A cat uses their tail for just about everything. It helps them with their balance and agility and is one of the ways they communicate. It’s also one of the most prominent features of a cat, with some breeds boasting long, thin tails and others bushy, soft tails. Regardless of the breed, all tails are flexible and seem as though they’re made of rubber, but cats’ tails are actually made up of bones.
Keep reading to learn more about what is inside of your cat’s tail, how many bones they have, and how cats without a tail manage.
What’s Inside a Cat’s Tail?
Just like every other limb in your cat’s body, their tail consists of bones that are enclosed by muscles. The tail also contains tendons, ligaments, blood vessels, and nerves. These different tissues are what enable your cat to move their tail with precision and feel the world around them.
With the tail being part of the spinal column, you may wonder whether the spinal cord is also inside the tail. Thankfully for cats without tails, the spinal cord does not extend to the tip of the tail, but rather ends at the area of the fifth lumbar vertebra. Therefore, if damage occurs to the cat’s tail, the cat won’t automatically become paralyzed, though nerve damage may still occur.
How Many Bones Does a Cat’s Tail Have?
The number of bones in a cat’s tail can differ from breed to breed, but there are usually around 18–23 vertebrae in a cat’s tail, which makes up about 10% of all the bones in their body. All cats with tails will have the largest bones at the base of the tail and the smallest bones at the tip, where the tail is the thinnest.
However, some cats, such as those belonging to the Manx breed, don’t have tails due to a genetic mutation. These cats often end up with spine and nerve problems. When two cats with this mutation are bred together, it can affect the litter of kittens so severely that some can be born dead. Due to the problems that are so commonly associated with tailless cats, it is irresponsible for breeders to breed them.
Can Cats Control Their Tails?
Although a cat’s tail can look like a separate feature on their body, it’s actually the last section of the vertebra. Thanks to all the tendons, ligaments, muscles, and nerves, cats do have conscious control over their tails, but they also move involuntarily when they sleep. Due to the many nerves in the tail, you’re able to gauge how a cat is feeling, whether angry, excited, or relaxed, by the way they’re moving their tails.
Cats often thrash their tails when they’re irritated or angry, twitch their tails when they’re playing or on the hunt, swish their tails when focused, and quiver their tails when they’re excited. Cats also curl their tails around people and the tails of other cats to interact with them. There are many other ways that cats express themselves with their tails; you simply need to be aware of what they’re trying to tell you.
Interestingly, cats with stubs from amputations or birth defects will still move whatever amount of tail they have as they would if they had a full tail. However, the movements will look very different from that of a cat with a normal tail.
Can a Cat’s Tail Break?
Unfortunately, tail injuries in cats are pretty common, especially if they’re outdoor cats that love to climb trees and interact with other cats and pets around the neighborhood.
A common injury to cats is bite wounds because the tail is an easy part of the body for an aggressive dog or wild animal to latch onto as the cat turns to run away. Fractures are also common due to trauma from being hit by a car, falling from a height, or getting their tail stuck or slammed into something, like a door.
Sometimes these injuries or traumas can be so severe that the bones in the tail can break, just like any of the other bones in the cat’s body. The bones near and at the tip of the tail are the most vulnerable due to their small size. A broken tail is going to be painful for the cat, and veterinary care will be required to help manage the pain. An assessment of the damage will need to be done through X-rays and a physical examination and maybe X-rays.
In some cases, especially those when the injuries have caused the tail to lose feeling, amputation might be required to prevent further damage. In other cases, a broken bone (especially those closer to the tip of the tail) can heal well on its own, and your cat may end up with nothing more than a kink in their tail.
The good news is that like some breeds that are born without tails, a cat that has undergone amputation can go on to live a relatively normal life. Their normal way of communicating and balancing will be impacted, but cats tend to adapt well.
Is It Safe to Pull a Cat’s Tail?
A pet and a child should never be left unsupervised. Not only can the cat potentially scratch or bite the child if provoked, but the child may also injure the cat if they haven’t been taught how to handle them properly. Children need to be taught to interact with all pets in a gentle, kind, and calm manner.
Children who are eager to play with their kitty may not realize that pulling the cat’s tail can injure them. When the tail is pulled hard, the nerves can tear, and the damage can cause the cat to lose control over urination and defecation and prevent them from being able to lift their tail. It is possible that the nerve function may come back over time, but this isn’t always the case.
Although a cat’s tail is flexible, it contains around 10% of the total bones in a cat’s body. It also contains muscles, nerves, blood vessels, ligaments, and tendons. Cats use their tails for just about everything, from balancing to displaying their emotions.
Some cats are born without tails due to a genetic mutation and often suffer from spine and nerve problems. However, cats that lose their tails due to trauma often adapt quite well and can lead a relatively normal life.
Featured Image Credit: Vadim Tashbaev, Pixabay