cat tail dragging on the ground
Cat Health and Wellness

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

A cat’s tail is a vital part of feline anatomy. Cats use their tails for balance and to communicate. If your cat cannot or will not lift its tail, something is wrong. This issue could physical or emotional in nature.

If the cat is willfully holding its tail low, it is emotionally distressed. The cat could be anxious, agitated or afraid. If the action is unwitting, your cat is hurt. Bites and scratches to the tail cause infection. The cat may have broken or dislocated its tail in a fall from height.

All cats will hold their tail low on occasion. Tails contain muscles, and thus need to rest. Unless your cat is a Persian breed, this should not be a natural position. Take note if your cat is unwilling or incapable of lifting its tail.

Why Can’t My Cat Lift Its Tail?

If your cat’s tail is dragging on the ground, there will be an explanation for the behavior. Your first task is to assess whether your cat is communicating a message or has suffered an injury.

A cat’s tail is key to feline body language. A happy and confident cat will hold its tail upright and proud. A cat that willfully tucks its tail between its legs is feeling timid and submissive.

Arguably more concerning is a cat that is physically incapable of lifting its tail. This suggests a significant injury, often involving the spine.

A cat that does not lift its tail for 24 hours is cause for concern. All cat tails droop from time to time. If the behavior becomes consistent, there could be a serious problem.

Emotional Distress

A cat holding its tail between its legs is often a sign of emotional distress. Most often, this reflects sadness or anxiety. It could also be a warning sign that a cat is preparing to attack.

Applied Animal Behavior Science explains that cats have more facial expressions than humans realize. Most owners assume that their cats have a constant poker face. Feline emotional cues remain tough to read, though. Body language is a more reliable barometer.

If your cat’s tail is constantly low, consider whether your cat is distressed. Physical injury remains a possibility but check for emotional trauma first.

Stress and Anxiety

Cats are easily stressed and quickly become anxious. Holding a tail low can be the first warning sign of feline angst. Other warning signs that your cat is stress include:

If the cat’s tail rises after a while, the anxiety was temporary and influenced by events. If it becomes a consistent posture, something is amiss in your cat’s world. Common things that stress cats out include:

  • Changes to a previously consistent routine
  • Excessive stimulation (especially loud noise)
  • Handling against the cat’s will
  • Lack of privacy or territory
  • Unclean living conditions and litter trays
  • Separation anxiety (missing owners or fellow animals)

Some cats are scared of everything by nature. If you do not understand why your cat is skittish, work on general calming techniques. The Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery recommends Feliway spray, for example.

cats tail is injured

Bullying from Other Animals

If you have multiple cats in your home, they will organize themselves into a hierarchy. While felines are largely independent, cats can live in groups and colonies. This is the default arrangement for feral cats, in particular.

The most important role of this hierarchy is assigning dominant and submissive roles to each cat. To paraphrase George Orwell, “all cats are equal, but some are more equal than others.” One cat will be dominant, and another will be submissive by default.

Cats dominate their fellow felines in a number of ways. If the cats get along, both will accept their place in the social pyramid. Holding the tail between the legs is body language to demonstrate submission to another feline.

Just be mindful. This should not be a constant position. Watch the cats carefully, ensuring the submissive cat is being treated fairly. The tail position may be a warning of bullying. Make sure the submissive cat is allowed to eat, roam freely and use the litter tray.

If the dominant cat blocks access to these activities, the submissive cat will be miserable. This will encourage further bullying. The patience of the submissive cat will eventually wear thin. It will attack the other feline, making a play for dominant status.

Aggression

While a tail held low usually denotes sadness, it could suggest aggression. If your cat is staring at you with its tail held low, keep your distance.

While your cat cools off, try to understand why it is upset. Have you agitated the cat in some way? You may have handled the cat against its will or missed a scheduled meal or playtime.

It is possible that your cat is simply relaxed. This will rarely result in a tail dragging on the ground, though. A relaxed cat will typically hold its tail in a more neutral position.

Consistent and General Pain

Consider whether your cat is in pain. This could be unrelated to the tail itself, but a more general issue. A cat in pain will not be happy. This will be reflected in the way that it carries itself.

The most common examples of pain for cats are arthritis and dental issues. Do not expect your cat to come to you for sympathy. Cats often mask physical discomfort. Look for telltale warning signs. Your cat may be limping, purring loudly or pawing at particularly body parts.

Your cat may also be pained by a more specific healthcare concern. Senior female cats can be prone to urinary tract infections. If ill-health is not to blame, consider if the cat has injured itself. Physical injury to the tail or spine can leave a cat unable to lift this extremity.

Physical Injury To The Tail

If a cat never lifts its tail, it is likely unable to do so. This suggests an injury. The issue may be related to the tail itself, or it could be with the spine.

A permanently limp tail will cause serious problems for your cat. Aside from the physical discomfort, the cat will struggle to eliminate. According to Behavioral Brain Research, a cat’s tail also plays a major role in feline balance.

Tail injuries to cats can have a range of causes. Impact accidents and falls from heights can cause breakages and dislocation. The cat may also find itself in conflict with neighborhood felines. Bites and scratches to the tail can cause issues. Nerve damage is also a sizeable risk.

Bites, Scratches, And Abrasions

When cats fight, they fight to win. Physical confrontation is usually a last resort for felines. If fighting is necessary, cats will look to wrap up the conflict ASAP. This means attacking soft tissue, including the tail.

Bites to the tail are a common ailment. If a cat tries to flee a conflict, its opponent may drag it back. This involves latching onto the tail, often sinking teeth into the soft tissue. This can cause infection in the wound. Cat mouths are packed with bacteria.

An open wound is the first thing to look for. If your cat’s tail is bleeding, address this at once. Clean up the area with water, applying a bandage if necessary. The use of antibacterial soap or ointment is also advisable to combat potential infection.

Infection in your cat’s tail will manifest in a number of ways. Aside from an inability to lift the tail, common warning signs include:

  • Swelling
  • The heat from the tail
  • Redness and inflammation
  • Fur loss

Minor scratches and abrasions that do not cause bleeding are less concerning. These wounds are less likely to become infected. All the same, keep your cat home until fully healed.

The cat should start lifting its tail again within a day or two. If this is not the case, consult a vet. Your cat may need a course of antibiotics to regain feeling in its tail. The longer you wait, the likelier any infection will spread.

Fractures, Broken Bones, and Dislocation

A cat’s tail contains up to 21 bones. Significant impact, such as a road traffic accident or falling from a height, can lead to injury. Fractured or broken bones can be serious. Dislocation of the tail from the spine can be equally dangerous.

Even comparatively minor incidents can cause tail injury to cats. Stepping on the tail, for example, or trapping it in a door. Keep a close eye on your cat after any such mishap. Remember, cats do not always make their pain clear.

Broken bones in the tail are not always easy to spot. The tail will droop, as the cat struggles to keep it upright. To place the diagnosis beyond doubt, you’ll need an x-ray. This is always advisable. While cat fractures can heal organically, the bones may grow back misaligned.

Dislocation of the tail is just as serious as broken bones. This could be caused by a sharp tug on the tail. If you have children, watch for this carefully. Fractured tails can cause issues with the pelvis and hind legs.

If your cat sleeps under cars, you should also tempt them out. Cats can get their tails stuck in car engines while seeking warmth. Vets refer to these, “fan belt injuries.” When the cat starts and pulls away, it will tug the tail from its socket.

In the event of serious fractures of dislocations, amputation of the tail may be necessary. This is not quite as worrying as it sounds. The surgery is comparatively straightforward. Cats also adapt to life without a tail. Veterinary Record profiles cases of feline limb amputation. 89% of owners claimed that their cats regained a normal quality of life afterward.

cat has broken tail at base

Spinal Injuries

Check that your cat’s tail is the source of the problem. Your cat’s tail is connected to the spine. If your cat is limping or showing signs of lameness, this could explain the low tail.

To understand this, learn the relationship between a cat’s tail and the rest of its body. The bones in a cat’s tail are known as the caudal vertebrae. These are connected to the sacrum, which is found at the base of the spine. The sacrum, in turn, links to a cat’s backbone.

Breaks and fractures to the sacrum are the biggest dangers. Whether your cat will regain control over its tail depends on the severity of the injury. Veterinary Surgery divides these injuries into five groups.

Group OneMinimal pain in head of tail. Full recovery will occur with rest and treatment
Group TwoPain, lack of mobility and inability to lift the tail. Full recovery likely with treatment
Group ThreeInability to move tail and trouble urinating. Full recovery likely following treatment
Group FourLoss of tail mobility and trouble eliminating. 75% recovery rate with treatment
Group FiveComplete tail immobility and flaccid anus. 50% recovery rate with treatment

Potential spinal damage must never be ignored. If your cat is having difficulty walking, seek professional advice. The longer the issue is allowed to continue, the likelier permanent tail paralysis becomes.

Nerve Damage

Damage to a cat’s spine and surrounding area can cause nerve damage that impacts the tail. This can include injuries to the pelvis and rear legs, as well as the back. If the nerves are damaged, the cat will be unable to lift its tail. Warning signs of nerve damage around a cat’s tail include:

  • Dribbling urine and incontinence
  • Inability to groom toilet areas
  • Lack of coordination in hind legs
  • Blood in the urine
  • Numbness in the tail (lack of reaction to any tail stimulus)

In some rare cases, nerve damage can also be caused by parasites. Fleas, in particular, often cluster at the base of a cat’s tail. These fleas will bite and multiply. If the cat goes untreated, these bites can lead to a condition called pulicosis. Pulicosis causes the following symptoms in a cat:

  • Swelling of the tail
  • Inflamed, angry skin, including rashes
  • Ulcers in the mouth and throat
  • Soreness around the chest

If your cat has an allergy to flea bites, pulicosis becomes even more dangerous. The condition will spread to the nervous system. This is what causes tail paralysis through nerve damage. Minimize this risk by maintaining regular preventative parasite treatments.

Any uncharacteristic behavior in cats should be observed. This includes an inability to lift the tail. Keep an eye on this and do not allow it to continue for a prolonged period. Once you understand the cause of this problem, you can take the necessary action.