5 Things You Should Know About Your Cat’s Tail
The Tale your cat's tail tells you. A cat tail is more than just a pretty appendage -- and it's more sensitive than you might think.
The cat tail is a balancing tool
The cat tail acts as a counterweight when the cat walks along narrow surfaces like fence tops or chair backs. It also helps a running cat to stay standing as he makes sharp turns in pursuit of prey … or his favorite toy.
Tails are used as a communication tool
The position of the tail has meaning to other cats (and to us, if we are paying attention). Studies show that kittens and cats with a "tail up" posture are friendly and relaxed . Mother cats appear to signal to their kittens to follow them using their upright tails. Not only does tail position communicate things, but messages are sent with the movement as well. A twitching tail has meaning. When cats twitch just the tips of their tails, it can mean that they are alert and aroused, and when cats are hunting, they can wave their tails methodically. Cats thrash their tail firmly when they are feeling threatened, afraid, or aggressive.
Cat tail injuries can cause permanent damage
Even though the spinal cord doesn't extend all the way into the cat tail, an injury can still cause serious nerve damage. When the spinal cord ends, the nerves that help to control and provide sensation to the tail, hind legs, bladder, large intestine, and anus have to extend outward without the protection of the spine's bones. Yanking on your cat's tail can over-stretch or even tear these nerves and cause temporary (or permanent) inability to walk, inability to hold the tail upright, incontinence, or chronic pain.
Cats can live without tails
Cats born without tails never know what it's like to have one. Their brains develop without the presence of the sensory input from the tail, but we know that the tail can serve a purpose in balance and psychological well-being. Sometimes injury or illness can require tail amputation in cats, and they adjust very well. Of course, if your cat has one, she should keep it unless its removal is medically necessary.
Tails can signal health issues
Sometimes the tail can be literally flagging you down to notice an issue with your cat's health. Certain disorders can show themselves through the tail. Flea allergy dermatitis can cause skin irritation on and around the tail and rump. Skin infections from other causes can also affect the tail. Some hormonal disturbances can manifest in and around tail. Long tails seem more likely to be damaged in accidents and can incur injury. They can be caught in doors and easily traumatized. Pay attention to your cat's tail. If she is unable to move it, she's dragging it on the ground, or you notice damage to the skin, be sure to ask your vet. Don't delay because the tail has many nerve endings and issues with it are very painful.
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