Cat at a Loss for Words (and Rawrs, and Mews, and ...)

What changes a cat’s voice? The answer has a lot of factors.

By Arnold Plotnick, DVM | Updated: August 7, 2015, 8 a.m. EST

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Q: I have a question that several veterinarians could not answer for me. My cat Sylvester seems to have lost his voice. What would be the cause of this? Could an illness be involved? 

A: Loss or change of voice is one of those vague problems that drive vets crazy.  In most cases that I’ve encountered, I could not attribute the voice change to any particular cause.  In some instances, however, the cause is readily apparent.

  • The most common cause I’ve seen is a viral upper respiratory infection, with the herpes virus and/or the feline calicivirus being the main culprit. Most viral upper respitory infections result in runny eyes, snotty nose and lots of sneezing. Occasionally they’re result in laryngitis — a "sore throat” — and a hoarse or lost voice.

  • I’ve seen cats with oral tumors involving the throat or the vocal cords that resulted in a voice change or loss. Finally, there is a condition called laryngeal paralysis, in which the nerve that controls the vocal folds becomes damaged, causing the larynx not to open properly, resulting in a change of voice. This is much more common in dogs than cats. Interestingly, I diagnosed my first case of this about four days ago.

Even though most cases are due to upper respiratory infections, which are fairly benign, a change in voice should be evaluated by your veterinarian. He or she might want to sedate the cat and perform a thorough oral exam, looking at the back of the throat, and even trying to pass an endotracheal tube down the trachea to see if there is a mass or other obstruction. X-rays may be necessary to look for masses that are in the trachea or in the neck that cannot be detected simply by feel. 
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Rose    International

4/28/2016 1:21:59 PM

The statement made by the veterinarian in this article is spot on! My kitty, Natasha, has a beautiful voice that I LOVE, but we ended up adopting a new little guy after the sudden loss of Natasha's sister, and he brought a heap of problems with him. Aside from his broken tail and blind left eye, He ended up giving Natasha an upper respiratory infection that did in fact affect her throat and voice....just compare it to strep throat or tonsillitis in us humans. Anyway, we got both of them on antibiotics which worked great, but then Natasha got an infection in her eye, which was closed at times and pretty swollen. I didn't want to take her back to the vet right away so we cleaned it daily and continued antibiotics which worked!'d think this was over, but now poor Natasha can't meow at all!! She had her voice during the eye infection and after her upper respiratory virus, but now her beautiful voice is gone, but her eye looks great! She's not sneezing or portraying signs of soreness in her throat like she was when this mess all started so I'm sad and worried that her voice will be ruined indefinitely. Does anyone have any suggestions? Preferably comments from a vet or someone who has gone through the same type of symptoms. Poor Natasha baby...I miss her pretty voice coming from her sweet little face. Thank you! Sorry this is so long, but I would think that details are best with medical inquiries. - Meow I Miss - AZ

Gina    International

11/23/2015 1:31:26 AM

My cat has lost his voice :/ he can sometimes get out a croaky meow , I'm not sure what it is because he acts perfectly normal and happy. He can still purr but you can only feel it if u touch his neck. We have figured that massaging his neck softly helps a little bit

Parvinder    International

10/23/2015 6:39:14 PM

My cat had her molar tooth extracted a month ago.N the Drs also did a clean up on her gums.She was really affected by the Op cause she hates the vet alot. Up to today,her meow has not been the same. It's soft n sometimes barely hear her.

Kat    International

10/23/2015 12:24:05 PM

If your cat has a cough and has lost his voice there is likely something stuck in his throat or sinus (the cavities and stuff in between nose and mouth) and you should get him to a vet so he can get that stuff out. My cat once had a straw of grass stuck in there, lots of coughing and he seemed really sick, and I couldn't get it out myself, had to get a vet to remove it.

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