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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Reader Comments

renee    las vegas, NV

8/30/2015 6:55:35 PM

he would meow alot but for the past few days very soft and today barely nothing...

Smidge    Eagle, ID

8/23/2015 10:27:31 PM

It's very smokey in my area. Would that contribute to loss of voice?

briana    Baltimore, MD

8/9/2015 3:41:29 PM

My cat is 5yrs old and he is also neutered. He is a very active talker. He will meow threw out most of the day. I recently got I knew kitten he hisses at from time to time, but otherwise they are friends. Two days ago I noticed he wasn't meowing and when he did it was very scratching and low. He has a deep cough and looks like he is going to throw up but nothing comes out. He hasn't lost his appetite nor does he have runny nose or eyes. He seems fine still purrs when we pet him he look healthy, plays with the kitten. I looked in his mouth, it looked clean it wasn't red. I feel like he might just have a sore throat from hissing at the kitten. Please help

briana    Baltimore, MD

8/9/2015 3:40:12 PM

My cat is 5yrs old and he is also neutered. He is a very active talker. He will meow threw out most of the day. I recently got I knew kitten he hisses at from time to time, but otherwise they are friends. Two days ago I noticed he wasn't meowing and when he did it was very scratching and low. He has a deep cough and looks like he is going to throw up but nothing comes out. He hasn't lost his appetite nor does he have runny nose or eyes. He seems fine still purrs when we pet him he look healthy, plays with the kitten. I looked in his mouth, it looked clean it wasn't red. I feel like he might just have a sore throat from hissing at the kitten. Please help

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