Generally, pellet litter won’t hurt your cat’s paws. However, senior cats, large cats, declawed cats, and cats with a variety of other medical conditions may have extra-sensitive paws. For them, a litter with a finer texture is recommended — even if your cat doesn’t show any signs of discomfort.
Some Cats Will Experience Pain with Pellet Litter
A cat’s paws are packed full of nerve receptors, which provide them with important tactile cues about their surroundings. The sensitivity in their paw pads allows them to learn about the surface they’re waking on, and even sense small vibrations to warn of approaching predators or fleeing prey.
But while a cat’s paws are one of the most sensitive areas on their body, they’re also one of the toughest.
The paw pads are layers of fatty and connective tissues, covered in a thin, but tough, layer of skin. They’re designed to protect your cat’s paws from the impact of running, jumping, pouncing, and walking on rough terrain.
This means that in a majority of cases, cats will have no trouble when walking on the coarse texture of pellet litter.
But unfortunately, it’s not always the case. Some cats are more likely to experience pain or discomfort while standing or walking on pellet litter.
Senior and Geriatric Cats
As cats age, natural, cellular changes will make their paws less resilient to rough terrain. Paw pads begin to lose elasticity, skin on paws may begin to dry or crack, and other age-related conditions may arise — osteoarthritis being one of the most common.
As a result, the coarse texture of pellets will likely become increasingly uncomfortable with age.
Unfortunately, cats don’t often show any signs of pain or discomfort until the problem becomes pretty severe. If your cat is getting older, consider switching to a litter with a finer texture. Just in case.
We recommend making the switch sometime early in the senior cat range (ages 11-14), and certainly before geriatric (15+).
Big cats, whether large breeds or those who are just a tad overweight, may also experience pain or discomfort while walking on pellets.
Naturally, the heavier a cat is, the more pressure is put onto their paws. Which can make the coarse texture of pellets uncomfortable for your big boy or girl.
Cats Who Have Been Declawed
Cats who have been declawed will have extra-sensitive paws for the rest of their lives (which is one of the many reasons you shouldn’t have your cat declawed). Declawed cats often suffer from chronic pains, including nerve damage, back pain, infections, and tissue necrosis, just to name a few.
Needless to say, walking or standing on pellets is likely to cause discomfort.
We recommend an extra-fine textured litter for declawed cats.
Cats With Other Medical Conditions
Cats with a variety of other medical conditions affecting their paws are also likely to have pain or discomfort while walking on pellets.
These conditions include, but aren’t limited to:
- Sores or wounds. If your cat has an open wound, surgery site, sore, or abscess, you should only use a non-clumping, unscented, paper litter. In this case, paper pellets are fine, but wood pellets should be avoided until fully healed.
- Pododermatitis. Also called pillow foot, a condition in which the paw pads become swollen and enlarged. Often linked to immune diseases, like FIV.
- Arthritis. Closely linked to, but not exclusive to, aging, arthritis can make pellets uncomfortable for cats to walk on.
Cats Who Are Hesitant to Use Pellets
Even if your cat doesn’t fall into any of the above categories, they may still be uncomfortable using pellets.
If you notice that your cat is hesitant to use their pellet litter box, don’t force the issue. Instead, try an alternative litter with a less-coarse texture.
If you want many of the same benefits of pellet litter, both wood and paper pellets also come in granular versions. Alternatively, litters made from corn, grass, walnut, wheat, and tofu are healthy, eco-friendly options with a less coarse texture.
Pellets won’t hurt the paws of a majority of cats. Though senior cats, large cats, declawed cats, and cats with a variety of other medical conditions are more likely to experience pain or discomfort when using pellet litter.
If your cat falls into one of the above categories or is hesitant to use pellets, try a litter with a finer texture. Both wood and paper litter also come in a granular version that your cat may be more comfortable using.
- Pet MD. (2017, January 11). Skin Inflammation of the Paws in Cats. https://www.petmd.com/cat/conditions/skin/c_ct_pododermatitis
About Matthew Alexander
Matthew lives in Maryland with his two cats, Puff and Pancho. He’s been caring for and fostering cats with various special needs for more than fifteen years. He hopes to pass some of the insight and knowledge that he’s gained on to the readers of Pawmore.