Cat Lost His Voice

CatChannel veterinary expert, Arnold Plotnick, DVM, explains that it can be difficult to determine the cause of a change in a cat's voice.

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Q: I have a question which 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

bignosycat    Vancouver, BC

3/1/2014 1:13:10 AM

If your cat's voice changes take it to the Vets. Your cat could also have Thyroid disease. A vet diagnosis diseases not articles on the Internet. If your pet changes habits, such as drinking water from different places, changes toilet habits, sleeping locations when they sleep with you these are signs. My cat has feline herpes and has lost his voice and I will take him to the vets to make sure that he has no other disease. I am used to runny eyes and snotty nose but loosing voice is a big change. For those who do not believe in vets you should not have pets it is not propaganda! When your cat reaches 7 I advise you to get bloodworm with your yearly check -up. This will give a baseline - and/or diagnose disease if there is one. If your cat does not eat for 2 days take to vets so they do not get fatty liver disease. I get sick when someone states that there cat or dog has not eaten in a week or more. Your pet can die and it is on you!

AMY    titusville, FL

10/16/2013 12:28:06 PM

Hello all! I just wanted to post a bit of info on my 12 yr old kitty, Isabelle. I noticed that her meow and little cooing sounds became raspy a few weeks ago. She had just had full blood work done two months ago and all numbers perfect. All information I have found on line said this was most likely either a hairball or upper respiratory infection. She had NO other symptoms such as runny nose, coughing or eye discharge so I assumed hairball and gave her hefty amounts of hairball medicine for five days to no avail. Finally took her to the vet two days ago and x-ray shows a tumor in her lung and we are awaiting further testing. Just wanted to post this so that other owners know if there is ANY change in your kitty to take her to the vet ASAP. You may not see the other text book symptoms but you know your pet best. Take her and get her checked, please!

David    Montreal, QC

5/23/2013 5:38:40 PM

Not everything has to be medicalized. My cat is 14, eats well, sleeps normally, goes outside to play and roam the backyard. He is still affectionate and healthy. I have no intention of giving Vets $$$ to tell me he is fine. I can live with his change of voice. I am old too, and know when a doctor is needed.
The industry that people buy into the most is fear. Common sense can tell you quite a bit if you think about things.

Sara    Raleigh, NC

2/20/2013 5:20:43 PM

My cat is 13 years old and just recently we have noticed that he has almost lost his voice. He has a faint meow almost like a kitten meow. He has been licking himself a lot lately but hasn't hairballed. We have given him some catlax but it hasn't been working.

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