Your kitty's swollen paw may result from several different causes, which makes determining the best treatment route more difficult. Although most of the reasons for the swelling are treatable, it's often hard to spot a swollen paw in a cat, since they tend to hide out when they're wounded.
If you catch your cat in the act of limping or favoring one paw over another, though, this is your cue to examine it more closely for signs of a problem, like swelling or discharge.
Why Do Cats Have Swollen Paws?
A swollen paw is just a symptom of an underlying problem. Once you figure out what's causing the swelling, you can begin the proper treatment. There are a few common reasons for swelling in your cat's paw.
Even though cats groom themselves meticulously, sometimes their claws become overgrown and puncture the soft tissue of the foot. This may cause a local infection that can be very painful, but which is usually easy to treat. Overgrown toenails are the leading cause of swollen feet in cats.
Obviously, these are more prevalent in outdoor cats, but indoor cats aren't immune to the occasional bee sting. Although a bee sting can produce swelling very quickly, it usually isn't too painful. (Cats are generally more likely than dogs to be stung on their paws from batting at bugs.)
A bee sting involves an allergic reaction, and if it doesn't get infected, the swelling should go down in 24 hours or less.
Other Stings or Bites
Stings or bites from arachnids, like spiders and scorpions, can produce painful, nasty swelling with tissue necrosis or tissue death. For example, a bite by a brown recluse spider usually produces an open wound that heals slowly and may lead to gangrene in the paw. If the venom enters the bloodstream, possible complications may kill your cat.
Punctures and Other Tissue Trauma
If your cat steps on something sharp or pointy, it can puncture the skin and produce a wound that may become infected. These swellings are often painful, depending on the stage the infection is in.
Pododermatitis is another term for skin inflammation. This condition is caused by an infection resulting from bacteria, fungi, or parasites and usually affects a cat's paws, causing swelling, pain, fluid retention, redness, or itching. A vet must diagnose pododermatitis via biopsy.
If your cat breaks a bone in its foot, this may cause painful swelling. Take your pet to the vet immediately if you're not sure.
Call your veterinarian as soon as you notice any swelling on your cat's paw or elsewhere.
Until your cat has been examined by your vet, don't attempt to give it any medications. Cats are very sensitive to painkillers like aspirin, and giving your cat acetaminophen, such as Tylenol, can be fatal. Never give over-the-counter or unused portions of prescriptions to your pet.
Your veterinarian can administer or recommend medications to help reduce the swelling and stop the allergic reaction if it's the result of a bee sting or other allergen. Some infections may require a course of antibiotics or application of antibiotic ointment; if an abscess has formed, it may need to be lanced and drained.
If your vet suspects a broken bone, she'll X-ray your cat's foot to confirm. Depending on the location of the break, the vet may set the bone in a splint.
In the event that your cat is treated for wounds on the bottom of its feet, you may want to ask your vet about switching the cat's litter until the wounds heal to help prevent reinfection of the swollen area.
You may need to help with the grooming process if your cat seems to repeatedly suffer from ingrown or overgrown toenails. Keep your kitty's claws neatly trimmed to reduce most overgrown-nail issues.
Some older cats or cats with medical conditions, such as arthritis, that make them less mobile may not be inclined to do the necessary clawing that keeps their nails in shape. If your cat is a senior and you don't want to attempt to trim its claws yourself (which is totally understandable), take it to a reputable groomer.
To prevent injuries to your cat's footpads, try to keep it away from any sharp objects or toys (Legos are a particular bane for kitty feet) or rough surfaces where it may injure itself.
Keep the area where your cat spends most of its time free of anything that you think could potentially cause an injury.
Regularly inspect your outdoor cat's paws for signs of burrs, stings, bites, or cuts. Treating problems early may help prevent the types of issues that lead to inflammation.