causes

Dogs and cats can injure their tail the same way you can break or sprain an arm or leg, and it’s typically the result of some type of accidental trauma. Some common causes are:

  • Tail getting caught in a door
  • Tail accidentally being stepped on or rolled over by a chair
  • Tail being pulled (avulsion)
  • Pet being struck by a moving object (like a car)
  • Striking tail against hard object
  • Pet suffering a bad fall

Keep in mind that a tail injury can be extremely painful for an animal. If you suspect a tail injury, don’t hesitate—seek veterinary care immediately, no matter where or how serious the suspected break is.

Signs Your Pet’s Tail is Broken

There are several different symptoms and signs that can indicate your canine companion or feline friend is dealing with a tail injury. Some are more obvious than others, so you need to pay attention and be observant to give your pet the best chance to heal. Some of the most common symptoms of a tail injury include:

  1. Carrying the tail in an unusual position
  2. Wagging the tail to one side
  3. Alterations in your pet’s gait
  4. Repeated licking or biting at the tail
  5. Guarding the tail
  6. Limp tail that hangs or droops
  7. Inability to move the tail
  8. Unusual whimpering or other vocalizations
  9. Bleeding
  10. Fur loss

If you’ve noticed something wrong with your pet’s tail, it may be dislocated or broken. A dislocation happens when the vertebrae separate, while a break is the result of a fracture in the vertebra. A tail break or dislocation can happen for many reasons and are some of the more serious tail problems from which dogs and cats suffer.

The severity of your pet’s broken tail depends on where the break is, but all tail injuries are extremely painful so it’s important to see your veterinarian as soon as possible. A veterinarian may try to reset the tail while the break is fresh, but often the only thing they can do is help with pain management.

An amber-colored cat with blue eyes sits on a windowsill

Diagnosis and Treatment

The first thing you should do when you notice your pet has an injury to their tail is carefully inspect the tail, then call your veterinarian right away—even if it doesn’t seem all that serious. Tail injuries are incredibly painful and can be tricky to treat, so it’s imperative your cat or dog is seen by their vet as soon as possible.

In addition to a physical exam and perhaps a blood test, your veterinarian may use an X-ray to determine the type of break since fractures and serious tail injuries are not visible to the naked eye. Once your vet has an idea of how severe the break is, they may suggest one or more of the following treatments:

Crate/cage rest is all that’s needed for some simple fractures, where the bones are still normally aligned. These can be treated by strictly limiting movement.

Splints/casts are used to stabilize certain fractures where the joints above and below the fracture can be immobilized. Splints and casts require weekly bandage changes by your veterinarian.

Surgery may be needed to realign bones. Rods, plates, screws, or wires are used to stabilize the fracture or hold misplaced bones in a stable position. All open fractures, where broken bone is visible through the skin, requires surgical repair.

Amputation may be considered with the most extreme or severe fractures, and it may be recommended as the fastest way to get your pet healthy and pain-free. Fortunately, most cats and dogs do well with amputation of a limb or tail and quickly return to normal.

You can speak with your veterinarian about padding your pet’s tail (or at least the afflicted region). Under the instruction of your veterinarian, you could also take the DIY route and make one yourself for more minor injuries.

Preventing a Tail Injury

There are several simple things you can do to prevent injury to your pet’s tail. Most of the time, it comes down to simple awareness.

  • Always check where your pet is before shutting a door. Door slams are among the most common causes of tail breaks or dislocations.
  • Be careful when examining your pet’s tail or rear-end. If you need to move the tail, always move it to the side rather than lifting it up.
  • Ensure all child-pet interactions are supervised and teach your children never to touch a pet’s tail. Children may not understand the potential harm that can be inflicted by pulling the tail.
  • Always look behind you before moving your office chair backward. Dogs often like to sleep close to their pet parents, but their presence may not be immediately obvious to you.
  • Watch where you step when your cat is underfoot. Cats often enjoy weaving in and out of our legs and can get tangled up in our feet as we walk, causing us to accidently step down onto their tails.
  • Provide a safe environment for your pet. Help your pet avoid injuries by giving them a safe environment in which to play and monitoring their activity levels.
  • Familiarize yourself with your pet’s normal behavior. That way, you can identify when something has changed. These moments will serve as a warning that your best pal needs professional care.

Contact your veterinarian for help in getting to the root of your pet’s tail trouble. Remember, it’s always better to be safe than sorry when it comes to your pet’s health and comfort

Learn more about how pet insurance could help you cover your pet’s eligible veterinary care expenses.

Common Questions About Broken Tails

We’ve answered some of your biggest questions about broken tail injuries in cats and dogs, so you have the info you need to get your pet the care they require.

How much does it usually cost to treat a broken tail at the vet?

Tail injuries can run anywhere from a couple hundred dollars to several thousand dollars, depending on the severity of the injury and treatment needed. That’s why it pays to have a pet insurance plan!

How long will it take a broken tail to heal?

The only way to be 100% sure that a cat or dog’s tail is, in fact, broken is by X-raying the tail. Your veterinarian may be able to determine this with a pretty high level of confidence by feeling the tail, but most pet parents will lack the experience to do so—besides, touching the tail will likely be painful for your pet.

How can you tell if your pet’s tail is broken or merely sprained?

Predicting a timeline for tail healing can be challenging, as every fracture or dislocation is unique. A minor hairline fracture might heal naturally within a few weeks. However, a severe fracture with accompanying nerve damage may take several months to heal and could require surgery for optimal recovery. As always, prompt and appropriate veterinary care is the best course of action.

What can I give for inflammation or pain?

A warm compress can help reduce swelling, and your veterinarian will prescribe the proper medication, if necessary—one that's formulated for animal pain management.

An ASPCA® Pet Health Insurance plan can help you with eligible costs for covered conditions like surgery expenses for accidents and help provide peace of mind that your pet can receive the care they need. Check out our online resources to learn more about your insurance options and get a free quote today. The information presented in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute or substitute for the advice of your veterinarian.

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