If you have a cat, they’ll inevitably get litter stuck in their paws. Most litter particles are small enough to fit between their toe pads. When your cat walks through their litter box, it gets pressed between them.
It’s even worse if you use a clumping cat litter and your cat steps on it when it’s wet. This can create a big clump of mess between their toes that’s hard to dissolve.
Not to mention, most cats don’t like having their paws touched, which can make it even more difficult to remove.
This article will share a step-by-step plan to clean stuck litter out of your cat’s paws, ways to prevent it in the future, and answer common questions.
How do I clean my cat’s paws?
It’s important to help your cat keep their paws clean of litter, especially when using a clumping clay litter. Cats should not ingest clay litter, but when it’s stuck between their paws, they don’t have a choice. They will lick their paws to clean them and inevitably swallow that litter.
Here are 5 steps to easily clean your cat’s paws:
Step 1: Get your cat comfortable with you touching their paws
This may be easier with some cats than others. But if you have the chance, gently touch their paws and toes when they’re young.
If that’s not an option, you may still be able to get your adult cat more comfortable with you touching their paws. Do so when they’re relaxed and comfortable with you. They may be waking up from a nap in the sun or cuddling with you on the couch. Gently touch their paws every chance you get, as long as doing so isn’t causing them stress. This will make them more comfortable with it and help them realize nothing bad is happening.
My pure adoration for my cat had me doing this from the day I got him. It ended up paying off. I would always kiss his paws, massage his feet, and wiggle my fingers between his toe pads.
Weird? Maybe. But when I found him cleaning litter from his paws, I could help and he wouldn’t protest or run away.
His being comfortable with me touching his paws was also helpful when he became diabetic and needed his blood tested regularly. He hated having his ear pricked but didn’t mind me pricking his toe pad at all. He would actually purr during the blood test.
Getting your cat comfortable with you touching their paws is also beneficial when it comes to clipping their nails. So it’s worth the time investment.
Step 2: Find a comfortable position
It’s also wise to get your cat comfortable with you holding them in different positions.
I couldn’t resist picking up my cat when he was a kitten. As an adult cat, he was very comfortable being held. And I often held him on my lap, in a similar position I would hold a child; his tailbone sat on top of my thighs and his back rested against my stomach.
This position not only allowed me to cuddle him and kiss the top of his head, but it also came in handy when I had to do things he wasn’t so fond of; clipping his nails, giving a pill, testing his blood glucose, etc.
Sitting your cat on your lap with their paws up in the air makes it much easier to clean them.
That being said, not all cats will appreciate behind held in this way. If your cat doesn’t like to be held or gets antsy when you try to clean their paws, try making a kitty burrito.
When your cat is standing on the ground, place a towel over their back, leaving their head out of the towel. Then wrap the towel around them as you pick them up.
The towel wrapped around them not only keeps them from kicking free, it can also provide some comfort, just like a Thunder Vest.
If your cat is extra feisty, you’ll have to wrap the towel loosely around their neck to keep all 4 paws within the towel wrap. You don’t want the towel to choke them or make them feel uncomfortable, but it should be wrapped tightly enough that they can’t wiggle their paws up and break free.
Then you, or a helper, can find an opening in the towel to gain access to their paws.
Step 3: Loosen the litter
It’s already uncomfortable for your cat to have hardened litter stuck between their toe pads, so be gentle when cleaning it out.
Get a soft cloth damp with warm tap water. You don’t want the cloth to drip water all over your cat, but you do need enough water to “soak” the litter and loosen it.
Clumping clay litter will expand and clump when it gets wet. When your cat steps in this wet litter, it then hardens between their paws. Although wetting it again won’t separate the litter particles to their previous state, it will help soften the clump so it’s easier to wipe away.
Press the damp cloth into your cat’s paw to get the hardened litter wet again.
It’s important to remember your cat is going to immediately lick their paws once you’re done, so don’t use any soap or ingredients that will be harmful for your cat to ingest, or taste bad to them.
You don’t want to make the experience any more uncomfortable for them than it has to be. Otherwise it will make it more difficult for you to clean their paws in the future.
Step 4: Wipe away litter
Once the litter is wet, use the cloth to gently wipe the particles away.
The litter is likely stuck to the fur between your cat’s paws, so don’t pull too hard.
Be patient with this step as it will likely take several swipes to remove all the debris.
You can repeat step 3 if needed to help loosen more litter.
If they have a lot of clumping litter stuck between their paws, you may have to use the cloth or your fingers to pinch the clump of litter to gently break it apart. Once the majority of litter is removed, then try wiping the remaining particles away.
Step 5: Reward your cat
My cat did not like getting his nails clipped, but it was something we did regularly. We started giving him a treat immediately after trimming his nails and he actually started to purr during the procedure.
He still didn’t enjoy it and would usually kick free a couple of times before we could get all of his nails done. But he wouldn’t run away; he knew treats were coming and would stick around until he got them.
The same idea can be applied to cleaning your cat’s paws.
Have treats ready or if they know where treats are kept, lead them to the magical treat cupboard as soon as you’re done.
They’ll start to associate the task with treats and may not fight you as much.
It also helps to use the same spot each time you clean their paws and add as much familiarity and routine as possible.
When my cat heard the nail clippers being used by us, he would come to the bathroom. We would trim his nails in the bathroom each time, and he knew to immediately lead us to the pantry the treats were kept.
If you have a docile cat who doesn’t mind being near water, you may find it easier to use the bathtub to clean their paws.
Plug the bathtub drain and add a small amount of warm water; just enough that the bottom of their paws will get wet when you set them in the tub.
Calmly pick up your cat and lovingly set them into the bathtub. Be sure not to cause them any stress. Be gentle, talk in a loving tone, and allow them to leave if it’s upsetting them.
If they don’t mind getting the bottom of their paws wet, gently bounce their paws up and down in the water to loosen the litter.
Then use a towel to wipe the rest of the litter off their paws.
Why Does Litter Get Stuck In My Cat’s Paws?
Litter gets stuck in a cat’s paws when they step on the litter they’ve just urinated in. They may be walking in a litter box that’s not big enough, that needs to be cleaned, or they may be a senior cat with mobility issues and have less control and precision with where they step. (Here’s the largest litter box available and DIY solutions to decrease chances of your cat stepping in wet litter).
Clumping cat litter gets sticky when wet. It also clumps, expands, then hardens as it dries. So when your cat pees in the litter box and steps in the same spot, that litter is easily pressed between their toe pads where it expands and hardens.
Your cat may also be stepping on litter that’s still wet from their last visit to the box. A clump of litter takes hours to dry, so even if a spot is just damp, it can get stuck in your cat’s paws. This is why it’s important to scoop the litter box frequently.
Non-clumping cat litter sticks to paws as well, however, it’s much easier to remove. Because it doesn’t clump and expand, it will simply be individual particles that are pressed between your cat’s paw pads, as opposed to sticking to their fur.
You can likely use a dry cloth to brush away non-clumping litter.
How do you keep cat litter from sticking to paws?
To keep cat litter from sticking to your cat’s paws, you can try a few tips:
Try a non-clumping cat litter
There are several downsides to using a clumping clay litter, and having it stick to your cat’s paws is one of them. Your cat may still have the particles of non-clumping cat litter get stuck between their toes. But it will be much easier to remove and they will likely fall out on their own.
Alternatively, consider a healthier clumping litter, such as:
Although the materials still clump, they won’t create concrete-like clumps like clay litter.
These types of litters are also healthier for your cat when they’re cleaning it out of their paws. Clay cannot be digested by your cat and can actually cause intestinal blockages if too much is consumed. On the other hand, a litter like Sustainably Yours is made from cassava and corn. Although they’re not ingredients your cat would typically eat, they’re at least food ingredients that can be digested by your cat.
Keep the litter box clean
The stickiest messes happen when your cat steps on clumping clay litter that’s wet from urine. Although you can’t prevent your cat from stepping in litter they’ve just peed on, you can prevent them from stepping in older clumps that may still be wet.
Litter boxes should be scooped at least once a day (here’s why it’s so important to keep the litter box clean). But if you’re constantly dealing with litter stuck to your cat’s paws, consider scooping twice a day or more.
You may also add an extra litter box so your cat is more likely to find a clean spot (here’s why you need 2 litter boxes for one cat). Or try a bigger litter box; here are the largest ones on the market.
Get a bigger litter box
If the litter box is too small for your cat, it may also be a contributing factor to them stepping on wet, dirty litter. Look for the biggest litter box on the market (here are your options), or consider creating one using a plastic storage bin.
If you’re finding your cat gets poop on their paws, this is also a good indication that they need a bigger litter box.
Add a coarse scratching post
Cats like to scratch objects to not only sharpen their claws, but also to clean them. You may find it helpful to place a scratching post or pad close to their litter box.
When they scratch, they stretch their toes out and dig their claws in. This can help to loosen litter before it becomes hardened on.
Look for one made with a coarse material they can really dig their claws into. Such as:
Or even try placing a scratching mat they must walk over to leave the litter box area. This may compel them to scratch every time.
Introduce a litter mat
The more time a cat has to walk with litter between their toes, the more lodged the litter will get. A litter mat set outside the entry of a litter box can help remove more litter from a cat’s paws immediately after they exit the box.
A mat with large holes, like this one, will allow litter to drop off your cat’s paws and between the holes so they can’t step on it again.
There are also mats with a coarse texture, like this one, that will help to almost rub the litter off their paws.
Alternatively, a piece of scrap carpet can also help with this problem as litter can fall between the carpet loops.
Can Litter Hurt Cats’ Paws?
Cat litter can hurt a cat’s paws, especially if they’ve been declawed. Cat paw pads are sensitive due to their nerve receptors (source) and can become even more sensitive after the harmful declawing procedure.
In the wild, cats would typically use softer dirt or sand as their litter box. So some litters can be harder and coarser than your cat would prefer to walk on.
And when your cat gets litter stuck in their paws, you can imagine it would be like walking around with a pebble in your shoe; not very comfortable.
Are my cat’s feet dirty from the litter box?
If you notice grey paw prints coming from the litter box area or it looks like your cat has muddy paws, they’re likely dirty from the litter box. The dust alone from clay litters will create a muddy mess when wet. So even if your cat doesn’t have litter particles stuck between their toes, they may still have dirty paws from the litter.
My cat loved to drink water from the sinks (or the toilets before we started keeping the lids closed). He would often come out of the litter box “clean” but when the litter dust on his paws touched the wet sink, it would create a muddy mess. We’d find muddy paw prints in the sink, across the counters, and on the floors.
I hope this article has helped you keep your cat’s paws free of litter 🙂