Dogs and cats don't always look before they leap. When they have a hard landing after jumping from a ledge, for example, their feet can get bruised and sore.
Paw swelling usually isn't serious and will clear up in a day or two. If a bone is broken, however, the paw can double or even triple in size, causing excruciating pain.
Cats are more agile than dogs, and lighter, so they are less likely to break bones in their paws. But they do tend to roam outdoors and get into fights. Fight wounds, which often get infected, can cause a very painful swelling called an abscess, says Chaim Litwin, D.V.M., a veterinarian in private practice in Fairfield, Conn. An abscessed foot can swell to twice its size overnight. This problem is much more common in cats than dogs, he adds.
Insect bites or stings can also cause your pet's paws to swell, says Valerie Fadok, D.V.M., Ph.D., a veterinary dermatologist and consultant in Denver. You should suspect an insect attack if the paw is sore and slightly firm to the touch. In most cases, the swelling will start to go down within a few hours, she says.
In dogs, swollen paws -- along with patches of lost fur -- may be a sign of red mange, which is caused by mites that burrow into the skin, making it sore and tender. (Cats don't get this condition. The mites that cause swollen paws are called demodex mites, which are different from ear mites.) Infestations of the feet can be particularly hard to treat, says Patricia Ashley, D.V.M., a veterinary resident in dermatology at the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine in Knoxville.
Dogs naturally have these mites on their bodies, she adds. They only cause problems when the dog isn't eating properly, has a weak immune system, or is otherwise in poor health.
When more than one foot is swollen, your pet may have allergies. She may be allergic to her food or airborne particles such as pollen. Swollen feet can also be caused by an immune system disorder called lupus, says Dr. Litwin. When the swelling includes the leg as well as the paw, your pet could have a serious condition called pitting edema, in which fluids -- due to hormone problems or heart disease -- aren't draining the way that they should.
See Your Vet If...
- More than one foot is swollen
- Your cat has recently been in a fight
- The swelling is soft and spongy rather than firm
- Your dog is developing patchy fur
- Your pet has begun having trouble walking, getting up, or climbing stairs
- One or more legs is dragging
- He has a limp that doesn't go away
- One or more legs is in an awkward position
- There is swelling in the toes, feet, or legs
- Your pet can't get up
- Your pet is constantly licking or biting his feet
- The nails are broken, cracked, or bleeding
- There are cuts, blisters, growths, or burns on his paw pads
- Your pet is lame first in one leg and then another
- He has pain when jumping off a bed or changing position
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