Cat Paw Care Tips: Nails, Pads, and More

Cats put a lot of wear and tear on their feet. Like your feet, cats' paws need to be cared for in order for them to be healthy and strong. You don't have to splurge on a kitty manicure and pedicure, but you do need to keep your cat's nails trimmed and their paws clean. 

Here are 10 practical tips for caring for your cat's paws.

1. Keep Your Cat's Paws Clean 

This is the most important part of keeping your cat's paws healthy. Wipe their paws with a damp cloth every day. Check between their paws for litter or other debris that may be stuck. Your cat could get sick from licking toxic substances off their paws, so make sure you promptly clean up any spills your cat may walk through along with cleaning their paws. This will also help keep your furniture clean.

2. Check Their Paws for Injury

While you're wiping down your cat's paw pads, check for any cuts or scrapes. Make sure your cat didn't pick up a splinter or other foreign object. If there are small wounds, wash the paw with gentle soap. Splinters can be removed with a tweezer. If there is a serious injury, take your cat to the vet for treatment.

3. Provide Opportunities for Your Cat to Scratch

It's no secret that cats love to scratch. Cats scratch for many different reasons, including to sharpen their claws, exercise, and mark their territory. If you want to save your furniture, offer your cat different scratching surfaces around your house. As a general rule, you should provide as many scratching surfaces as there are cats in your house, plus one more. These can be store-bought, or you can make your own. 

4. Keep Your Cat's Nails Trimmed

Trim your cat's nails every few weeks to keep their claws short and decrease scratching. Use sharp nail trimmers, as dull trimmers are not as effective. Settle your cat comfortably before you start. You will probably have to work up to getting them comfortable with having their nails trimmed. 

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Squeeze their paw gently to expose their claw. Only cut the translucent white part of the nail. The pink part is the quick, and it will bleed if it's cut. Don't expect to get all of your cat's nails trimmed in one sitting. It will likely take several sessions to get them all, especially in the beginning. If you feel squeamish trimming your cat's nails or your cat won't tolerate it, visit a vet or groomer to have it done.

5. Trim the Hair Between Your Cat's Toes

Long-haired cats may have hair between their toes that can bother them. If your cat is obsessively licking at the hair, you can gently trim it with rounded scissors.

6. Watch for Infection

If your cat has a broken nail or cut that isn't treated promptly, it can become infected. If your cat has a swollen paw or blood on their pad, or you notice an unpleasant odor or pus, have your vet check them for infection.

7. Protect the Pads on Your Cat's Paws

The rubbery, thick pads on your cat's paws cushion their feet and insulate them from weather extremes. However, they can get injured from surfaces that are too hot or too cold. Help your cat avoid walking on hot or icy surfaces or corrosive substances. Make sure you also check for glass shards or other debris anywhere your cat will be spending time. Don't let your cat walk anywhere you wouldn't go barefoot. 

8. Watch for Limping

If your cat is limping or favoring one paw, check their feet to see if there's a problem. If you don't see any apparent problem but the behavior continues, you may need to take your cat to see a veterinarian.

9. Know the Signs of Pillow Foot

Plasma cell pododermatitis, or "pillow foot," is an uncommon condition that affects the foot pads. Because it's not necessarily painful, your cat may not limp or seem bothered by it. Cats with pillow foot will usually have more than one foot but not all four affected. The foot pad will appear mushy and balloon out, and it may be purplish and ulcerated. 

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If you see symptoms of pillow foot in your cat, make an appointment with your vet. Pillow foot can be treated with medication or surgery. 

10. Do Not Declaw Your Cat

Many people think declawing a cat is a simple procedure that involves pulling out their nails. However, declawing is actually the amputation of the last bone of each of your cat's toes. In a person, this would be the same as cutting off the first joint of each finger and toe. This unnecessary surgery not only causes pain for your cat, but it also carries risks of complications such as tissue death and infection. It also affects the way cats walk afterward, as it changes the natural way a cat's foot meets the ground. 

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Amy Flowers, DVM on June 28, 2021

Sources

SOURCES:

Animal Clinic of Woodruff: "HEALTHY PAWS: HOME PAW CARE FOR CATS AND DOGS."

ASPCA: "Cat Grooming Tips."

International Cat Care: "Scratching on furniture and carpets."

The Humane Society of the United States: "Declawing cats: Far worse than a manicure."

VCA: "First Aid for Torn Footpads in Cats."

Veterinary Partner: "Plasma Cell Pododermatitis (Pillow Foot) in Cats."

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