Your cat’s paws can tell a tale but what does it mean when your cat’s paw pads turn black?
These tiny cushions on your cat’s feet play a crucial role in your feline friend’s life other than just being cute toe beans.
But seeing your cat’s paw pad start to turn black can cause many cat owners to panic.
A change in your cat’s paw pad color to black can often be attributed to normal aging or breed-specific pigmentation. However, a sudden change to black can also signify health concerns such as fungal infections, contact dermatitis or malignant melanoma.
In this article, we will explore all the possible reasons why your cat’s paw pads may be darkening and what you should do about it.
The Anatomy Of A Cat’s Paw
A cat’s paw is an amazing piece of machinery.
There is a lot going on inside and on the outside of each paw which enables the cat to do what it does best.
Being silent, reactive and deadly.
Each one of your cat’s paws contains the following parts:
- Digital pads
- Metacarpal pad
- Carpal pad
A cat’s paw is rather small in relation to the size of its body. But if you have never been paw punched or scratched by a cat before, you have no idea how powerful those little cute paws can be.
Your cat uses its paws for for absorbing shock, providing traction and even helping to regulate body temperature.
Why Are My Cat’s Paw Pads Turning Black?
Now that we’ve explored the fascinating architecture of your cat’s paws, here are some possible reasons that can cause your cat’s paw pads to turn black.
Burns Or Frostbites
If you touch your cat’s paw pads, they are actually rather spongey in nature.
They act as good shock absorbers for your cat when it runs or jumps down from elevated places.
But the paw pads are also very delicate as they contain a large number of sensory receptors.
The skin on the paw pads won’t be as thick and durable as a dog’s which are more geared for outdoor activities.
During the summer months, physical surfaces can absorb a lot of heat, reaching a possible temperature of 62 degrees Celsius.
That is definitely hot enough to cause some injury to your cat’s paws.
If your cat has recently walked on a very hot surface outside, there’s a chance that its delicate paw pads might have been burned by the heat.
Do not let your cat walk outdoors when it is very cold as well.
When temperatures drop below zero degrees Celsius, cat paw pads can suffer from frostbite.
Frostbite happens when the cold temperature reduces blood flow to your cat’s paws which causes the tissue in that area to freeze.
If you have a ginger or an orange colored cat, these black spots that you are seeing are due to lentigo.
Think of lentigo as freckles on your cat.
A good analogy would be how red-haired individuals tend to have more freckles.
But unlike human freckles, cat freckles aren’t actually influenced by the sun.
Lentigo is caused by an increase in epidermal melanocytes which are pigment-producing cells in your cat’s skin.
The multiplication of these cells will lead to black spots on your cat’s face, nose, lips and paw pads.
You can even find lentigo spots on your cat’s gum as well.
Contact dermatitis in your cat can happen when it accidentally steps on something and has a skin reaction towards it.
There are mainly two types of contact dermatitis that can affect your cat.
Irritant Contact Dermatitis
This happens after a single exposure to a harmful substance, such as a chemical or cleaning product.
There are some home cleaning products that can contain harsh chemicals such as acid or chlorine which can blister your cat’s paw pads.
It could be that your cat might have stepped on a poisonous plant such as poison ivy.
Allergic Contact Dermatitis
This is caused by an overreaction of your cat’s immune system to an allergen that is usually harmless.
This might include certain foods, dust mites, or certain materials like rubber or metal, causing its paw pads to become irritated and possibly darken.
A Paw Wound
As agile and careful as our cats instinctive are, they can get themselves into minor accidents from time to time.
It could be that your cat might have stepped on something sharp or have gotten a few scratches on its paw pad.
Or your cat might have gotten into an accident and broke its toe.
This can lead to some bleeding in that area.
Your cat’s black paw pads might be due to the accumulation of dried blood on its paw pads.
Fungal or Bacterial Infections
Have you ever gagged when someone takes off their shoes on the plane?
I know I have, many times.
Athlete’s foot in humans is largely caused by a fungal or bacterial infection and the same thing can happen to your cat.
Such an infection can happen in several ways.
- Inhaling or ingesting the contaminants
- Through a break in the skin
- Cats with poor immune systems
Such infections have been around for decades and if your cat is allowed to roam outdoors, the risk of being infected is a lot higher than an indoor cat.
Some of the more common fungal and bacterial infections are:
I find that yeast infections are very common in cats. Most of the cats that I have owned or fostered have gotten it at least once.
My current cat has FeLV and has an on-off yeast infection in his ears.
if you live in a country that is hot and humid, that provides a conducive breeding ground for such infections.
A fungal or bacterial infection in your cat’s paw can cause the paw pads to darken.
Other symptoms include:
- Bad odor
- Poor appetite
Lymphoma is a type of cancer that originates from a type of white blood cell called lymphocytes.
It’s one of the most common cancers in cats.
Look out for symptoms such as:
- Weight loss
- Chronic diarrhea
- Throwing up
- Breathing difficulties
Lymphocytes are an integral part of the immune system and can have widespread effects on the body when they become cancerous.
Lymphoma in cats can occur in almost any organ but it most commonly affects the intestines.
Cats with lymphoma can sometimes develop anemia which means that the cat’s body does not have enough red blood cells in its body.
This prevents your cat’s body such as its paws from getting enough oxygen and causes them to darken.
Plasma Cell Pododermatitis
Plasma cell pododermatitis in cats also goes by another endearing term, ‘pillow foot’.
No, it isn’t a condition that makes your cat’s paw pads extra soft and fluffy.
Pododermatitis causes your cat’s foot pads to swell up and become severely inflamed.
Your poor cat’s inflamed paw can be very tender and painful to the touch or when it tries to walk.
This condition is caused by an immune-mediated reaction, meaning the cat’s immune system is overreacting to something.
This causes the “infiltration of the cat’s footpad tissue by plasma cells” which makes the foot pads well.
Pododermatitis can lead to a darkened appearance in your cat’s paw pads. Think of it like how your skin looks when you get a bruise.
Other symptoms include:
- Ulcers or blisters
- Pain and limping
- Excessive licking or biting
Can Cats’ Paw Pads Change Color?
It isn’t uncommon for your cat’s paw to change color.
Many kittens are born with pink paw pads that start to darken as they get older.
Your cat’s pads can also start to lighten or darken due to wear and tear or just old age.
Should I Bring My Cat To The Vet?
While a certain amount of color change can be normal, any sudden, dramatic changes in the color of your cat’s paw pads can be worrying.
Visible paw pad injuries that seem to be painful for your cat or have a nasty discharge needs to be examined by the vet.
Fungal or bacterial infections will require antibiotics and a topical cream to clear up the problem.
For more serious cases like feline lymphoma or pododermatitis, the vet will have to advise you on more long-term treatments to help manage the symptoms.
What Determines A Cat’s Paw Pad?
The color of your cat’s paw pads is primarily determined by its genetics and can vary from cat to cat. Paw pad color can range from pink to black, or even a mix of both. Most cats have paw pads that will follow the color of their noses.
Why Are My Cat’s Paws Pink And Black?
The variation in your cat’s paw pad color, ranging from pink to black or a combination. This is typically due to their genetics and breed. Much like human skin tone, paw pad color can vary and is completely natural.