April 06, 2016 Surgery

Tail Amputations: Are They Really Necessary?

Tail Amputations: Are They Really Necessary?

Two dogs stand on the sidewalk with their tails pointed upEvery few months I am invited by my colleague, Dr. Francis Adams of New York University’s Langone Medical Center, to be a guest on his radio program, Dr. Radio, a SirusXM channel focusing on health. I get to be the veterinarian on call and answer listener’s questions. During the March 1 show, a listener asked about the need for a tail amputation in her dog because of a tail mass. Her question was a good one and I have expanded on my answer to her in this blog.

Tail Injuries

Tails frequently get caught in a door as it slams shut behind the escaping dog or cat. Because the tail lacks heavy muscles which would buffer the force of the slamming door, skin, bones and blood vessels are easily damaged. One common injury is a “degloving” injury where the tip of the tail gets scraped off exposing the underlying bone. Another often invisible injury disrupts the blood supply at the level of the door impact. Lack of blood flow to the tail beyond the location of the injury may necessitate tail amputation to prevent gangrene. A similar problem occurs in very waggy dogs, with long, whip-like tails. The constant banging of the tail on a hard surface may damage blood flow and necessitate amputation.

Tail Masses

While tail masses are not an everyday patient problem in veterinary medicine, all veterinarians see a few every year. These masses are often cysts, warts, infected sebaceous glands or benign tumors. Malignant tail tumors can be any tumor typically found on the skin: mast cell tumors or the malignant form of hair follicle tumors, sebaceous tumors, and soft tissue sarcoma.

Obviously, malignant tumors require removal, but sometimes benign tail masses need to be removed because they bleed. When there is concurrent bleeding and wagging, it can be quite a mess.

A Concerned Caller

The caller on Dr. Radio was concerned because her veterinarian and a board certified veterinary surgeon recommended tail amputation to remove a bleeding mass. Understandably, she considered her dog’s tail an important physical and emotional part of his body. In her mind, the tail amputation was much too radical a procedure for such a small mass. While I completely sympathize with her concerns, I know how difficult tail surgeries can be. Removal of too little tail tissue risks recurrence of the mass; removal of too much skin around the mass risks compromising the blood supply to the tail. Hence, tail amputation avoids both these undesirable surgical outcomes. Although the caller asked about her dog, the same is true in cats as well.

Based on my experience, dogs and cats are ok with tail amputation, their humans, not so much.  I can’t say the owner was happy with my answer. I think she was secretly hoping I would suggest an alternative to tail amputation. She was however relieved that the veterinarians caring for her dog had made an appropriate recommendation in the best interest of her dog’s health.

Tags: amcny, amputation, animals, ann hohenhaus, cancer, dogs, dr. radio, mass, medicine, pets, tails, tumor, veterinary,

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