Swollen Paw in Cats – Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

cat paw

The paw takes a lot of beating and is vulnerable to injury. There are a number of causes of swelling in paws, including foreign object lodged in the paw, declawing complications, ingrown claw, abscess, plasma cell pododermatitis, burns, cuts and abrasions, insect bite or sting, allergies (causing edema, which is a build-up of fluid.

What are the causes of a swollen paw in cats? 

Foreign object – Broken glass, splinters, and thorns can become lodge anywhere in the foot, particularly the paw pad which comes into contact with the ground. This is more common in outdoor cats.

Removal of the object and cleaning the affected area is necessary. Keep a close eye on signs of inflammation and infection. Depending on the object (such as a rusty nail), your cat may be put on a course of antibiotics.

Declawing complications – Some cats may have swelling after being declawed, if it persists and/or you notice any discharge, see your veterinarian immediately.

Swelling can happen in all surgeries, but if it persists or if you notice signs of infection such as inflamed areas, loss of appetite, fever, see your veterinarian.

Ingrown claw – This is more common in older cats. The claw grows so long it curls into the paw pad, causing pain, swelling, and possible infection.

The claw will be carefully trimmed back and antiseptic applied to the affected area. Antibiotics and pain medications may be required in some cases. This problem will come back if claws aren’t kept regularly trimmed. I don’t know why, but some cats are more prone to this than others. I had an old Burmese who was stiff and sore, she had to have her claws trimmed every 2-3 weeks or they would begin to dig into the paw pad.

Abscess – The paws are less likely to be affected by abscesses than other areas of the body, but they can affect the feet. Symptoms include pain, tenderness, fever, loss of appetite. If the abscess hasn’t burst, it will be a firm, round lump which feels warm to the touch. If it has burst, you will notice a foul-smelling discharge coming from the wound.

Treatment for an abscess is lancing the wound (if necessary), cleaning it out and then a course of antibiotics.

Plasma cell pododermatitis – Also known as “pillow feet”, this is a rare autoimmune disease in cats characterised by swollen and painful footpads which feel spongy to the touch. The exact cause isn’t understood, but what is known is that infiltration of plasma cells occurs.

Treatment may include antibiotics, steroids, and immunosuppressive drugs. In some cases, the condition spontaneously resolves.

Burns – Cats can become burned on the paw pads by jumping onto a hot stove or heater, or walking on hot roads. Burns are not only extremely painful but also quite likely to become infected. First degree burns are where the footpad is reddened, second-degree burns are where there is blistering, third-degree burns go through the full thickness of the skin.

First and second-degree burns should be rinsed with cold water for 20 minutes, third-degree burns should be covered with a wet face cloth. Second and third-degree burns are particularly dangerous and require urgent veterinary attention. Burns will be treated with antiseptic and a course of antibiotics may be prescribed, the affected area will be bandaged. If the damage is severe, painkillers may be given to your cat.

Cuts and abrasions – Cuts occur from walking on sharp objects such as broken glass. Cats who have been hit by a car often have extensive abrasions on the paw pads, along with other injuries.

Minor cuts and abrasions will be cleaned with antiseptic and possibly bandaged. More severe cuts and abrasions may require stitching.

Insect bite or sting – Cats are more likely to be bitten or stung on the feet whereas dogs are more likely to receive bites and stings to the face. Bee stings, in particular, can cause swelling of the feet.

These are generally self-limiting, and may require antiseptic and Benadryl to reduce swelling.

Paracetamol poisoning – A common side effect of paracetamol (Tylenol/Panadol) is swelling of the feet. This is due to edema, or fluid buildup.

Treatment includes inducing vomiting and/or activated charcoal and administration of medications to reduce the toxic effects on the liver, along with supportive care such as oxygen and IV therapy.

What other symptoms may be present:

Symptoms may vary on the cause but may include:

  • Reluctance to bear weight on the affected foot.
  • Fever.
  • Discharge from the affected area.
  • Loss of appetite.

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