Swollen Toes (Paw Pads) in Cats

Summary

Swollen toes (paw pads) are rare in cats, but may be a symptom of significant underlying disease, including immune dysfunction, allergies, tumors, traumatic injury, or infection. A thorough examination by a veterinarian is required to identify the underlying issue. If your cat is otherwise fine but develops swollen toes, seek non-urgent veterinary care. Cats with swollen toes may excessively lick their paws, have difficulty walking, or vocalize when the paws are touched or handled. They may also develop open sores that bleed or ooze fluid. Some of the conditions that cause swollen toes may also cause other symptoms like fever, appetite loss, and lethargy. In addition to physical examination, diagnosis of the underlying condition may require biopsy, blood work, and diagnostic imaging. Treatment depends on the underlying cause of the swelling, but may include anti-inflammatories and analgesics (painkillers).

Guidelines

Swelling of the toes is an uncommon finding in cats. If swelling of the toes is noticed with no other symptoms, seek non-urgent veterinary care. Insect bites or stings can cause swelling, including in the toe pads, as well as serious allergic reactions. If you notice your cat is lethargic, having difficulty breathing, salivating excessively, vomiting, or has a blue tinge to the gums or tongue, take your pet to an emergency veterinary hospital immediately. Your pet may be suffering from anaphylaxis.

Possible Causes

Swollen toes can be indicators of several different conditions, including:

Plasma cell pododermatitis: a condition where immune cells accumulate in the tissue

• Feline eosinophilic granuloma complex: an allergic condition producing nodules of immune cells

• Atopic dermatitis: a generalized allergic response that produces inflammation of the skin

• Endocrine disease like diabetes mellitus, hyperthyroidism or hyperadrenocorticism 

• Tumors

• Injury, including penetrating foreign bodies like grass awns or slivers 

• Bacterial or fungal infections of the skin or nail

• Parasitic infections of the skin

Risk Factors

Toe swelling can range from mild and barely noticeable to severe swelling that can impact mobility. One or more limbs may be affected. The severity of swelling and number of limbs affected do not necessarily indicate the severity of the underlying condition, so a thorough examination by a veterinarian is required.

Testing and Diagnosis

A cat presenting with swollen paw pads usually requires some or all of the following diagnostics to determine the best course of action:

• Physical examination: The veterinarian will focus on the feet and limbs, assessing pain and discomfort.

• Blood work: The levels of immune cells in the blood may indicate whether the swelling is non-infectious or infectious in nature. Blood tests are also useful for identifying systemic underlying problems.

• Cytology: A needle is used to sample small numbers of cells from the paw pad for microscopic analysis. 

• Biopsy: A tissue section from the paw pad is taken and submitted for evaluation.

• Allergy testing: May include intradermal testing, food trials or environmental management.

• Endocrine testing: To rule out endocrine disease which may cause swelling.

• Diagnostic imaging: X-rays or ultrasound may be used to examine the feet for abnormalities, such as tumors or abscesses. 

Treatment is dependent on the diagnosis. In some cases, your veterinarian may recommend analgesics and/or anti-inflammatories to make the cat more comfortable while diagnosis or treatment is in process.

Similar Symptoms

Toe swelling may be confused for enlargement of the feet, as seen in acromegaly.

Associated Symptoms

Cats with swollen toes may also experience the following:

• Difficulty walking

• Unwillingness to move

• Lameness

• Ulceration of the skin

• Fluid oozing from open sores or ulcers

• Excessive licking or rubbing of the affected feet

• Vocalizing or biting when the paws are touched

Synonyms

Paw pad swelling, paw swelling, pillow foot

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