Introduction: Custom Shoe for a Pet Who Knuckles

If you've ever tried to keep a foot bandage on a cat, you know what an exercise in futility feels like.

Mikey the Cat came to us after nerve damage to a rear leg. He can't open his foot by himself. So he walks on his knuckles. He also runs on his knuckles. And lands his jumps on his knuckles. And does kitty parkour on his... you get the idea.

The front and top of a cat's foot can't take as much wear and tear like the paw pads. So we had to find a way to prevent this little boy from rubbing his knuckles raw. Here is the solution that's working for Mikey.

Step 1: Supplies, Part 1

In a nutshell, it is a tri-fold body with a stiffener to brace the foot open, and button closure.
I tend to make stuff with salvaged goods but you should be able to easily find most of these things new.

  • To stiffen the brace so that it keeps the paw open:
    Old credit card, hotel room cardkey, or a plastic knife - cut (and smoothed) to desired length and width

  • For the main body of the brace:
    Option A: Non-metal window screen (you probably have some in your garage, or visit any home improvement store and buy the smallest roll) - advantages include being lightweight, ventilated, dries almost instantly when washed, foot can be seen and felt easily, and pet can feel the floor well.
    Option B: fabric with some stiffness (like canvas used for tote bags) - advantage is that it's simpler to assemble with fewer pieces.
  • For a nonslip tread:
    Grippy material (the kind that keeps your rugs in place, or a rubberized/siliconized cloth diaper cover, anything that has some grippiness without too much bulk)

Step 2: Supplies, Part 2

For the closure, an elastic over a button allows for lightning-quick fastening, but you want a stiff band to spread out the pressure.

  • If you chose...
    Option A: a closure band: A band of stiff ribbon, nylon webbing straps
    Option B: an insert to stiffen the closure area (I used a strip of plastic cross-stitch canvas grid or a strip of yogurt lid)

  • Small hair elastic
  • Small shirt button

Step 3: Assembly, Part 1

Assembly is not complicated but will require patience the first few times. Be prepared to re-do and fine-tune to customize the shoe for your particular pet and human. Don't skimp on fitting and testing - you don't want to make 10 only to find that the toebox is too small.

Here are the steps I use.

  1. Attach the grippy area and any "beltloops" you may want (you might see one in the photos, but I've since stopped including them).
  2. Hem the 2 ends of the body, hemming in the credit card/knife stiffener brace into the end that will be folded on the inside of the shoe.
  3. Create the closure. Keep this in mind: when it's inside out, the third with the stiff brace will be folded on top.
    Option A: Sew on the stiff band either along the long edge of the band, or (to make a "belt" that wraps around the shoe) sew a short end on the body edge that will be on the outside of the tri-fold.
    Option B: Fold over the fabric edge and sew the strip inside (remember, you made it from a yogurt lid or plastic canvas?) to make a wide hem that will spread the pressure of the elastic closure.

Step 4: Assembly, Part 2

  1. Attach the elastic loop (hint, when in doubt, make it longer to make it easy for your fingers to slip it over the button, but not so long that is is unwieldy). And if you place the elastic on the closure end, you won't need to remember which is the inside and outside.
  2. Tri-fold it inside out and sew the paw end of the shoe closed with a gentle curve. Trim excess material.
  3. Turn it right side out.

Step 5: Fitting

How do you know where to place the button (and how tight the closure will be)? There will be some trial and error here. I use a stunt foot (a wine cork that I whittled and sanded down until it was the exact perfect match for Mikey's real foot). The key measurement is the circumference of the "ankle," where the limb tapers down above the paw. This will take no more than 15 minutes to make and will save you many hours of increasing frustration.

The goal is to get a tension that keeps the shoe on, but loose enough 1) that it doesn't cut off circulation; 2) can rotate on the foot if you need to fine-tune the position after fastening; and 3) can be pulled off in a hurry if needed.

I usually make multiple shoes and assemble them except for the button. Then I sit down in front of the telly with the new shoes, pulling the elastic to the desired tension around the stunt foot, and hand-sew the button in place, one after another. Easy peasy.

Step 6: Getting the Shoe On

Now that you've made your first shoe that fits well, how will you get the shoe on?

If the cat and you are new to this routine, some practice is needed to improve your hand skills and speed. In our household, we can get a brace on in about 3 seconds, sometimes alone and sometimes needing an assistant.

Important: FIRST make sure you can pull it off immediately when fastened. You don't want a cat who panics and hides out of your reach while circulation to the foot is cut off!

Tips that work for Mikey

  • The easiest time to put it on is when he is eating.
  • Plant your wrist on the floor, palm up, and cup the hock and foot. This will keep you and the cat steady.
  • It's easier when you use a long elastic, but put a twist in the elastic when you loop it on the button. This way the loop won't open and straddle the closure zone, which is specifically designed to distribute the pressure from the elastic. In other words, you want the elastic to sit on the closure zone.
  • Don't worry about position; focus on fastening first.
  • Rotate the shoe around the foot AFTER it's fastened. The stiffener should be on the top of the foot, and the grippy surface should be opposite, facing the floor.
  • Until you perfect the tightness, check the foot every few minutes that it stays warm to the touch and the cat isn't painful (looks at it, licks or chews continuously).

Step 7: Notes

  • This was roughly version 5 for us. Mikey is showing version 3 or 4 in the photo. As your cat adjusts to wearing his brace, and you have time to watch for problems, you will make improvements. It will take practice for both human and cat. Don't get discouraged!

  • The brace can fly off during wild running and kitty parkour. Mikey runs so fast that be sometimes his shoe flies right off.
  • If you use clumping litter, and his brace gets wet, it may get a crusted with a layer of litter. Once you fine tune the design, you'll probably need half a dozen spares.

  • I wash them in the machine with the laundry. If they need a presoak keep an old mason or peanut butter jar by a sink. Soak shoes in a couple inches of water +/- laundry soap and toss the soaked shoes into the machine on laundry day.

  • Mikey only fusses with his shoe when he is bored. We prevent boredom with other cats, interesting window views, and screened porches. Not everyone can provide these, but certainly you can have multiple beds (thrifty cardboard box with an old towel), perches (more cardboard boxes) at varying heights, and foraging toys (see my other instructable on how to make them from things you already have).

Step 8: Don't Get Discouraged

Once you get things tuned, you can make 10 almost as quickly as you make one.

Don't get discouraged! The results are worth it. Preventing your pet from knuckling might just save his foot or leg. Good luck.