How To Treat A Cat With A Swollen Paw
There are many different reasons why a cat may develop a swollen paw. It may even be difficult to tell at first that one paw is bigger than the others because of their fur. Cats with long hair will make identifying a swollen paw much harder. The way to treat the swollen paw will depend on the underlying cause.
What can cause a swollen paw in a cat?
- Bacterial infection
- Fungal infection
- Foreign body
- Something cut off circulation to the paw.
- Autoimmune disorder (Pillow Paw)
- Broken bone
- Dislocated joint
- Soft tissue injury
The treatment for each of these problems will be different. Schedule an appointment with your vet if you do not know what to do. Your vet will do diagnostic tests to determine what is causing your cat’s paw to swell up.
Based off of the exam of your cat, your vet may recommend one or multiple of the following tests:
- Treat, wait, and see
An x-ray can rule out broken bones, dislocated joints, and sometimes foreign objects. It can also be a good screening tool for certain types of cancers and bone infections.
Cytology refers to the study of cells. Taking a cytology sample means your vet is going to use either a small needle or a glass slide to get a few cells from the swollen paw. They can then look at these cells under the microscope. This will help them determine if your cat has an infection causing the swelling.
Could it be cancer? A biopsy is usually needed to determine if your cats swollen paw is from cancer.
Biopsies are usually done when all the other diagnostics do not reveal anything about what is causing your cat’s paw to be swollen. They are also usually reserved for after initial treatments do not work.
Blood work will often be done to rule out other causes of a recurrent infection in your cat, such as diabetes or kidney disease. Some cats that suffer from these systemic diseases can get infections that are difficult to heal, including in their paw.
Other Causes Of Swollen Paw Pads
Cats who love the outdoors are at a higher risk of swollen paws or paw pads. That is because of the number of risks cats face outside. Their natural instinct is to hunt, climb and claw at things. Some of these ‘things’ can cause them harm. This does not mean that indoor cats will never have this problem.
You might have noticed that your cat is chewing on their paw or their nails. This is natural as cats groom themselves, their paws and even their nails. Sometimes overgrown nails can puncture the soft pads of their paw. This can cause infection, pain and a swollen paw pad. Overgrown nails are the leading cause of swollen paws in cats. The solution is simply, trimming your cats nails. You can either do this yourself or your vet will do it at your cats checkup. Just be sure you do not cut too much of their nail as it can cause pain and additional problems.
Paw Tissue Trauma
Outdoor cats will see this type of paw trauma more than indoor cats simply because outdoor cats can step on something sharp, or injure their paws much easier. In most cases you will never know your cat has a punctured paw because they will heal on their own. If a paw become infected then you will need to see your local vet to get medications to heal the infection.
Insect Bites or Stings
Your cat may have been stung or bitten by any number of insects which can cause for a swollen paw. Spiders, ants (especially fire ants), and scorpions are common causes for swelling and pain of your cats paw. If you live in an area that has ‘dangerous’ insects (scorpions, brown recluse spiders) and you believe your cats swollen paw is the result of a sting or bit, then you will need to contact your local vet to have them examine the paw. These types of bites and stings can cause other health issues. A sign that your cat was probably bitten by one of these insects, they get sick, vomit, fever, lethargic. They will need immediate care at your local veterinary clinic or animal hospital.
This type of sting is common with outdoor cats as they can either step on a bee or swat at a bee. The sting of a bee will cause your cat’s paw to swell and should only be temporary. If the swelling does no go down within 24-hours you may need to contact your vet.
Even without a 100% guarantee on the cause of your cat’s swollen paw, many vets will start treatment with a combination of antibiotics and anti-inflammatories. This is to help decrease the swelling, address the pain, and treat the most common causes of a swollen paw, a bacterial infection.
Treatment for a swollen paws
Taking your cat to the vet is the best way to get the correct treatment. However, if you are not able to get an appointment within a day or two, you can try to soak the paw in an Epsom salt bath. Good luck with this though! If your cat is amenable to it, great! But, for most cats, they probably will not sit still for very long.
Your vet may prescribe antibiotics or antifungal medications if they determine your cat has an infection in their paw. This will be something you give your cat by mouth. Putting topical ointments on a cat’s paw usually will not be successful, as they will groom it off. It’s also not safe, because if they do lick it off it could make them sick.
Soft Tissue Injury
Your vet will prescribe you a pain medication and anti-inflammatory if the cause is a soft tissue injury. You will also need to try to limit your cat’s activity for a few days to a week. If your cat loves to go outside they will need to stay indoors for a few days, or be kept in a small room until their paw heals.
Broken or Dislocated Bone
With a broken or dislocated bone, your vet will either place a splint on your cat’s foot or discuss surgical options with you. Maintaining a splint on a cat’s paw can be a very difficult thing to do. You will likely need to take your cat in to the vet a few times a week for the first couple of weeks to have bandage changes and make sure the splint is staying in place appropriately.
There is an auto-immune disease called feline plasmacytic pododermatitis. This disease is often referred to as “Pillow Paw”. They have an overproduction of a type of immune cell, called the plasma cell, which attacks their paw pads. It can cause their paw pads to puff out and look “pillow-y”, hence the name. To treat this, your vet will give you a prescription for steroids or other medications to decrease the immune response in your cat.
If you ever have doubts about your cats swollen paw pad, call your local veterinary and schedule an appointment with them. They will need to examine your cats paw to have a better idea how to treat it.
Leslie Brooks graduated from the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine in 2012. After graduation she moved to Indianapolis to do an intensive one-year internship at a specialty practice and then began working as a small animal general practitioner. She ran her own house call practice for three years, visiting pets in people’s homes. Currently, she works part time in clinical practice and volunteering her free time to serve pets of the homeless. Read more about us here.