What are Pododermatitis?
It is though that an underlying infection may cause this incorrect inflammatory response to occur. All ages and breeds of cats can be affected by this condition. Both males and females are susceptible to pododermatitis. If you suspect your cat has pillow foot, bring it to a veterinarian for treatment as soon as possible. If this problem is left untreated, secondary infections may develop. The issue can be very painful in advanced cases, leaving the cat with puffed-up paws that are tender to touch. The cat may eventually be rendered lame if the paws become too damaged. Pododermatitis is often paired with renal amyloidosis (a kidney disease) or plasma cell stomatitis (a disease of the mouth).
Feline plasma cell pododermatitis, often called “pillow foot”, is a condition in which severe inflammation develops on the foot pads of a cat. While all four pads may be affected at once, it is rare for only one paw to be inflamed. Plasma cells are fully matured lymphocytes (white blood cells) that are produced by the immune system in the body. Pododermatitis occurs when the immune system is mistakenly triggered and it overproduces lymphocytes that then pool in the cat's foot pads. Antibodies then attack healthy paws and cause swelling and pain to develop.
Symptoms of Pododermatitis in Cats
In very mild cases, the cat may not be experiencing any discomfort. Symptoms of pillow foot may manifest alongside symptoms related to mouth sores or kidney problems. Signs to watch for include:
- A “mushy”, swollen foot pad
- Bruising or purplish coloring on the foot pad
- Ulcerations on the foot pad
- Splitting of the foot pad
- Tenderness when touched
- Excessive licking of the paws
- Bleeding from the paws
Causes of Pododermatitis in Cats
The exact reason that a cat may develop pododermatitis is largely unknown. While there is reason to believe that a malfunctioning immune system plays a part in the condition, more research is needed to confirm the exact cause of the reaction. All known causes are listed below.
- Immune disorders
- Reaction to certain litter materials
- Feline Immunodeficiency virus (over 50 percent of cats with pillow foot are FIV positive)
- Feline leukemia virus (FeLV)
- Feline infectious peritonitis (FIP)
Diagnosis of Pododermatitis in Cats
Make an appointment with your veterinarian to have the cat's feet professionally assessed. Be sure to provide the vet with the cat's full medical history to assist with diagnosis and provide possible reasons for the development of pododermatitis. The veterinarian will then perform a complete physical examination of the cat. Pillow foot can often be confirmed by visual observation from a trained animal health care provider.
Full blood work will need to be run including a complete blood count to check for anemia, and a biochemical profile to assess all levels of substances in the blood. In cases of pododermatitis, both the number of lymphocytes and the levels of globulin antibodies will be increased. The veterinarian will have to differentiate pillow foot from other issues that involve the foot pads, such as insect bites and cancerous or benign tumors. For a total confirmation of pododermatitis, a biopsy of the inflamed foot pad will need to be taken and histopathologically examined to establish if increased plasma cells are present. Viruses such as FIV and FeLV should be tested for.
Treatment of Pododermatitis in Cats
If the case of pododermatitis in the cat is very mild, less aggressive treatments may be sought first. There has been success in treating immune system reactions which may be causing the footpad inflammation. If any secondary health issues have developed, they may also need further treatment.
Oral administration of certain antibiotics has been found to be effective in treating some cats suffering from pododermatitis. Doxycycline and cyclosporine have properties that seem to regulate the immune system. Approximately half of cats with pillow foot will experience improvement when going through a vigorous, several-month prescription of antibiotics.
A prescription of steroids may be useful in treating underlying immune disorders. Oral administration of prednisone or glucocorticoid on a daily basis can be effective. Injections of methylprednisolone acetate can be a longer-lasting alternative.
In advanced cases of pododermatitis where ulcerations have formed, surgical removal of the ulcerations may be necessary. General anesthesia is required for this procedure.
Recovery of Pododermatitis in Cats
If your cat has undergone surgery, you will need to follow all at-home care instructions provided by the surgeon. Special attention may be needed to keep the affected feet clean throughout the healing process. Activity may need to be limited during this time. Monitor the incision daily to ensure no signs of infection have developed. Regardless of whether surgery has been performed, keep your cat's litter box extremely clean. You may need to switch the type of litter you have been using to a more natural alternative.
Administer all medications as prescribed. Regular follow-up appointments will be needed to assess if the condition is healing, and to possibly adjust dosages if adverse side effects to medications have begun to manifest. Giving anti-inflammatory supplements can also help your cat by strengthening its immune system. Topical treatments such as moisturizer application and the soaking of cracked paws can help to soothe soreness while the underlying problem is addressed. Spontaneous recovery of pillow foot is possible in some instances. The issue is usually manageable and affected cats may go on to live a normal life. If the cat has been diagnosed with a feline virus, the prognosis may worsen.
Pododermatitis Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
Benny is a 5 year old orange cat. He has had cracked, dry paw pads since he was a kitten and the Veterinary suspects its the result of some sort of autoimmune condition. We hadn't had him tested (very expensive) and it hasn't seemed to bother him. More recently he has lost some weight and vomits more often. Currently he is fed Hills Science adult for indoor cats. Is there another food that you would recommend for his sensitive stomach?
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I have an older cat with kidney failure who has developed what we believe is pillow paw. The vet was not sure, but that is what it looks like to me. Swollen back pads that have ulcered and scabbed over. He is already on prednisolone to control inflammation in his pancreas as he is diabetic with chronic pancreatitis. Is there anything else we can do to make him more comfortable at home? I try to clean his paws when they ulcer or split and put a topical antibiotic on them. We can tell they are uncomfortable for him because he lifts his back legs up really high when he is walking.
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I recently had a foster kitten pass away very quickly. I am having a hard time dealing with the loss as well as feeling like the shelter and I didn't do enough, even though I am told otherwise. He came home healthy. He had cracked paw pads that were healing - now to be thought to be an indicator of an autoimmune disease. Slowly picked up minor URI symtptoms - little bit of sneezing, clear snot, lethargy. To be clear, for a kitten he was extremely lethargic since day one. By the end of that week he was more snotty and it was becoming colored, I was cleaning his face and wiping his nose anytime I had the chance. Taking extra hot showers (he was staying in the bathroom) so that he was breathing the steam. I was noticing little gasps, but they were fleeting - he would go periods of time just seeming stuffy and then periods where he would gasp for a little while. I was sick that last day and should have spent more time with him. He seemed a little more lethargic and at this point the shelter would see him the next day and starts doing antibiotics with colored mucus and more labored breathing, so I knew he'd be seen soon. He lost interest in food, those last two days I was force feeding him baby food and giving him water. His breath smelled quite bad. Since he had been lethargic the whole week it wasn't a really great indicator. I found him the next day limp behind the toilet. Took him to the shelter where they decided euthanasia was best, that he more than likely had an underlying issue (autoimmune from the cracked paw pads and possibly a bad strain of calicivirus).
In my experience, antibiotics are prescribed just because they are so fragile and it could prevent them having to fight off multiple illnesses they don't stand a chance to. Would antibiotics have saved him? Is it possible that the cracked paws indicated an autoimmune disease with no other symptoms? I am no doctor and neither were the people at the shelter telling me we did everything we could. I am having a hard time believing that there was nothing that could be done - even if it's rare for a 5-6 week old to crash within a week. I really thought he was going to make it, at least to be seen that next day.
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