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5 Common Cat Paw Problems & What to Do (Vet Answer)

cat sleeping on blanket with paws over face

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Dr. Sharon Butzke Photo

Written by

Dr. Sharon Butzke

DVM (Vet)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Our feline friends’ paws are different from our feet in a few important ways:

  • Cats walk on their toes rather than the soles of their feet
  • They have sharp, curved claws which are good for climbing, self-defense, and catching prey
  • Their front claws normally sit in a retracted position, but can be extended as needed
  • Most cats have five digits on their front paws and four on their hind paws (unless they are polydactyl1)

In this article, we will discuss some of the common problems that affect cats’ paws, how they are treated, and what you can do to help keep your kitty’s paws healthy.

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The 5 Common Cat Paw Problems

1. Excessively Long or Ingrown Claws

cat's paws with long and sharp claws on cat fabric sofa
Image Credit: RJ22, Shutterstock

Let’s start with some interesting facts about cats’ claws:

  • Just like our nails, cats’ claws are always growing.
  • Claws receive some wear through normal activities (e.g., walking), but the front claws do not typically get as worn down as much as the hind claws.
  • The natural shape of cats’ claws means they can curl and grow into the foot pads if they become too long.

Claws that are too long may get stuck in soft materials (e.g., carpet), which can lead to an injured toe(s). If they become ingrown, this is painful and may cause infection.

What To Do

If you notice that your cats’ claws have become too long, you can simply trim them at home. If you do not feel comfortable doing this yourself, a local groomer or veterinary clinic will be able to help.

If you suspect that one or more of your cat’s claws have grown into their foot pad(s), please seek veterinary attention right away. Your kitty may benefit from some sedation, so that they can be comfortable while the veterinarian trims the affected nail and removes the ingrown portion. The area will be cleaned thoroughly, antibiotics may be given, and your cat will most likely receive pain medication.


2. Musculoskeletal Injuries

veterinarian bandaging the injured leg of a grey cat
Image Credit: Csaba Deli, Shutterstock

Musculoskeletal injuries are anything affecting the muscles, tendons/ligaments, or bones. These are often the result of an accident, such as:

  • Long claws getting caught on a soft material (e.g., furniture, clothing, bedding, or carpet) and leading to an injury when the cat pulls away
  • Jumping or falling from a high place, which can cause bruising, compression injuries, and/or fractures (broken bones)
  • Getting stepped on, crushed by a heavy object, or struck by a vehicle

Musculoskeletal injuries are usually fairly obvious because cats often favor the affected paw (e.g., licking, holding it up, limping). The paw may also be swollen.

What To Do

If you suspect that your cat may have injured their paw, it is a good idea to have them checked out by a veterinarian. Radiographs (x-rays) may be recommended to rule out broken bones. In some cases, a bandage, cast, or surgery may be necessary. The veterinarian will likely prescribe some pain medication, and you will need to limit your kitty’s activity until their paw is healed.


3. Wounds

poor wounds on the cat's paws
Image Credit: Phatara, Shutterstock

Outdoor cats typically have a higher chance of getting lacerations (cuts) and puncture wounds. Examples include:

  • Stepping or falling on something sharp
  • Being bitten by an animal (often another cat)

Any wound can become infected, but bite wounds are especially prone to infection due to the bacteria found in most animals’ mouths.

What To Do

If you notice a wound or puncture on your cat’s paw, it is best to seek veterinary attention.

  • The veterinarian will clean the affected area and determine whether a bandage is appropriate or if stitches are needed (this often requires sedation or general anesthesia).
  • They will likely prescribe antibiotics, pain medication, and provide instructions for caring for the wound until it is healed.
  • Many cats will need a cone to prevent them from licking at the affected area.

4. Insect Bites/Stings

adult cat with swollen paw because of the snake bite
Image Credit: Vovantarakan, Shutterstock

It is not uncommon for curious cats to chase insects, disturb hives, and accidentally step on nests. Outdoor cats may be more likely to be bitten or stung, but insects can also make their way indoors. Common culprits include bees, wasps, hornets, biting ants, and spiders. A clue that your cat may have been stung is sudden scratching or chewing at a specific part of their body.

Cats can also experience anaphylactic reactions. These are an emergency! Signs of anaphylaxis often appear within 20 minutes of the bite/sting, but you should monitor your cat closely for a few hours to be safe.

What To Do

If you suspect your cat has been bitten or stung, contact a veterinarian for advice. If there is no evidence of a serious reaction (anaphylaxis), they may recommend giving an anti-inflammatory or antihistamine medication.

Monitor the site for signs of infection such as:

  • Redness, swelling, feeling warm to the touch
  • Tenderness, reluctance to use the paw, limping
  • Discharge (particularly yellow, green, or smelly)

5. Abrasions (Scrapes) and Burns

cat with footpad injury
Image Credit: aniad, Shutterstock

Cats can scrape or burn their paws in a variety of ways. They may jump onto something hot (e.g., pavement, stove) or walk on an area that has been cleaned with a corrosive product (e.g., bleach, rust remover).

What To Do

Seek veterinary attention if you notice redness, raw-looking skin, or blisters on your cat’s feet. They may require a bandage, a topical ointment, or antibiotics. They will likely also benefit from some pain medication (kitty paws are sensitive!).

Special note: topical antibiotic ointments like Polysporin and Neosporin should NOT be used in cats because they can have serious anaphylactic reactions, which are sometimes fatal.

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Conclusion

Given cats’ curious nature, accidents are bound to happen. However, there are some things you can do to help keep your kitty’s paws in tip-top shape:

  • Trim their claws regularly (a good guideline is to check them every two weeks). Here are some great tips for a fear-free experience.
  • Consider keeping your cat indoors to decrease their risk of injury.
  • Keep cats away from hot appliances and, when using corrosive household products, ensure they do not walk on the area being treated until the product has been rinsed and wiped away.

If you have any concerns about your cat’s paws, please consult a veterinarian.


Featured Image Credit: Julie G, Unsplash

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