Ginger and Toby both developed a swollen front foot

Anne-Marie’s one-year-old cats were in perfect health when she left for work last Monday morning. They had enjoyed breakfast, and she expected that they would have a typically easy “cat” day. They have constant access to the outdoors through their cat flap, dividing their time between lounging around inside and strolling outside around the local neighbourhood. They are friendly cats, popular with local children, who fuss over them and pet them.

Swollen front feet

When Anne-Marie came home later in the day, she could see at once that there was a problem with both cats: each of them had a hugely swollen front foot. Toby’s left foot was around twice the size of his right foot, and Charlie was like a mirror image of him: his right foot was much bigger than his left foot. Anne-Marie picked up each cat in turn, carefully examining each one, but she could see no obvious reason for the swollen feet. There were no visible injuries, and the swollen feet didn’t seem painful. The cats weren’t limping.  What was going on? Was this the first sign of some bizarre disease? She decided that it was safest to have the cats checked over straight away by the vet.

When I examined the cats, I was equally perplexed by the mystery. There are many possible reasons for a cat developing a swollen foot, but what could cause two housemates to develop swollen feet at the same time? Most causes of this type of problem are only likely to affect one cat.

The most common reason for a swollen foot is a cat bite: cats often fight, with a foot being bitten in the tussle. On close inspection, a  bite mark is usually found on the affected foot. I could find no such injuries in Toby and Charlie, and in any case, it would be unusual for both cats to be bitten on the feet coincidentally on the same day. Furthermore, Anne-Marie assured me that there were no cat bullies in her area.

What caused the swelling?

Anne Marie asked me if the swelling could be caused by a trap of some kind. I felt that this was unlikely: there were no marks or scrapes on the surface of the fur or the skin. If the cats’ feet had been caught and crushed enough to cause this type of swelling, there would be other  signs of injury such as grazes or bruises.

There was another possible cause: somebody could have placed an elastic structure around the foot, then removed it a few hours later. The two cats enjoy playing with young children in the area: could they have put hair bobbles or some other type of adornment on the cats’ legs, then removed them later? Anne Marie asked around the area, but no children confessed to doing this.

There was one other possibility: wasp stings. Anne Marie has noticed a surge in the local wasp population recently. The two cats play together, and they could easily have found a wasp nest. Cats use their front feet to investigate interesting objects, and if they patted at a wasp nest, they would definitely get stung on the foot.

I gave the cats some anti-inflammatory medication to reduce the swelling and relieve any discomfort: by the following morning, they were both back to normal.

There is one certain way to find what cats get up to: you can buy “collar cams” that allow you to download video footage of a cat’s daily activities every evening. This “swollen feet”episode was probably a one-off, but if anything similar recurs to Anne Marie’s cats, she knows what she’ll do to discover their secret lives.  


  • Cats often get swollen feet after fighting with other cats
  • Bite marks on the feet are the usual tell-tale sign of fights
  • Other causes of swollen feet only happen rarely

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