Yes, they certainly can break and it is not uncommon. This is because a cat’s tail is made up of bones (19-21), nerves, muscles, skin, cartilage and hair like many other areas of a cat’s body. A cat’s spinal cord does not extend into the tail but many nerves extend from the spinal cord into the tail. These nerves provide control of the tail at the direction of the brain. Anatomically speaking the nerves look like a horse’s tail why is why the area is called the “cauda equina“.
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Cats can suffer a broken tail under various circumstances. A car might run over a cat’s tail when the cat tries to escape from the oncoming vehicle. Cats sometimes get their tails pulled by children when playing. Or a tail might get caught in a door which is being closed. Domestic cats have a habit of sneaking through doors behind their owners who close the door behind them without realising that their cat is following. People should always look behind them when closing a door if they have a cat companion.
And cats can break their tails when they fall off objects which is unusual but it does happen. Sometimes cats get their tails broken when they try and keep warm in the engine compartment of a car during winter. The car engine is started and the fan breaks the tail. Sometimes a breakage concerns the pulling apart of the vertebrae which stretches the nerves that go to the bladder, rectum and the tail. This causes paralysis of the tail and urinary or faecal incontinence.
The breakage might be small and the evidence of it may be signs of nerve damage. In what veterinarians describe as “tail pull injuries” there are often associated injuries such as pelvic fractures and rear leg breakages or spinal fractures. Only in 21% of the cases is a tail pull injury the sole injury (Mar Vista Animal Medical Center – excellent site by the way).
Because tail pull injuries cause paralysis you will see the tail hanging loosely like a rope, together with involuntary dribbling of urine and faecal incontinence and a lack of coordination of the rear legs. These symptoms are not comprehensive. You will need to see a veterinarian obviously. The tail may have to be amputated. If the paralysis is not recognised and treated shortly after the accident bladder paralysis remains. It’s important to see your veterinarian quickly.
Nerves that have been lacerated must be repaired surgically to try and restore function. Sometimes stretched nerves return to normal. Nerves can improve over a six-month period. If there is no recovery a veterinarian states that “cats often benefit from amputation of the..’dead tail.”
A benefit of tail amputation under these circumstances is to prevent soiling because a cat cannot lift it when defecating. And the tail is dragged along the ground so it becomes dirty. Deciding to amputate is a difficult decision made easier in discussion with a good veterinarian.
Sources: various including as stated and Cat Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook.
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