Q: The pads on my cat’s right front paw are red and she keeps licking them. Can I put something on her paw or does she need to go to a vet?
A: Yes, get your cat evaluated by your cat veterinarian. Your cat keeps licking her paw because it is irritated and possibly infected. If only one foot is affected, it is most likely pododermatitis, a skin infection of the foot. Longhaired cats with a lot of fur on their feet are especially prone to this, as the fur can trap moisture or cat litter, creating an environment that promotes infection.
If your cat will let you, spread the toes of the affected foot and see if it looks red and irritated, or if it has a foul smell. (Look at a normal foot for comparison.) Don’t bother with topical ointments; your cat will just lick it off.
If more than one foot is affected, your cat might have a systemic disorder, like plasma cell pododermatitis or pemphigus foliaceus. These immune-mediated disorders make the immune system send inflammatory cells into the footpads or attack various components of the skin. This is diagnosed by a biopsy of your cat’s footpad or the skin around the foot. These conditions usually respond dramatically to anti-inflammatory medications. In any event, your cat should see a cat vet.