A few years ago, I received a message from a young woman asking if we could take her cat, Reggie, who had deformed paws. We had room at the time, so I agreed. It was my first experience with pillow foot or pillow paw.
Pillow foot is a common term for Feline Plasma Cell Pododermatitis, (FPCP) an autoimmune disease in cats is a severe inflammation of the paw pad. It generally occurs in more than one paw, sometimes affecting all of them. It affects males and females equally, and is not breed specific. Some studies have found a link between cats with Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) and pillow foot.
Plasma cells are activated white blood cells (lymphocytes), usually in response to some kind of infection or inflammation process. Pillow foot is caused when the plasma cells are activated in large numbers, creating antibodies. The body attacks itself, and causes
the inflammation of the paw pad tissue.
In the photo above, you can see that Reggie's right paw is almost rounded. Both of his front paws are affected. Although he can walk on them, he does so with a limp. Compare Reggie's paws above with a photo of a normal paw pad below:
There is some question as to whether pillow foot causes pain or if pain is only experienced when ulcers develop on the paw pads. This is a difficult topic, because most cats do everything in their power not to show weakness or pain. It is part of their evolutionary nature.
The most common treatment for the condition is doxycycline. Although it is an antibiotic, it also has immunomodulating properties, meaning it is a medication that affects the way the immune system works. Those properties in doxycycline, is why scientists believe that it is effective in treating pillow foot. Approximately 50 percent of affected cats will show a good response after two months of therapy. Cyclosporin is another medication that has shown promise in treating FPCP, but it is much more expensive. Steroids may also be used when doxycycline and cyclosporin proves ineffective.
Although a rare condition, if you suspect your cat may have Feline Plasma Cell Pododermatitis, speak to your vet about it to ensure that your cat is as comfortable as possible.