why do cat paw pads change colors?
Cat Health and Wellness

Can Cat Paw Pads Change Color?

Changes in a cat’s body are not something that should be ignored. These include changes in colors, even in something as small as a foot pad. A change in your cat’s paw pad colors can be a symptom of an illness.

The most common reason a paw pad would change color is because of injuries. More drastic changes in color can hint at serious illnesses such as vitiligo, pododermatitis, and anemia.

Most medical conditions that cause a change in a foot pad’s color are hard to prevent. However, there are many things you can do to prevent foot pad injuries. Keeping foot pads healthy is also a good way to catch symptoms of more life-threatening conditions.

Do Cats Change Foot Pad Color When Sick?

Sudden, drastic changes to the color of a cat’s foot always warrant a trip to the vet. These include all paws changing into a different color, or paleness in all paws. While not always life-threatening, significant changes like these can be a symptom of a serious medical condition.

On the other hand, slight discolorations, may suggest a less serious paw pad problem. Paw pads are prone to injury. While common, it can cause pain to your cat. Thankfully, most injuries are easily treatable and preventable.

What Are Paw Pads?

Paw pads act as a cushion. The feet bear the brunt of the load of a cat’s weight. Paw pads add traction to cats’ feet, as well as keeping them safe from rough surfaces.

There are many different types of pads on cats’ paws. There are metacarpal pads found on the front limbs, the plantar pads found on the hind limbs, and digital pads on each paw. They are made of fatty tissues, specifically collagen and adipose.

Other than cushioning and traction, there are also other smaller functions that paw pads have. In cats, the paw pad’s ability to absorb shock increases a cat’s stealth, allowing cats to walk very quietly. They are also used for marking out territory.

How Cat Paw Pads Get Their Colors

All cats pretty much have the same type and function of paw pads. But what gives them its different colors?

Paw pad colors are indicative of a cat’s coat. For example, because the Siamese have albinism in their breed, the Siamese kitten will grow up to have a slightly different coat color. While this color will take a while to develop, you can determine this color by looking at the nose and paw pad.

The same holds true for other cats. For example, pink paw pads belong to ginger and white cats. Black cats have black pads, grey cats have grey pads. Cats with multiple colors will often have pads of different colors.

The color of a cat’s coat and skin is colored by melanin, the same pigment that determines skin color. Since paw pads are basically skin over fatty tissue, it would have the same color as a cat’s skin as well. This is how a cat’s color coordinates all throughout its fur, skin, and paw pads.

what determines a cat's paw pad color?

Why Cat Paw Pad Colors Change

A sudden change to the color of a cat’s paw pads is a cause for concern as it is often a symptom of a medical condition. Here are some of the common reasons why paw pads change color.

Vitiligo

Vitiligo is a condition that causes skin to lose its pigment. The main characteristic of vitiligo is lightened skin color. If your cat’s black paw pads turn pink, your cat may have acrofacial vitiligo.

Vitiligo is a skin condition that causes the skin to lose pigment. While uncommon, it is one of the reasons why dark cat paw pads can turn a lighter color.

Vitiligo, by itself, will not harm your cat. It is purely cosmetic and will not cause any pain. However, vitiligo can sometimes be caused by other medical conditions that may cause pain to your pet.

There are types of vitiligo. The most common type of vitiligo is generalized vitiligo, where patches of white patches are randomly distributed all over the skin. However, there is also acrofacial vitiligo, which affects the paw pads, and around body orifices, like the mouth, nose, and anus.

Melanocytes produce melanin, which gives skin its color. When melanocytes are destroyed, for one reason or another, melanin occurs. There are two main reasons why vitiligo occurs. They are the following:

Hereditary

There are breeds wherein vitiligo cases have been observed. This includes the Siamese breed, as observed in this study in Veterinary Dermatology. It is believed that these breeds have a gene that causes vitiligo, sometimes causing cats to eventually turn completely white.

Cats may pass on the gene to their offspring, causing vitiligo in those future cats. Despite the presence of the gene, a cat may never develop vitiligo. Vitiligo may also be triggered because of stress, or injury.

Autoimmune Diseases

The immune system is responsible for fighting foreign substances within the body. However, there are instances wherein the immune system attacks the body itself. These instances are referred to as autoimmune disorders.

Sometimes these autoimmune disorders cause the immune system to attack melanocytes. This causes depigmentation on the cat’s skin, or vitiligo.

Vitiligo may also be caused by stress. Stress may also be caused by other underlying medical conditions. Other causes of vitiligo include exposure to toxins, as well as neurological diseases. The symptoms include:

  • Painlessness
  • Lightened skin
  • Lightened coat

Vitiligo tends to start at a young age. White spots often appear on the face first, specifically on the nose. This moves on to the lips, and the space around the eyes. Then, it will begin to affect the paw pads, and other parts of the body.

Vitiligo will continue to spread until 3 to 6 months. The extent of vitiligo will differ from one cat to another. However, once the depigmentation stops, it will not continue. On the other hand, the depigmented areas may eventually re-pigment, and even depigment after that.

Your vet will also screen your cat for medical issues that may cause vitiligo. Treating these issues may improve your cat’s vitiligo, but it may not affect the condition at all.

Because vitiligo is cosmetic, there is no need to treat vitiligo itself. So, there aren’t treatment plans that can reintroduce the pigment in your cat’s skin.

However, there are a few ways to manage your cat’s vitiligo. For example, your vet may recommend getting more sunlight to encourage the production of melanin.

Plasma Cell Pododermatitis

If your cat has multiple inflamed paw pads with a purplish tint, your cat may have pododermatitis.

Plasma cell pododermatitis is a condition wherein the paw is inflamed due to plasma cells. This condition is more commonly known as pillow foot, due to how a cat’s inflamed paw may look like a pillow.

Pododermatitis is caused by plasma cells. These are cells that produce antibodies, which are used to fight against infection or inflammation. Because of this, medical experts believe that pododermatitis is caused by an underlying medical condition related to the immune system.

However, there is still a lack of data about pododermatitis to determine whether or not this is true. Symptoms include:

  • Purplish tint to the paw pad
  • Paw pad appears ‘mushy’
  • Paw pad takes on a ‘pillow’ or ‘balloon’ shape
  • Mostly affects more than one foot (as opposed to other sources of inflammation, like insect bites, which only affect one area or foot)
  • Cats often appear to not be in pain, but will favor unaffected feet

The main way to determine whether or not your cat has pododermatitis is through a blood test. Cats with pododermatitis will often have high levels of lymphocytes and antibodies. Your vet may also perform a biopsy on the affected foot. This will rule out other sources of inflammation, like insect bites or tumors.

There is still a lack of knowledge surrounding pododermatitis. However, a link has been found between feline immunodeficiency virus, or FIV. Roughly 50% of cats with pododermatitis test positive for FIV. Your vet will determine if your cat is positive for FIV when treating pododermatitis.

To treat pododermatitis, the underlying immune-related condition must be addressed. An antibiotic may be given to your cat. About 50% of diagnosed cats improve after about two months of therapy. Antibiotic prescriptions will continue for several months. The cat will then be observed if the condition comes back.

For cats that do not respond to doxycycline, alternative prescriptions of antibiotics will be given.

Anemia

If your cat’s pink paw pad turns to a pale white, your cat may have feline anemia. This refers to a condition in which the number of red blood cells decreases in a cat.

Red blood cells are important as they carry oxygen to the cells in the body and remove carbon dioxide. With a low red blood cell count, cats become weak, lethargic, and lose appetite. Causes include:

  • Toxins: Toxins from drugs, plants, and chemicals can cause anemia. Plants like oak and red maple, foods like fava beans and onions, and metals like copper and zinc are toxic to cats.
  • Infections: Infections can be caused by bacteria, viruses, and other organisms.
  • Hypophosphatemia: This is a condition where there are insufficient phosphates in the blood. This can occur in cats with diabetes.
  • Nutritional deficiencies: Anemia may be caused by a lack of nutrients needed to make red blood cells. These include iron, niacin, and vitamin E.
  • Bone marrow diseases: Anemia can also be caused by bone marrow diseases. A common example is leukemia, as shown in this study in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. Feline leukemia is the second leading cause of death in cats.

Your vet will require a blood test called a complete blood count. This will determine the response of the bone marrow, the condition of the blood cells, and the severity of your cat’s anemia.

Blood tests will also be done to rule out the presence of parasites, which are a common cause of anemia. If parasites aren’t the cause of the anemia, tests will be done to check for hemolytic causes.

Hemolytic diseases refer to conditions that destroy red blood cells. The presence of infectious agents will also be tested. If all other causes are ruled out, a test will be done on the bone marrow. Symptoms include:

  • Paleness, paw pads and inside of eyes turn white
  • Lethargy and weakness
  • Lack of appetite
  • Bloody nose, stool, urine, blood in vomit

Once the cause is determined and your cat’s condition is stabilized, your vet will treat the underlying issue. Common treatments include deworming, medication, and surgery.

Paw Pad Injuries

Changes in paw pad colors can sometimes be due to discoloration. This is often a pink tint, or black scabs along the injured area. Once the injury heals, the paw pad will quickly return to its natural color. Symptoms include:

  • Overgrown or ingrown claws
  • Cuts from glass, metal, stone, other rough surfaces
  • Bite wounds
  • Burns

The best way to determine whether your cat’s paw is injured is to look. However, there are some tell-tale signs that can hint at an injured foot pad. Here are some of them:

  • Limping
  • Excessive licking on the foot
  • Bleeding
  • Unpleasant smell from the foot pad (indicating infection)
  • Fever (also from an infection)

It is easy to see whether or not a foot pad is injured. Diagnosis will determine the type of injury that your cat has. Here’s how:

  • Puncture wounds: These wounds may be the hardest to spot as they are small. Most of the damage is done deep within the pad, instead of the surface. However, cats will have a few signs, such as limping.
  • Overgrown and ingrown nails: These can be spotted with the claw digging into the pad. This will also cause bleeding and may cause inflammation and infection.
  • Burns: Burns will cause blisters. Paw pads will be inflamed for a few days. Then, the skin will eventually dry, crack, and peel. This will leave the pad open and prone to infection.
  • Cuts: Cuts on foot pads will look similar to cuts on human skin. It may also cause inflammation, as well as bleeding.

The treatment for injuries will first require removing any foreign object, like overgrown nails or glass. These are often done by a veterinarian. It may be necessary to sedate your cat.

The wound will then be cleaned. In the case of burns, wounds should be immediately held under cool running water for 10 to 20 minutes. Otherwise, wounds should be cleaned with a weak disinfectant solution.

In the case of puncture wounds, any discharge will be released. Big cuts may need suturing. Then the wound will be dressed to allow it to heal.

While healing, your cat may be put on antibiotics. Regular dressing changes may be required. Your cat may also be required to wear a collar to prevent it from touching the wound.

cats paws turning pink

Caring for Cat Paw Pads

Just like we care for our feet, a cat’s paw needs some TLC, too. Keeping paw pads healthy also lessens the risk of injuries. Plus, it helps you catch medical conditions as soon as possible. How do you keep your cat’s paw pads healthy? Here are a few ways:

Check Paw Pads Regularly

Cats are masters at hiding pain. More often than not, noticing that there’s something wrong with your cat requires a physical examination. Ideally, you should check your cat’s paws daily. Examine your cat’s paws for cuts, inflammation, and any foreign objects.

If you find something embedded in your cat’s paws, see if it is safe to pull out. Use a pair of tweezers to remove the object. If the object is buried too deeply, you should seek assistance from a veterinarian.

Clean Paws Regularly

Whenever your cat comes back from a walk outdoors, get in the habit of giving its paws a wipe down. Wipe your cat’s paws gently with a soft cloth. Make sure to remove all dirt, debris, and foreign objects, especially between the toes.

Check surfaces

Before taking your cat out on a walk, make sure that the surfaces it walks on are safe. When walking your cat, avoid hot pavements and surfaces with ice or snow. Also avoid any surfaces that may have been treated with chemicals as these can be toxic to your cat.

Maintain claws

Overgrown claws can hurt your cat’s paws. This can eventually lead to injured paw pads. Always make sure to trim your cat’s claws. Also, provide your cat with a scratching post.

A cat’s paw pads are a vital part of its anatomy. A sudden change of color to a cat’s paw pad can sometimes be a visual symptom of a health issue.