Have you ever hurt your pet by accident? I have.
In my first job, I accidentally shut my own cat’s tail in a heavy fire door. Skate was a dockyard rescue cat and obsessed with food. He heard me in the kitchen and walked in as the door was closing. The end result? A tail with a right-angle bend.
Poor Skate. Some sedation and a brief procedure later, and his tail was back to its former flagpole glory. No permanent harm done, thank goodness. But not all cats are so lucky.
Tail Pull Injuries
A while back, I saw a spike in tail pull injuries in cats. This type of injury can happen when a tail gets trapped and the cat struggles to get free. Unfortunately, the number of cases indicated a far more sinister cause, that of deliberate harm done by some malicious idiot grabbing hold of cats by their tails.
The severity of the injuries varied. The tail is an extension of the backbone made up of ever-smaller bones held together by ligaments and small muscles. It requires a nerve supply to move the tail, and traction on a tail can shear the fine nerves, resulting in a “dead” tail.
The “fortunate” cats had dead tails that dragged along the ground. Of course, not knowing where your tail is makes it a liability, and when the nerve sensation hadn’t returned after a couple of weeks, these poor kitties had to have their tails amputated.
But worse still were those cats with severe nerve damage affecting the supply to the bladder and/or bowel. One particularly heartbreaking case, despite weeks of nursing, was not able to poo or pee for himself, and with great sadness we eventually had to let him go.
All of which is a comment on the inhumanity of some humans. No one was ever caught or brought to justice for this rash of crimes. One day these awful cases stopped as suddenly as they had started; one can only wonder why.
Tail Wag Injuries
Dogs are a different story. The most common tail problem I see are wag injuries (sometimes called happy tail). This is where an exuberantly happy Labrador Retriever repeatedly thumps his tail against a brick wall and scrapes away the fur and top layer of skin. Heaven knows why Labradors don’t feel the pain and stop, but they continue to wag, which results in the colorful redecoration in red of the room they are wagging in.
Wag injuries are tricky to treat. There’s something about tail tips that makes them bleed and bleed and bleed. Whether you bandage the tail tip or make a fancy protective cover with a syringe case, the extra weight merely adds momentum to the problem.
In addition to protecting the tail, people have carpeted the walls of brick passageways to cushion the thumping of the tail in a confined space.
The worst case I ever saw was a Great Dane with a long whip of a tail. His self-inflicted injuries were so severe that partial amputation was in the cards, but his dedicated caretakers covered most of the house walls with down comforters up to tail level to save their big boy’s tail.
Docking tails at birth of certain breeds seems all the more bizarre. The argument goes that working breeds such as Springer spaniels and boxers need their tails docked because they could get injured in the field.
In the United Kingdom, docking is now an illegal procedure unless the dog has a special occupation, such as the puppy is bred specifically to work rather than be a pet (although how to tell which newborn puppy has the potential to be a good worker is beyond me).
This papillon can’t seem to get enough of the yellow Lab’s wagging tail:
I’ve had people come in with their new (docked) puppy, proudly clutching a certificate of dispensation supplied by breeders abusing the system. It makes my blood boil. Would these people think it was OK to cut off their newborn baby’s little finger (without anesthetic) for the sake of fashion? I think not.
And if you are thinking, wait a minute, it sounds reasonable to dock tails to prevent injury, think about this: Hand on heart, I have never in 28 years seen a dog injure his tail while working. Really, the number-one problem has been Labradors and their wag injuries.
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But do we routinely dock Labs at birth? No. Would we consider doing this? No. Why? Because a Lab wagging her tail is a joyous thing.
So why mutilate other breeds at birth?
This pet health content was written by a veterinarian, Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS. It was last reviewed Oct. 2, 2015.