First Aid for Torn or Injured Foot Pads in Cats

By Malcolm Weir, DVM, MSc, MPH; Ryan Llera, BSc, DVM; Lynn Buzhardt, DVM

What is the importance of my cat's foot pads?

Although lowly in position, your cat’s feet occupy a top spot in importance. How can a cat navigate the world without the support of four healthy feet? And the pads on the bottom of those feet are where “the rubber meets the road”.

These pads are the thick, cushioned part of the cat’s foot that absorb every step and provide traction to prevent slipping. Foot pads protect bones and joints from shocks incurred by running, walking, or pouncing. They also insulate the foot from extreme weather (hot and cold) and help the cat walk on uneven or rough terrain.

What happens if my cat hurts her foot pads?

Healthy foot pads are crucial, so injuries need prompt attention. If your cat licks at their pads or limps, they may have a foot pad that is torn, punctured, or burned. As a prepared pet owner, you can provide first aid for your cat’s ailing feet.

A torn foot pad does not hold stitches well, so cuts and punctures take longer to heal. Walking on the injured foot often opens the wound and further delays healing. And if infection sets in, your cat may end up with more than just foot problems. Even minor foot pad injuries can be stubborn, so it is a good idea to provide first aid at home and then see your veterinarian promptly.

What should  I do if my cat has a torn foot pad?

There are a few first aid basics that you can provide at home until you can see your veterinarian.

Clean the wound. Look for debris or foreign objects such as glass or metal shards that may be lodged in the pad. If the foreign object is located where you can easily grasp it with tweezers, gently remove it. Swishing the paw in cool water may help dislodge tiny particles. If the debris is lodged deeply, leave it alone. Digging too deeply will only worsen the injury and cause pain. Deep-seated foreign bodies need to be extracted only by your veterinarian, who can sedate your cat to make the procedure more comfortable. Use mild antibacterial soap to disinfect the wound.

Control bleeding by applying pressure to the wound with a clean towel. Minor tears will stop bleeding in a matter of minutes, but deeper wounds take longer to stabilize. Also, bleeding may reoccur when your cat puts pressure on the foot. If you cannot stop the bleeding within 10–15 minutes, take your cat to the emergency veterinary clinic.

Apply a bandage to contain the wound. Use non-adherent gauze pads to cushion the bottom of the foot and absorb blood. The gauze padding will also decrease the pain of walking on the foot. To keep gauze in place, wrap the entire foot in a self-sticking product such as Vet Wrap. It is important to cover the paw from the toes up to and including the ankle (tarsus) or wrist (carpus). Covering the toes will prevent swelling of the digits. Extension of the bandage above the ankle or wrist joint will prevent the bandage from slipping off. Make sure the bandage is not too tight. You should be able to insert two fingers between the bandage and the leg.

Change the bandage daily. If your cat chews at the bandage, spray it with an anti-lick product such as bitter apple spray. Keep the bandage dry by taping a plastic bag over it when the cat walks on wet grass. Pay close attention during bandage changes. If the toes become swollen or if you notice a foul odor or moist discharge, consult your veterinarian. These signs may indicate compromised circulation or an infection that could result in permanent damage to the foot. If the wound continues to bleed or gapes open after three days, visit your veterinarian, who can provide antibiotics and pain medication to promote faster healing.

What should I do if my cat has a burned foot pad?

In addition to cuts and punctures, cats often injure their foot pads when exposed to extreme temperatures or chemicals. Even though foot pads are tough, they can burn on a scorching sidewalk in the middle of the summer or on icy surfaces during the winter. Injuries from jumping on a hot stove may also occur. If your cat licks at their feet or limps after being outside, soothe their pads by soaking the foot in room-temperature water. If the pads become discolored or if the tissue under the pad becomes exposed, contact your veterinarian. Severe burns must be treated by a veterinarian.

"Daily bandage changes and close monitoring of the injury are important."

Burns can also be caused by chemicals. If your cat steps into a corrosive substance, hold the foot under running water for several minutes, then wash the paw in mild soap and rinse thoroughly. Wear gloves to avoid skin irritation: if it burns your cat, it may burn you, too.

Your veterinarian may recommend applying an antibiotic ointment to the burned foot pad and bandaging the paw. Daily bandage changes and close monitoring of the injury are important. Report any changes to your veterinarian.

How can I prevent foot pad injuries?

Try to avoid foot injuries in your cat by surveying the area where your cat plays and walks. Remove any broken glass, sharp objects, or pieces of metal. Avoid hot sidewalks in the summer and icy or salt-covered sidewalks or roads in the winter. Remember, if you would not want to walk barefoot in certain areas, your pet should not walk there.

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