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Cat paws

A swollen paw in your cat is definitely cause for concern, especially if your feline friend is making it known that she is uncomfortable. Cats often choose to hide any weakness and may attempt to disguise their pain, so noticeable discomfort certainly merits a veterinary visit. If your cat will let you safely examine her at home, you may be able to perform basic first aid, but since most cats are prone to scratching and running, you’ll likely need professional help regardless. 

How to tell if your cat’s paw is swollen

Some cats have an impressive amount of fur on their feet, making it difficult to see if the paw is swollen. If you suspect your fluffy cat’s paw is swollen, you can wet both front or back paws to compare size. Although cats hide signs of illness and injury well, if you notice any of the following signs, be sure to examine your cat’s paws:

  • Limping or unable to bear weight on the affected paw
  • Favoring the injured paw
  • Licking or biting the paw
  • Heat in the paw caused by inflammation, infection or abscess
  • Foul odor from the paw
  • Drainage from the paw
  • Reduced activity
  • Reluctance to jump
  • Decreased appetite

Although your cat may not be the most cooperative, you might be able to discover the source of the swelling through an at-home exam. If your feline friend does not appreciate your nursing care, enlist the aid of your veterinarian and schedule an exam. Sedation may be required to relieve your cat’s stress and pain and allow a thorough examination of the swollen paw.

Why Do Cats Get Swollen Paws?

Several different reasons can be the underlying cause for your kitty’s swollen paw. Identifying the culprit is essential for proper treatment to ensure your cat recovers from her illness or injury. Some of the most common causes for swollen paws in cats include:

Insect bites and stings

Even if your kitty never ventures outdoors, she can still run afoul of a painful insect bite or sting. Buzzing bees, wasps, and hornets pique the curiosity of cats, while tiny, skittering insects can also tease a cat into swatting. Stings and bites can quickly swell a paw and the site may become infected, especially if your cat licks excessively because of irritation. Occasionally the stinger will remain in the paw, creating a chronic source of inflammation and discomfort until it is removed. Bites or stings from some spiders, fire ants, and scorpions can create a severe allergic reaction, which can impair your cat’s breathing, cause vomiting, or even lead to death.

Injury and trauma

It’s a challenge to keep a curious cat from investigating her surroundings, which can lead to a variety of injuries or traumatic accidents that can cause a swollen paw. If your kitty is rather adventurous and ends up with a puffy paw, she may have injured herself in one of the following ways:

  • Fractures—Broken bones can easily occur in outdoor cats, whether through a car accident or a fight with another animal. In indoor kitties, hairline fractures or broken toes can be caused by jumping off a high surface or if an owner accidentally steps on their cat. 
  • Abscesses—Cat bite abscesses are commonly seen in intact male outdoor cats who are defending their territory or seeking a mate. Cat mouths are dirty things filled with nasty bacteria, and a bite during a cat fight can push that bacteria deep into a wound, creating a pus-filled pocket.  
  • Foreign body—Foreign objects stuck in your cat’s paw can create irritation and swelling, such as a thorn, piece of broken glass, or a needle. Occasionally, a toe may become wrapped in a rubber band or a length of thread, cutting off circulation and causing swelling.  
  • Punctures and lacerations—Sharp items can easily poke or rip your cat’s paw pad or fleshy areas, especially if your feline friend gets her paw caught in something when investigating. Any sort of wound will become irritated and inflamed, and may possibly become infected, which can lead to an abscess.  
  • Sprains and strains—Rough play, leaping from high surfaces, or failing to jump and land properly can harm your cat’s paws and legs, which act as shock absorbers during jumping. Excessive force can sprain or strain your pet’s paws or legs, leading to a puffy paw. 

Nail overgrowth

Through regular clawing of scratching posts and towers, most cats can keep their nails at a respectable length. Some need additional help with routine nail trims, but are not always appreciative of this grooming activity. Without proper grooming—either by your cat or yourself—the nails can become overgrown, getting caught on objects and twisting or breaking off. Irritation, inflammation, and even infection can arise from a caught toenail, and can also occur if nails become too long, curling around and puncturing the pad.   


Pododermatitis is often referred to as “pillow foot,” since a cat’s paw will swell dramatically because of an excessive inflammatory response. A variety of underlying causes can trigger this form of paw swelling, including:

  • Bacterial, fungal, or parasitic infections
  • Immune disorders
  • Feline leukemia
  • Feline immunodeficiency virus
  • Feline infectious peritonitis
  • Allergic disease
  • Trauma
  • Cancer
  • Poor grooming
  • Environmental contaminants

How to treat your cat’s swollen paw

At the first sign of a swollen paw, visit your veterinarian. Your veterinarian is your main source of relief for your cat’s painful swollen paw. Cats do not handle many medications well, and can even die if you give her Tylenol for pain. Never give your cat any medication without discussing it with your veterinarian first.

If your cat was stung or bitten by an insect, your veterinarian may administer an antihistamine and a steroid, while abscesses will require lancing, draining, and a course of antibiotics. For a suspected fracture, your veterinarian will take X-rays to search for a break, which may simply require exercise restriction or can be severe enough to need surgery.

Ask your veterinarian about litter recommendations while your cat’s paw is healing, especially if there are wounds on her feet. Typical clay litter can be dusty or get trapped in a wound, creating even more infection. 

How to prevent future swollen paws in your cat

Routinely check your cat’s paws for signs of swelling, pain, or infection, as treatment is much easier during the early stage of a problem. Other ways to help prevent future swollen paws in your feline friend include:

  • Learn how to trim your cat’s nails yourself to prevent overgrown nails, or schedule regular visits with your veterinarian for professional nail trimming. 
  • Use pet-safe insecticides to reduce ant, spider, and bee populations around your home
  • Spay or neuter your cat to avoid potential fights over mates and territory, which can cause broken bones or abscesses.
  • Keep your cat’s living area free of sharp objects or rough surfaces.

Although your cat may not appreciate frequent exams of her paws, remember that it is in her best interest. Cats are masters at hiding signs of pain or illness, and it’s up to you as her caretaker to monitor her health.

If you suspect your pet is sick, call your vet immediately. For health-related questions, always consult your veterinarian, as they have examined your pet, know the pet’s health history, and can make the best recommendations for your pet.
Article Sources
The Spruce Pets uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Limping In Cats. Animal Care Center Of Green Valley

  2. Problems With Your Cat’s Paws: Symptoms, Causes, and Prevention. Pet Medical Center

  3. Fractured Limbs. American College of Veterinary Surgeons

  4. Brooks, Leslie. How To Treat A Cat With A Swollen Paw And What May Have Caused It. Emergency Vets USA

  5. Multimedia, Doctor. Plasma Cell Pododermatitis In Lacey, WA | Dermatology Clinic For Animals. Dermatology Clinic For Animals, 2020 https://dermvetolympia.com/plasma-cell-pododermatitis/

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