cat tail dragging on the ground
Cat Health and Wellness

What Does It Mean When a Cat Can’t Lift Its Tail?

The tail is a very expressive part of the feline anatomy. You can tell a lot about how a cat is feeling by the position of its tail. If it’s pointing downward or dragging, it denotes injury, illness or unhappiness. It can be extremely concerning when a cat is no longer able to move its tail.

Stressed or anxious cats may not lift their tails. Alternatively, they may be physically unable to do so due to injury. This could mean that there is nerve damage to their spine or a broken bone.

Whatever the reason for your cat’s tail dragging, it is safe to assume that your pet requires professional attention. The sooner you get them medical assistance, the better.

My Cat’s Tail is Dragging on the Ground

There are many reasons for a drooping cat tail. These include:

  • Necrotizing Fasciitis. This health condition involves flesh-eating bacteria destroying the healthy tissue around your cat’s tail. Cat tail necrosis is usually contracted through cuts to the skin. It must be dealt with ASAP, as the mortality rate is exceptionally high.
  • Abscesses. If your cat develops a skin infection close to its tail, it will be impacted. This could be a result of your cat being scratched, and the wound becoming infected.
  • Anal Gland Infection. Your cat has glands in their rear. If these become infected or impacted, it will be excruciating. An inability to lift their tail will follow.
  • Neurological Problems. If your cat suffers from a neurological condition, it will impact their entire nervous system. This will leave them unable to lift their tail.
  • Stress and Anxiety. A cat may voluntarily drag their tail along the ground if they are unhappy. If your cat is capable of lifting their tail but decides not to, they’re unhappy.

Common Cat Tail Injuries

Not all explanations for a cat failing to lift their tail are medical. It could be due to physical injury. Some of the most common injuries that impact upon your cat’s tail include:

  • Bite Wounds. If your cat encounters another animal, they may be bitten when they attempt an escape. If this area becomes infected, your cat could become sick.
  • Infection. Tail infections could steam from cuts on and around the area. Equally, however, they could be a result of flea infestations. Medical attention will be required in such an instance. If your cat ends up cut in any way, clean the wound with hydrogen peroxide.
  • Degloving. This is the term for a cat’s tail having fur torn from the bone. The most common reason is a cat’s tail being dragged by a car. This could leave critical tissue exposed to bacteria and external debris. This will often result in amputation, before any disease can impact the remaining healthy tissue.
  • Self-Mutilation. If your cat is in pain or stress, they may attempt to relieve it through biting and rolling. You will need to put a stop to this before your cat does irreparable damage. A vet will administer painkillers, or an Elizabethan Cone to limit your cat’s access.
  • Dislocations and Fractures. These injuries can be tricky to detect, and vary in severity. A fracture will sometimes heal by itself, but bad breaks will require amputation. Be vigilant about rushing your cat to the vet after any trauma. An x-ray will reveal the extent of the damage.

What Happens When My Cat Has Necrosis of the Tail?

The problem begins with a cut or abrasion on the cat’s skin. If this leads to an infection, lesions will start to appear on your cat’s skin. These are patches of dead skin, and they need to be surgically removed before they spread.

If a cat survives necrosis in their tail, they may not make a full recovery. Your cat may lose access to their tail as a result. This will require a period of adjustment, and life expectancy may still be shortened.

Necrotizing fasciitis is one of many reasons why cuts on cat’s tails must be taken seriously. Once infected, the disease can spread extremely quickly and rapidly become fatal. Don’t take any chances.

Do Cats Ever Drag Their Tail Voluntarily?

Cats drop their tails when they are feeling meek and defeated. If you have an outdoor cat, look out for this behavior when they return home. It could suggest that another neighborhood cat is bullying them. A nervous cat will also typically tuck their tail between their legs.

Sometimes, a cat allows their tail to hang low as an act of defensiveness. Don’t make any sudden movements toward your cat when they display this body language. They could be preparing themselves to pounce. This will result in claws and teeth sinking into your flesh.

If your cat has recently started to drag their tail, think about their surroundings. Your pet may be stressed by a recent change to their routine. They may also be intimidated by something in, or outside, the home.

cat has broken tail at base

Will My Cat Die if It Breaks Its Tail?

A broken, fractured or dislocated tail alone is not enough to be fatal to a cat. It will hurt like nothing else, though. Also, the side effects of a broken tail can be dangerous.

This could include shock, which will place a great deal of stress on your cat’s heart. Also, they may risk an infection that quickly becomes dangerous.

My Cat Can’t Control Its Tail

Cats tend not to wag their tails like other domestic animals. If a cat’s tail twitches quickly, it’s usually a warning that they’re in a foul mood. In some cases, however, a cat may not be able to control its tail. This is called feline hyperesthesia syndrome, and it’s fairly common in senior cats.

Feline hyperesthesia syndrome is known as rolling skin disease. According to the Cornell Feline Health Center, tail twitching isn’t the only symptom of the condition. The cat may also roll on their back and scratch frantically for a few moments. They could also lose bladder control.

The biggest problem with feline hyperesthesia syndrome is that it essentially leads to self-mutilation. A cat could end up doing severe damage to their tail during an attack. Thankfully, it is also considered to be a mild condition that can be controlled through lifestyle changes.

My Cat Has a Tail Tip Injury

Impact injuries to the tip of a cat’s tail are less dangerous than those at the base. The closer a musculoskeletal injury is to the hind legs, the higher the risk of paralysis.

Despite this, an injury to the tip of the tail will still be painful. Remember, a cat’s tail is still part of their spinal cord. If your pet has experienced any damage, seek professional advice. If nothing else, your cat may appreciate some painkillers.

If the tip of the tail is bleeding, this will need to be dealt with quickly. The longer your cat has an exposed wound, the more chance there is of infection.

Ensure that your cat’s tail is clean, and bandaged. It remains advisable to get the area investigated by a vet. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.

My Cat Has a Broken Tail at the Base

A broken tail can be difficult to diagnose in a cat. If you have any suspicion that your cat has experienced such misadventure, see a vet. They will be able to arrange an x-ray, and take the appropriate action. Remember that your cat will likely be in pain. Don’t try to self-diagnose by feeling the tail. You will cause more distress, and potentially make things worse.

How a vet proceeds will depend on the severity and location of the fracture. Some breaks will heal themselves if left alone for long enough. If the break has caused permanent tail paralysis, however, amputation may be necessary.

Recovery from a break needs to be a quiet period for your pet. Keep them away from children and other pets. If your cat tolerates it, you may even want to consider placing them in a crate. Also, be vigilant about cleaning up after your cat, as their limp tail will make elimination difficult. If there are no complications, your cat’s tail should repair itself in around four weeks.

My Cat Has a Dislocated Tail

A dislocated cat tail is not dissimilar to a broken bone at the base. A vet will need to run x-rays to check if your cat’s tail is dislocated. This injury often occurs when a tail is yanked or tugged sharply.

If your cat’s tail has been dislocated, a vet will need to check for nerve damage. In the event of this, amputation may be necessary. If your cat has experienced nerve damage, you may also need to help them with basic tasks such as elimination.

My Cat Has a Painful Lump at the Base of Its Tail

There could be one of many possible explanations.

  • Insect Bites. The most favorable scenario is that your cat was bitten on the tail. Alternatively, a bee or wasp may have stung them. The result will be swelling, especially if your cat is allergic. Ensure that a tick is not embedded into your cat’s tail and administer an antihistamine.
  • Mild Bruising or Sprains. If your cat has taken a small tumble, they may have a bump in the impacted area. This will be sore, and your cat will keep its tail low to ease their discomfort. If the lump goes away, it was a passing issue. All the same, don’t take any chances if your cat is older.
  • Abscesses. Your cat may have an abscess at the base of their tail. This will explain the lump, as it’s essentially a swollen lump of pus. This will be painful for your pet, so they’ll avoid allowing you to touch it. As a result, they’ll keep their tail low to protect it. An abscess needs a vet’s attention, but a warm press will increase your cat’s comfort. Treatment will take the shape of medication, and possibly surgery.
  • Tumors. Cancerous tumors are known as fibrosarcomas, and must be dealt with swiftly and efficiently. This may involve amputation. However, it may be a lipoma, which is a fatty tumor often found in older cats. If this tumor does not affect your cat’s quality of life in any way, it can be left alone.

Remember, a lump on a cat’s tail should never be ignored. It could be nothing, but it may be an early warning of something serious. A vet will run tests and set your mind at rest, or start helping your pet.

cats tail is injured

My Cat Has an Anal Gland Infection

Another reason that a cat’s tail may droop is an anal gland infection. These glands ensure that every cat leaves a distinct aroma on their defecation. They use this to mark their territory. Cats also release scents from their anal glands when frightened, in an attempt at deterring predators.

If a cat’s anal glands become swollen or infected, it’s hugely painful for your pet. Aside from a limp tail, some of the symptoms of an infection include:

If your cat is struggling with their anal glands, they will not be able to lift their tail. You can avoid anal gland problems by adopting the following techniques:

  • Ensure your cat’s bowels are regular. If a cat doesn’t eliminate frequently, their anal glands will swell through underuse. Tinned pumpkin is a great way to encourage your cat to eliminate if they are constipated.
  • Keep your cat’s litter box clean. There are no good bacteria found in a cat’s anal glands. This means there is nothing to combat any invasive bacteria that could lead to infection.
  • Keep your cat healthy. Overweight cats, especially older pets, are prone to struggles with their anal glands. A cat that remains at an appropriate weight is less likely to experience these issues. Here are some tips on how to get a cat to play.
  • Regularly check for tumors. Another possible explanation for infected anal glands is a tumor.
  • Get your cat’s anal glands expressed. If you believe that your cat is struggling with their glands, see your vet. If necessary, they will massage the glands manually to relieve pressure.

Issues with the anal glands can be traumatic for cats, with a limp tail just one problem. Do not leave your pet to suffer. A vet will prescribe antibiotics to treat the infection, and your cat will be significantly happier.

Will My Cat’s Tail Need to be Amputated?

If your cat’s tail is limp and beyond saving, it will eventually need to be amputated. This procedure is called a caudectomy.

A vet will not decide to amputate lightly. However, a cat cannot live with a permanently limp tail. It will have an impact on their balance, and make elimination virtually impossible. Situations where a caudectomy may be required include:

  • A very severe fracture that will not heal.
  • Infection that doesn’t respond to antibiotics.
  • Degloving injuries that leave delicate tissue exposed.
  • Cancerous tumors that may otherwise spread.
  • Dead skin on the tail, whether a result of frostbite or necrotizing fasciitis.
  • Self-trauma, such as constant biting of the tail.

A caudectomy is a fairly routine procedure, and will usually be covered by pet insurance. Your cat will usually be permitted to come home with you the same day.

You will need to monitor for any complications following the procedure, and clean the area regularly. Your cat’s stitches will typically be removed after around two weeks. Be particularly vigilant about cleanliness after this operation too, changing their litter constantly.

Can a Cat Live a Full Life Without a Tail?

Losing their tail will not affect your cat’s life expectancy. They are also sturdy and adaptable animals, so they’ll learn to live without their tail. This may take a little time, though. Cats use their tails for balance, as a matter of instinct.

Without it, they’ll initially struggle to get in and out of their litter tray. Your cat may also lose some of their confidence when it comes to climbing and jumping. Sooner or later, however, they’ll be back to their old selves. Remember, Manx cats are born without a tail. These cats are no less agile or coordinated than any other breed. It will just require time and patience.