Cat Paw Problems

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Cats use their paws to jump, scratch, defend themselves and catch prey. So when a paw suffers, a cat's life can be thrown well out of balance. Call your vet if you see any signs of injury, inflammation or infection on your cat's paws.

Irritated Paws and Pododermatitis

Red, irritated paws often stem from long hair between a cat's toes, which can trap moisture, litter granules or debris. This can cause a condition known as pododermatitis, a skin irritation and inflammation of the paws.

Pododermatitis typically occurs on only one paw. Signs of pododermatitis on more than one paw could signal a systemic disorder, such as plasma cell pododermatitis or pemphigus foliaceus. Signs of pododermatitis include:

  • Red, swollen or thickened paws
  • Painful itchy paws
  • Fluid buildup on paws
  • Inflamed tissue around the nail
  • Loss of skin
  • Discharge 

Treatment in most cases of pododermatitis is simple and often includes foot soaks, hot packing, bandaging and a hypoallergenic diet until the infection clears.

Plasma Cell Pododermatitis

Plasma cell pododermatitis occurs when plasma cells that normally secrete antibodies to fight infections infiltrate the paw, causing inflammation. Because this is an autoimmune issue, allergic reactions to food, parasites or other allergens may be the trigger.

Symptoms include paw pads that are:

  • Swollen 
  • Soft
  • Scaly
  • Ulcerated
  • Quick to bleed

Plasma cell pododermatitis sometimes subsides on its own. However, never take that risk. If treatment is required, your vet will often prescribe antibiotics and painkillers.

Pemphigus Foliaceous

Pemphigus foliaceous is a common autoimmune skin disease in dogs and cats in which antibodies wear down the skin's ability to stay attached. It's usually an idiopathic condition, meaning that its cause unknown, but can stem from chronic inflammation or certain drugs.

Hyperkeratosis, or a thickening of the paw pads, is common and may be the only visible symptom. Pustules may be visible, but are hard to detect on paws, as these pustules are delicate and rupture easily.

Diagnosis and Treatment

The only way to diagnose pemphigus foliaceous is through a biopsy. Treatment is usually symptomatic -- shampoos that help dry and remove lesions, antibiotics for infections and immunosuppressive drugs to keep antibodies from attacking.

Tips for Healthy Paws

The best medicine for cat paw problems is prevention. You may not be able to keep cats from walking on something that cuts a paw and causes an infection or swelling, but you can lower the odds of your cat contracting a painful ailment by:

  • Keeping her paws clean and dry. Inspect her paws regularly and clear away any bits of grit or dirt. 
  • Providing scratching posts. Cats need to scratch for paw and nail health. Make sure they have plenty of outlets for their scratching needs.
  • Keeping paws neat and trim. Keep the hair and nails on paws trimmed and clean. Infections start when dirt and moisture settle in.
  • Controlling their environs. Cat paws are sensitive to extreme heat and cold. Don't let your cat on extreme surfaces that can irritate her paws and cause problems.
  • Not declawing. It's painful for cats and recovery could lead to infection.

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