What Causes "Dead Tail" in Cats?

"I know it's there, but I can't feel it."
i Michael Blann/Lifesize/Getty Images

"Dead tail" is that odd phenomenon when kitties have a listless tail that just drags behind them, almost completely motionless. Many things could damage your feline’s tail, so it’s important to treat the appendage with the utmost delicacy. Otherwise Tabby's tail could be permanently damaged.

Tail Pulling

Tugging on Tabby’s tail seems harmless, but that’s not always the case. Her tail isn’t simply a fixture that wags and sways when she’s happy -- it’s actually an elongated part of her spine.

The tail is full of vertebrae, blood vessels and even sensitive nerve endings. Pulling too hard on it can cause a vertebra to snap or come out of place, pressing on nerves and making her tail “dead.” If you have young children in your home, make sure they know to not pull Tabby’s delicate tail.

Indoor Accidents

Tabby’s tail is the last thing to leave the room when she’s walking away. Accidentally slamming her tail in the door can bend it, breaking some of the fragile vertebrae. Stepping on her tail, or catching it in a drawer, can also be devastating to it.

Depending on where the problem is, you might notice a crease or a sharp bend in the tail. She might be able to move the bottom half, but the top part that was hurt by the door could be broken.

Outdoor Accidents

The impact of being hit by a car can break some those tiny bones in her tail or cause permanent nerve damage. Fighting with the neighbor’s dog, or even an all-out brawl with the town tomcat, can lead to a fracture. A nasty bite from another animal can also snap her delicate tail. If you let Tabby roam outside, check her tail frequently for signs of trauma.


The treatment for a dead tail depends on the severity of the damage. Your veterinarian will take an X-ray to determine where the break is -- if there is one -- and then will put together a treatment plan. Some injuries heal all on their own; with these you just need to make sure Tabby lies low and doesn’t roughhouse with the other kitties for a few weeks.

Because the tail lies so closely to your pal’s anus and urethra, they share some of the same nerve endings. If Tabby’s tail is severely damaged, she might develop problems going to the bathroom or lose her control all together. In these severe cases, your veterinarian could have to amputate all or part of her tail.

Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.

the nest