Question: Swollen paw: call the vet or wait and see?
Swollen paws can occur from different causes. Please do NOT attempt to medicate (aspirin, old unused antibiotics) your pet without first being examined by your veterinarian. Cats are very sensitive to painkillers like aspirin, and Tylenol® can be fatal. Never give any over-the-counter or unused portions of prescriptions to your pet without consulting your veterinarian first. For additional information on aspirin and Tylenol®, please see the Veterinary Q & A: Aspirin article.
Answer: Soft tissue swelling could mean a few things: insect bite or sting, infection and abscessation, or blunt tissue damage. First question to ask: is the paw painful?
Bee stings can produce a huge swelling very quickly, but aren't usually too painful. (Cats are generally more prone to getting insect bites/stings on their paws from batting at bugs, whereas dogs typically get swollen lips from trying to snap at the bugs.) This is an allergic type of reaction, and if it doesn't get infected, will go down in 24 hours or less. Your veterinarian can administer or recommend medications to help reduce swelling and stop the allergic reaction.
Other bites/stings, such as those from spiders, scorpions or other insects can produce painful, nasty swellings with tissue necrosis (death). It is wise to call your veterinarian as soon as you notice any swelling on the paws or elsewhere.
Punctures, bites, and other tissue trauma can also produce large swellings that are infected (pus-filled). These swellings are often are painful, depending on what stage of infection. Definitely give your veterinarian a call as soon as possible -- medications to treat each condition are different, and if untreated, can get considerably worse in a short time.
Frequently Asked Question: My dog is licking his paws. Is this just a bad habit or is something wrong?
By Janet Tobiassen DVM
Please note: this article has been provided for informational purposes only. If your pet is showing any signs of illness, please consult a veterinarian as quickly as possible.