Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:
Something happened to my cat. A few weeks ago I had to pull his tail extremely hard because he had hold of my daughter’s pet bird. He had a sore of some type on the base of his tail. I noticed it just a few days ago when he could not climb the bed. I picked him up and he could not move his legs at all. The next couple of days went by, and he just pooed and peed all over himself, unable to move at all. We could not afford a vet, so we had to put him down. I’m really upset about this and would like to know why it happened. Did he become paralyzed because he was shot with a BB gun (maybe this is what caused the sore on his tail) or because I pulled his tail?
Siouxsie: Before we even start, let me say that we know some of our readers will get very angry about the circumstances regarding this cat’s injury and death. We do not tolerate abusive or hurtful comments toward the people who write us, and any such responses toward the writer of this letter will be immediately deleted.
Thomas: Please take a deep breath before responding to this post, and have some compassion. Not everybody has the resources to do what may have been best in a situation like this, and not everybody knows everything about cats. That doesn’t mean they’re bad people or shouldn’t be graced with the presence of a cat in their lives. People who write to us are genuinely concerned and saddened, and it’s unhelpful–to say the least–to cause them more pain.
Dahlia: That being said, we’ll talk about what we think might have happened.
Siouxsie: It’s hard to say what might have caused the sore on your cat’s tail, Tonya, particularly since you’re not sure if it was there before or after the tail-pulling incident.
Thomas: It is possible for a cat to become paralyzed because of tail pulling. A common injury of this type happens when a cat’s tail gets run over by a car, which pulls apart the sacral and/or caudal vertebrae (here’s a diagram of a cat’s skeleton so you can see where those vertebrae are) and stretches the nerves that go to the bladder, rectum, and tail.
Dahlia: Typically an injury like this causes paralysis of the tail. A paralyzed tail hangs down loosely, like a rope. Also, because the bladder and rectum nerves are paralyzed, the cat becomes incontinent and urinates and defecates on itself. But generally speaking, pulling of the tail won’t result in paralysis of the rear legs.
Siouxsie: Injuries higher up the spinal cord, or fractures of the hip that damage other nerves, however, can cause rear-leg paralysis–or the appearance of rear-leg paralysis. If your cat went outside, it’s possible that he could have been hit by a car and injured in the lower back or hips. In his shock, he may have been able to get himself back home, but once he got to a safe place the injuries may have gotten the best of him. The sore on the base of his tail may have been a “road rash” from a car accident.
Thomas: A blood clot in the junction of the arteries that go to the legs can also cause paralysis. Usually with an arterial blood clot, the rear legs are stiff and cold. The blood clot also causes a lot of pain, and a cat with a blood clot blocking the arteries to the legs will be very agitated because of that pain. Cats that get blood clots in their arteries typically have a disease called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.
Dahlia: So in the end, Tonya, it is possible that pulling your cat’s tail resulted in his paralysis. But frankly, you’d have to pull pretty darn hard to cause an injury like that!
Siouxsie: Unless the symptoms of paralysis or weakness started right after you pulled his tail, it’s quite possible that you didn’t hurt him when you did that. If he went outside between the time you pulled his tail and the time he was paralyzed, he could have gotten hit by a car or attacked by a dog.
Thomas: And if his back legs were cold and stiff, he may have had a blood clot in his arteries.
Dahlia: We do strongly recommend against pulling the tail, by the way, because of the potential for serious injuries. Not only that, but it’s quite humiliating for us cats to be yanked by the “auxiliary carrying handle,” as Mama sometimes calls it.
Siouxsie: We hope you don’t keep beating yourself up over this, though. As we said to our other readers, not everybody knows everything about cats, and not everybody has the money or resources–or the credit necessary for emergency vet care.
Thomas: Not only that, but it’s possible that your tail-pulling didn’t have anything to do with your cat’s paralysis.
Dahlia: We’re sure that this whole episode was very traumatic for you and your daughter as well as for your cat. It’s especially hard to put down a beloved animal when you can’t afford to take him to the vet. We have great sympathy for all of you, and we know that the next time you invite a cat into your family, there won’t be any tail-pulling allowed.