Tail Amputation in Dogs and Cats

Veterinary surgeon Phil Zeltzman discusses why tail amputation may sometimes be required with a pet, and what to expect after surgery.

When tail amputation is required in dogs

Tail amputation in dogs and cats involves surgically removing part or all of the tail, for a variety of reasons: severe wounds, tumors and infection.

(We will not talk about tail docking in this article, as it is a controversial topic and is considered unethical by the American Veterinary Medical Association.)

Multiple types of wounds can affect the tail:

  • Bite wounds
  • Self-trauma (compulsive chewing or extreme wagging)
  • Crushing injuries and fractures (e.g., the tail gets caught in a door)
  • Nerve injuries (e.g., the tail gets caught under the tire of a moving vehicle)

The tail is the end part of the spine, so it is full of nerves, and all of these injuries can cause a significant amount of pain. When the wounds cannot be repaired or will not heal, or when the bandage stubbornly falls off, or when a dog wags his tail so hard that the tail keeps getting re-injured, then we may have to resort to tail amputation.

Tumors: A Special Case

Tumors of the tail are rare, but they can lead to a challenging surgery. When we try to remove a tumor, there is very little extra skin to stitch up and close the area. Obviously, the larger the tumor, the harder it is to close the skin.

Ironically, it almost doesn’t matter if the tumor is benign (good) or malignant (bad). It may simply be impossible to close the skin nicely. So in some cases, we may have to sacrifice part of the tail to get rid of the tumor. How much of tail needs to be removed completely depends on the location of the mass.

‘Corkscrew Tail’ in Bulldogs

Bulldogs deserve a special mention here. They have a condition called “corkscrew tail.” In this situation, the tail literally grows inward, and creates a deep skin fold that can get seriously infected. This infection leads to constant irritation, pain and a horrifying smell.

Although daily cleaning, pain medications and antibiotics can provide temporary relief, the only way to cure these dogs is to completely remove the stump. This is a tricky surgery, so please make sure the veterinarian performing the surgery has experience with it.

What to Expect After Surgery

After surgery, your vet may apply a bandage to protect the remaining part of the tail. If the entire tail is amputated, then no bandage will be needed. In either case, your pet will need to wear a plastic cone (aka E collar) to prevent licking of the bandage or the tail.

Whereas your pet may have been scooting to relieve the unbearable itching, it should stop after surgery. That’s a good thing, since it’s extremely difficult to prevent, even for the most attentive pet owner! Your cat or your dog will go home with pain medications and antibiotics, which you should give until they are completely gone.

Tail amputation in dogs and cats may sound like a drastic measure, but fortunately it will not affect your pet’s quality of life. It will improve it.

Photo: kushwaha/Flickr

Dr. Phil Zeltzman, DVM, DACVS, CVJ

View posts by Dr. Phil Zeltzman, DVM, DACVS, CVJ
Dr. Phil Zeltzman, DVM, DACVS, CVJ, is a traveling, board-certified veterinary surgeon in the Allentown, Pennsylvania area. He is a certified veterinary journalist, an award-winning author and a prolific speaker. He co-wrote Walk a Hound, Lose a Pound, about weight loss in dogs and humans. He also writes a free weekly newsletter, available at DrPhilZeltzman.com.

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  1. Dawn
    October 24, 2013

    My boxer dog Ruby is 11 months old, 3weeks ago she had to gave part of tail removed, this is not healing and has become infected.
    My vet has decided enough us enough and he is going to take the rest of tail off tomorrow.
    Has anyone out there any helpful advice and what I can expect after this surgery.
    She had a tumor on her tail and the vet originally removed just above it, she did not leave it alone, buster collar, bandages etc etc the list would go on and on.
    I have had to take time off work as I cannot leave her. I am at wits end some helpful advice would be greatly appreciated

  2. Jeff
    January 13, 2014

    My vet wants to take the tail off my cat because of several small tumors about 5 inches from the base of the tail. We have tried removing just the tumors a few months ago but they came back. A biopsy showed they were cancerous. The cat does not seem in pain. If the tail is removed, should that stop the cancer, or will it just find somewhere else to go (inside the body). I’ve read that after surgey for this type of situation the average life expectancy is only about 4.5 months. Anyone have any advice.

  3. Dr. Deb
    January 13, 2014

    Jeff, Your veterinarian certainly seems to be giving you good recommendations. The biopsy should dictate the treatment. The type of tumor obviously matters. If you get good surgical margins with a tail amputation, the kitty’s prognosis can be quite good, again, depending on the type of cancer.

  4. jenny lyfield
    April 27, 2014

    can you help my baby ragdoll cat she has lost the skin from the centre of her tail she has full movement but no skin my vet tried stretchung the skin from either end to join in the centre but it did not work.are there any other option as i cannot afford a skin graft $2500 upwards thank you

  5. BamaD
    December 28, 2016

    My neighbor has a cat whose tail has been degloved approximately 3 in on the tip. She does not have the money to take the cat to the vet for the partial amputation. Can I dock the tip with a small castrator bad?

    1. Melissa Smith
      December 28, 2016

      Hi Bama ; I’m not a vet but as a pet owner and sitter I’d be scared to do it. Too much could go wrong, from bleeding to infection.

    2. Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS
      Pippa Elliott
      December 29, 2016

      Hi Bama,
      That is such a bad idea I don’t know where to start. Please contact a welfare organisation who may be able to help with funding or suggest a way forward. Most vets will also arrange a finance deal or suggest a charity that could help. But please, on no account resort to home surgery. It is painful for the cat, fraught with complications, and illegal!
      Here’s hoping you can help you neighbor in a more humane way.

  6. Melissa Smith
    June 8, 2017

    Hi Josua! The best thing to do with concerns is call his vet – ask them why they didn’t give him a cone, and if perhaps you are allowed to start slowly decreasing the amount of pain meds so that he can start feeling a little better. Poor pup, keep us posted!

  7. Leesa Parker
    June 10, 2017

    We rescued an 8week old kitten that had his entire tail broken to his spine, so the whole thing had to amputated (at 6-7 weeks). We took him home and he was fine. Couldn’t even see wounds. But then, he started BITING the area where his tail would be, opening a wound @10 weeks (3-4 weeks after surgery). The vet gave him antibiotics and pain meds and a cone. He’s had the cone in for over a week. The SECOND we take it off to clean it, he IMMEDIATELY and FEROCIOUSLY chews at his backside. I’m almost afraid this pain or itch may be permanent. Anyone know? I can’t see him in a cone forever, are there any other things to help? This is him pre-cone. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/b611c8bf6720aa03da3ff992f328696ac915f1cdc4fe2854f67911c41e5fce73.jpg

    1. Melissa Smith
      June 12, 2017

      He’s such a cutie!

      In terms of his tail, could it be because it’s still healing and it itches? I know sometimes when I get scabs they can be very itchy. What does the vet think is going on?


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