Pet Tales on Pet's Tails

                                                     Pet Tales
                                                             by Barry B. Burtis D.V.M. 
Pet Tales on Pet's Tails

Let's talk about pet's tails. They have to be one of the most interesting parts of a pet's anatomy. Do you think people may suffer a bit of tail envy, occasionally?  We certainly seem fascinated by tails. Puppy dog tails, a nursery rhyme tells us, are used to make little boys. Dustin Hoffman stars in a movie - Wag the Dog - that refers to them. Lisa Loeb titles a recent musical album Tails. I couldn't count the number of books that include the word tails in the title. I think people often are influenced in their choice of a pet by the kind of tail it has.

They do come in an endless variety of shapes, sizes and styles. Just think about the different kinds of tail that a dog may come with. A flagpole tail is long and carried erect, directly upwards like that of a Beagle. The description "bee sting tail" is used in connection with the Pointer, indicating a strong, straight tail which tapers to a point. The Scottish terrier has a typical carrot shaped tail, namely in the shape of this well known vegetable. Many of the retriever breeds have what is called an otter tail. It is strong, thick at the base and tapering towards the tip. It is covered in dense, thick coat and is flat on the underside, designed especially to act as a rudder when the dog is swimming. The Labrador retriever has such a tail.

Some tails are named after weapons or tools. Basset hounds and German shepherds are examples of breeds that have sabre tails. They may be carried upwards or downwards depending on the breed but they have a gentle or slight curve. Dandie Dinmont terriers and English Setters have a similar but more exaggerated curve. These we call scimitar tails. A sickle tail is carried over the back, loosely like a semi-circle, but not lying flat against the back. A Siberian husky has this kind of tail.

Some dogs, like English bulldogs and French bulldogs are born without tails. Other breeds like Old English sheepdogs or the Pembroke Welsh corgi usually have the tail docked close to its connection with the body. They are called bobbed tails. Many breeds have tails that are docked or have had a portion removed. This is done surgically usually when they are only 4 or 5 days old. It is a practice that continues to have its value debated amongst dog breeders. Boxers, Doberman pinschers, poodles and many terriers usually have docked tails.

Most cats have magnificent tails. They seem to reflect, often, a cat's personality. Cats communicate with their tails. Sometimes you are sure you can tell what a cat is thinking, just by watching its tail.  A tail slowly, silently waving side to side tells you the cat is concentrating on something - focusing its mind, soaking up some pleasure or planning some action. If the timing of the tail as a metronome becomes faster, beware. Something is seen as an irritant, other body parts - teeth or nails - may be used in response. A tail flung up over the back, triumphantly touching the head indicates a happy cat. It is comfortable in its surroundings, usually vigorously moving about. A tail tucked between its legs or curled around its body, with the cat in a crouching, hunched up position, means the opposite.

Cats, like dogs, sometimes come in tailless models. Manx cats originated in the Isle of Man (located in the Irish Sea off the coast of England). Japanese bobbed-tailed cats, like Manx cats, were the result of genetic mutations. Both breeds probably benefited from the fact that their island homelands allowed them a restrictive environment and therefore a better chance to survive. It is generally thought that the lack of a tail might hinder balance, hunting and mating skills in the wild. Today, most street cats of Japan sport bobbed tails.

This tale on tails has come to an end. But they really are a fascinating end on our pets. Keep patting your pat on its head, but show some admiration for its tail.