Though cats are adept at grooming themselves, owners still need to keep an eye on their cat’s paws. While your feline friend may not always be the most willing recipient of a pedicure, there are plenty of ways to ensure your pet’s paws are properly maintained.
“Cats naturally have sharp claws used for scratching and holding onto trees and prey, so it’s important to maintain paw and nail health—even in indoor cats,” explains Dr. Jessica Romine, a board-certified small animal internist with BluePearl Veterinary Partners in Southfield, MI.
Here are some tips on how to care for your cat’s paws.
Get Them Used to It
Most cat owners can attest to the fact that their cat probably doesn’t enjoy anyone touching their paws. Romine recommends getting your cat used to their paws being handled as early as possible—and this is especially important for indoor/outdoor cats’ paws, as they will be exposed to a greater variety of surfaces and dirt.
“This may start with only very briefly touching the paws while they’re calm and being petted, and slowly working up to holding the paw and eventually extending the claws out,” she advises. “Use treats as rewards all along the way, so the cat comes to think of paw and claw maintenance as a great thing!”
Trim Their Nails
Romine explains that cats need regular nail trims—at least every two months—to keep their nails from becoming too sharp and long. Some of the nails, particularly in the dewclaw on the sides, can actually become so long that they curl around and start to grow into the pad itself if not trimmed regularly. “The good news is that most cats have clear or light-colored nails where the quick—the pink portion of the nail containing the nerves and blood flow—can be identified, and thus effectively avoided with nail clippers,” she says.
According to Dr. Gary Richter, veterinarian and author of The Ultimate Pet Health Guide, another important aspect of cat paw maintenance is the question of whether or not to declaw your cat. Most veterinarians strongly advise against this highly controversial practice, and cat declawing has already been banned in several countries as well as a handful of United States cities. “It’s not a procedure I would ever recommend for any cat; if you’re worried about your furniture, you might want to think twice about getting a cat in the first place,” he says.
Provide Plenty of Scratching Opportunities
Just as dogs have a natural urge to chew, cats can’t fight their tendency to scratch. Cat owners should be sure to provide ample surfaces for cats to scratch, which helps keep the claws clean and well-formed—and potentially saves your couches—but also allows your cat to stretch its paw, leg, and back muscles. “Scratching posts, horizontal scratching surfaces, and toys can all be good ways to get your cat’s scratching urges out,” Romine says.
And don’t be afraid to experiment when it comes to finding the scratching surfaces your cat likes best. “Most cats will have textural preferences, and there are scratching posts made out of everything from carpet to twine,” Richter says.
Keep the Fur Clean
While most cats are good about keeping the fur between their toes and paw pads clean with regular, thorough self-grooming, Romine explains that sometimes as cats get older, they can develop arthritis and it becomes harder for them to groom harder-to-reach places like their paws. “If these areas start to look unkempt, greasy, or dirty, they may need a little extra help with brushing,” she says.
Some types of fine-grain litters, especially the clumping type, can get built up between the paw pads, so if this is happening—or if your cat has a bout of loose stool that causes the litter to stick to the paws—cat owners can gently brush it off with a toothbrush. Most cats will take care of the rest from there. “You might also try switching to a paper- or corn-based litter, as these larger particles tend not to clump as much between the toes,” Romine advises.
Romine notes that cat owners should check their pet’s paws routinely for redness, cracks, puffiness or swelling, sores, or other changes. “Your cats paws can often lead to clues that there’s something else going on with your cat, ranging from autoimmune conditions and infections to environmental irritants and
allergic reactions—and in rare cases, even some types of cancer,” she says.
Cat owners should also be aware of weather-related dangers to their cat’s paws, and keep pets indoors in both excessively cold and hot weather. In severe cold, for example, there’s a risk of frostbite to a cat’s paws caused by walking on asphalt, concrete, or other hard surfaces for extended periods of time, and in extreme heat, cats paw can suffer burns (it’s for that same reason that you shouldn’t walk your dog in the afternoon on a 90-degree day).
“The outside is generally very dangerous for cats; there are so many hazards, from getting hit by a car to being attacked by an animal or simply getting stuck somewhere and not being able to get out…so, really, the best thing you can do for your cat’s paws—and overall safety—is keep them inside,” Richter advises.
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