Why has my Cat Lost its Voice?

  • By:

    Dr. Linda Simon
    Dr. Linda Simon

    Author: Dr. Linda Simon

    Dr. Linda Simon is a veterinary surgeon working with seven years of experience. She is a fellow of the British Veterinary Association and specializing in animal medicine. Also, she has been the Woman magazine resident vet for the past two years and writes a regular column for them, focusing on pets and their health.

    View all 14 articles Learn about our editorial process
  • Viewed: 61

  • Updated on: 26/05/2020

my cat lost its voice@jonathansautter / Pixabay

Why does my cat’s meow sound hoarse?

While we are all familiar with the feeling of going hoarse while we have a cold or perhaps after a night of partying too hard, not everyone is aware that, just like us, our cats can go hoarse and ‘lose their meow’ too. It is not always obvious why this has happened and we need to become detectives to try and discover what exactly is going on. There are several potential causes and it is important to bring your cat to the vet if they have become hoarse as sometimes it is a sign of a serious underlying issue. The majority of the time, however, there is a benign cause and cats will be back meowing away in just a few weeks.

What about a weak meow or complete voice loss?

Sometimes, rather than going hoarse, cats will develop an abnormal or a weak meow. This may precede them going completely mute or they may never go on to fully lose their meow. Typically, a weak meow or a total loss of voice has the same causes as a cat going hoarse.

cat lost voice@margarita88 / Freepik

What are the causes of a voice change in cats?

1. Over Use

This is most often seen in females who are calling constantly because they are in season but can be seen in any cat who has recently been very vocal. Perhaps they have been left in the vets or in a boarding facility and are voicing their indignation, or maybe there is a new cat that has moved in next door and they are attempting to communicate with them. These kitties rarely use their meow but can become slightly hoarse. Once they settle down and stay quiet for a while, their symptoms should resolve. Cats will otherwise be well in themselves and acting as normal.

2. Laryngitis

An inflamed larynx can lead to difficulty swallowing and a hoarse meow. There can be many causes including irritation from inhaled fumes or smoke and infections. There can be some pain involved and cats typically feel somewhat under the weather.

3. Foreign Body

Cats can sniff up or swallow foreign bodies such as blades of grass, fish bones or grass awns which can lodge in the throat and make it difficult to meow. Usually, we will see other signs such as retching, smelly breath and a reduced appetite. Sometimes, a foreign body can be seen when an animal is conscious but more often than not we will need to sedate an animal and visualise their larynx with a laryngoscope to get a better idea of what is going on.

4. Growths & Tumours

Whether growth in the throat is benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous and with the potential to spread around the body) it can interfere with normal vocalisation. Tumours may be visible from the outside if very large but we usually need to sedate or anaesthetise an animal to get a better view of things.

5. Viral and Bacterial Respiratory Infections

Cats are prone to infections such as Cat Flu and they are easily spread from one to another. Cats may also sneeze, cough and have discharge from their nose and eyes. This can be secondary to the irritation from a cough and/or a local inflammation. While a vet will not always confirm infection with tests, where necessary, swabs and blood tests can be taken to confirm which infection is present.

6. Non-respiratory Infections

Certain non-respiratory infections can cause an altered voice, such as the Rabies virus. This viral infection is only present in certain countries and, sadly, those affected need to be euthanized to protect other animals and people.

7. Hyperthyroidism

While not the most common symptom of hyperthyroidism, voice loss is possible. More often, those with an overactive thyroid will exhibit weight loss, diarrhoea and an increased appetite. Many will vocalise more and this can certainly irritate the throat. A simple blood test can check thyroid levels.

8. Laryngeal Paralysis

Dogs are more likely to develop laryngeal paralysis than cats but cats are not immune to this disorder. The laryngeal cartilages fail to function as they should and fail to open adequately when a cat breathes. To diagnose this condition, vets will view the larynx under light anaesthetic to monitor what it does while a cat breathes in and out.

Can a cat meow so much they lose their voice?

Absolutely, as discussed above, a cat who uses their voice too much for whatever reason could potentially lose it temporarily. Once they rest their voice, it will gradually return to normal. Importantly, these cats will have no other symptoms and won’t be acting unwell in any way.

Tell me more about Laryngitis

laryngitis in cats@goodluz / Freepik

Laryngitis is an interesting disease that is perhaps under-diagnosed in cats, particularly as they are unable to tell us when they have a sore throat! The term ‘-itis’ means inflammation and laryngitis is inflammation of the larynx (voice box). On close examination, we will generally see fluid build-up (oedema) of the larynx itself and localised erythema (‘redness’).

Laryngitis is frequently accompanied by a dry and harsh cough. Some cats may breathe harder and faster, particularly if the laryngitis is severe. Sometimes, their breathing is noisy and one can even hear it from a distance!

Vets can generally make a diagnosis from their physical exam but may choose to take a closer look at the throat under sedation or anaesthetic if uncertain or if they wish to rule out any other underlying issues.

Treatment of laryngitis includes anti-inflammatories, pain relief, air humidifiers, the feeding of soft food and the use of antibiotics if a secondary bacterial infection is present.

So, what causes laryngitis in cats?

A number of things can lead to inflammation of the larynx ranging from infections to irritants and it can also occur secondary to intubation after a general anaesthetic. If a foreign body is lodged in the throat and irritating it, this can also result in laryngitis.

Does laryngitis in cats go away?

Yes, laryngitis is not a permanent disorder and will resolve with time. How long this takes depends on what has caused laryngitis and how severe it is. Once the primary issue has been treated, most will be back to normal in a matter of weeks.

2 people found this helpful.

helpful not helpful