When the vet delivers the news that kitty’s tail must be amputated, you wonder how it will affect him. He’ll have to adjust his balance, but you may be concerned that he’ll feel phantom pains as well, and, if so, what can be done about it.
Yes, They Do
Phantom limb pain is a trick of the brain, a neuropathic condition that makes the body feel burning and tingling where there’s no longer a limb to feel. Kitty parents have witnessed their felines acting as if they were experiencing phantom tail pain, and authoritative sources such as “Withrow and MacEwen’s Small Animal Clinic Oncology” confirm that animals do experience phantom pain.
How Can You Tell?
Unfortunately, your cat can’t tell you that he has the odd sensation of feeling pain where his tail used to be, so it’s hard to be sure whether his actions indicate phantom pain or an actual complication with the remaining part of his tail. Cats who are experiencing phantom tail pain gnaw, compulsively lick or otherwise self-mutilate at the location of the amputation. If your cat is suffering from phantom pain, he may also be more sensitive to pain in general. Your vet should be consulted to help determine what is causing your cat discomfort so that a treatment can be prescribed.
If your cat experienced pain in his tail before surgery, he’s more liable to develop phantom pain afterwards. Before a surgical amputation, talk to your kitty’s vet. It’s always best to consult an experienced veterinarian regarding the health and treatment of your cat. She will likely advise treating your cat with painkillers before, during and after surgery as a preventative measure. According to the 2009 book “Recognition and Alleviation of Pain in Laboratory Animals,” this practice can significantly reduce the chances of developing phantom pain. Every case is different, so there’s no surefire prevention or treatment that works every time for phantom tail pain. If your cat does experience phantom pain from his missing tail, painkillers are the conventional treatment your vet will administer.
The prognosis for a kitty with phantom tail pain isn’t clear-cut. “Pain Management in Small Animals,” published in 2006, says that phantom pain can gradually diminish over time, but doesn’t say that it always fades or that it goes away entirely. You can offer some help if your cat experiences phantom pain. The book “Animal Physiotherapy: Assessment, Treatment and Rehabilitation of Animals” notes that aerobic activity causes the body to produce natural painkillers, so getting your kitty’s mind off his phantom pain with a rousing game of “chase the feather” could keep the pain away for a while afterward. Feeding him a favorite treat may also distract him from the unpleasant sensation. Keep in mind that every cat is different, so not all things work the same for all them. You may have to do some testing on your own to find what alleviates or prevents phantom tail pain for your cat.