Pillow paw might sound funny -- imagine a cat walking around with pillows for paws -- but it's no laughing matter for the suffering feline. The correct term is feline plasma cell pododermatitis, and you should seek immediate veterinary help if you suspect your cat has it.
Feline Plasma Cell Pododermatitis
"Pillow paw" is a somewhat rare, mysterious ailment. Research has yet to discover its exact cause. What is known is that it's related to the immune system. Excess plasma cells -- cells produced by the body in response to an antibody or infection -- flood the padding on the bottom of the paw, causing it to soften, swell and become inflamed. What causes the excess plasma cells? No one is sure yet.
The first sign of pillow paw disease is swelling. Your cat's paw pad may seem just a little tender and puffy -- nothing serious, you might think. But the pads will eventually develop a purplish cast, as if they're bruised. They'll begin to feel mushy. The poor kitty will start to favor the affected paw. A quick aside: In many if not most cases, pododermatitis affects multiple paws, making walking extra-painful for your cat. Sores break out on the paw padding and may burst. In severe cases, the pad itself can split open.
Diagnosis and Treatment
You must consult a veterinarian if your cat develops pillow paw symptoms. He may be able to diagnose the condition just by examining the paws of the feet. To be sure of his visual diagnosis, he may decide to do a biopsy of the infected pad. Once it's clear that plasma cell pododermatitis is the problem, the vet may administer antibiotics to fight infections and steroids, such as glucocorticoids, to fight inflammation. In some cases, if the pillow paw is bad enough, your veterinarian may suggest surgery. Discuss the options with your vet, and be sure to ask about any possible side effects.
Failure to treat pillow paw disease can lead to secondary infections and lameness. The cat's foot pads may even need to be completely removed. Further complicating the matter is the issue of related illnesses. Cats with plasma cell pododermatitis also tend to have plasma cell stomatitis, which affects the mouth, and sometimes renal amyloidosis, which affects the kidneys.
If your cat is diagnosed with pillow paw disease, ask for a full blood panel specifically to check for feline immunodeficiency virus and feline leukemia virus. While the link between the illnesses is fuzzy, some cats with pillow paw test positive for FIV or FeLV.