When A Cat’s Meow Sounds Strange (Hoarse Voice)

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gray cat meowing

Does your cat’s meow sound strange? Are you saying to yourself “why is my cat not meowing normally?” Are you wondering if such voice changes are indicative of a serious problem? In this article, we’ll go over the causes of this problem, and suggest what you might do to help.

​What Is A Hoarse Voice In A Cat?

A cat’s normal meow has a distinctive, easily recognised sound. Cats meow for all sorts of reasons, just as humans speak to each other for different reasons. A meow may be friendly, chatty, demanding, questioning, needy, angry or it may carry many other meanings.

However, a cat’s meow usually doesn’t change too much in its sound: it’s a high pitched note, starting low, going up in pitch, generally lasting less than a second to a few seconds long.

A hoarse meow loses the normal pure tone: instead, the cat makes a raspy noise. The mouth is opened in the same way as normal, but the sound is different, with hoarseness, hissing and roughness instead of the normal musical meow.

Sometimes there may be complete loss of voice, with a silent meow, and the cat opening their mouth without making any sound at all.

The cat’s purr may also be affected, sounding different to normal, or even absent.

​How Common Is A Hoarse Voice In Cats?

Most cats suffer from a hoarse meow at some stage in their life. Most commonly, this is caused by a form of cat laryngitis, which means inflammation of the larynx or voice box, the delicate structure that houses the vocal cords that generate the sound of a meow.

The cat’s larynx is in the center of their throat, just like our own. When the larynx becomes inflamed, its delicate, flexible structure becomes thicker, less elastic, with a buildup of discharges around the vocal folds.

These changes mean that the voice box is no longer able to produce the same, high pitched sounds as normal.

​What Are The Causes Of A Hoarse Voice In Cats?

kitten meowing and hoarsing

The most common cause of hoarsing is laryngitis, but there are a few other reasons your cat may be hoarse or have a crackly meow.

Mild, self-limiting laryngitis (like a sore throat in humans) is the most common cause, and there are different common reasons why temporary laryngitis can develop.

  • Viral upper respiratory infections such as feline calicivirus (FCV), feline rhinotracheitis or herpes virus (FVR) and others.
  • Direct irritation to the airway from inhalation of dust or smoke.
  • Trauma (a direct injury to the throat, such as in a cat fight).
  • Excessive meowing (e.g. sometimes if a cat is very vocal while staying in a cattery)

More serious causes of a hoarse meow include:

  • Nasopharyngeal polyps.
  • Space occupying masses around the larynx, including abscesses, tumors and others.
  • Foreign bodies, such as inhaled blades of grass becoming lodged near the larynx
  • Laryngeal paralysis, when the muscles of the larynx no longer move normally. This is common in middle aged dogs, but rare in cats.
  • Hyperthyroidism can lead to an altered voice in a cat

What Are The Symptoms Of Laryngitis?

The signs of inflammation of the larynx and vocal cords include:

  • A hoarse meow
  • Silent meowing
  • Sometimes inappetence, or difficulty swallowing
  • A change in the sound of normal vocalization including purring and meowing
  • If a cat has an upper respiratory tract infection (the most common cause of laryngitis), there may be other signs such as watery eyes, sneezing and coughing

​Does A Cat With A Hoarse Voice Need To Be Taken To The Vet?

a cat at the veterinarian's office

If a hoarse meowing is the only issue troubling your cat, it’s probably nothing serious and there’s probably no need to ask for the vet’s advice immediately.

As long as the cat is well in every other way – eating, drinking, behaving normally – there is not normally any need to rush to the vet.

Often, just like in humans with mild laryngitis, the full normal voice will return within a couple of days, or perhaps a week or two. It’s only if the change carries on beyond this, or if the animal shows other signs of a health problem, that a visit to your vet becomes necessary.

​Investigating The Cause Of A Hoarse Voice

If you take a cat with a hoarse meow to a DVM veterinarian, the following steps may be taken. As well as confirming that this is the main problem, it’s important to identify the underlying cause so that the most appropriate treatment can be given.

​1. Detailed History Taking

Your vet will discuss every aspect of your cat’s condition and overall health care, including asking questions such as whether or not your cat is an outdoor or indoor cat (the risk of different conditions varies for each).

There will be a particular focus on a discussion about your cat’s vocalization. If you have any videos of your cat meowing, it will help to show these to your vet.

You will be asked questions about other aspects of your cat’s respiratory functions, such as the presence of raspy, wheezy breathing, any sneezing or coughing, runny nose, or or anything else different to normal.

​2. Physical Examination

Your veterinarian will check your cat over carefully, and in particular, they will carefully palpate your cat’s throat and the trachea (windpipe), feeling for any irregularities or abnormalities, and they will listen to the breathing system (chest, heart and lungs) with a stethoscope.

They will look into your cat’s mouth, examining the throat as far as this is possible in a fully conscious animal. Normally the temperature will be taken.

Sometimes, sedation or full anaesthesia may be recommended so that the throat area can be visually inspected in detail.

​3. Routine Laboratory Tests

It’s very likely that your veterinarian may carry out blood work (a so-called minimum database), including the usual panel of diagnostic tests, such as hematology (blood count) and biochemistry profiles.

In an uncomplicated case of a local problem in the throat, these blood tests will usually be normal, although they can be useful in determining your cat’s general health status. Thyroid hormone levels may be assessed to rule out hyperthyroidism.

Tests for serious viruses such as FeLV and FIV may be carried out, as these can affect your cat’s immune system, leading to other complications.

Urinalysis may be carried out as part of a general review of your cat’s health.

​4. Diagnostic Imaging

Radiography (x-rays) may be carried out: these allow the skeletal structure of the throat area to be examined in detail, as well as the surrounding soft tissues to be scrutinised. Ultrasound may also be used, for better evaluation of these soft tissue structures, checking for unusual swellings.

Advanced imaging (such as CT or MRI scans) may rarely be recommended if detailed analysis of specific areas is needed.

​Treatment Of A Hoarse Voice In A Cat

cat being examined by a veterinarian

In most cases, cats make a full recovery within a few weeks, and their normal voice returns in that period.

As long as your cat remains bright and generally well, eating properly and behaving normally, it’s often safe to wait for a while, and your cat’s normal voice may resume within a week or two.

However, if your pet show any other signs of illness, or if their voice has not returned after a few weeks, a visit to your vet is needed.

Treatment will depend on the cause of the hoarse voice

  • Foreign bodies (such as blades of grass) need to be physically removed
  • Growths, such as polyps, need to be properly assessed then surgically excised
  • Space occupying masses, such as tumors or abscesses, need full and detailed treatment, depending on their precise details
  • Steam treatment, or a humidifier, may be suggested

Monitoring And Prognosis

You will know yourself when your cat has made a full recovery, because their voice will return to normal. For more serious causes of a hoarse voice, your vet will advise you on what rechecks are needed.

In most cases, cats make a full recovery, with their normal voice returning within a few weeks, but this does depend on the precise cause.

​Conclusion

A raspy or hoarse voice, or even a completely silent meow, can happen in cats, usually caused by disease affecting the larynx. Cat carers should monitor such situations carefully, and if necessary, they should take their pets to their vet to have this problem fully assessed.

​Frequently Asked Questions

How do you treat a raspy voice in cats?

Treatment depends on the cause of the change in the voice, and ranges from masterly inactivity (simply waiting for the issue to resolve naturally) through to surgical intervention and other treatments for more serious causes.

Is it bad if my cats meow is raspy?

A raspy voice is an indication of some sort of disease of the voice box (larynx) so this should never be ignored.

Can a cat's voice get hoarse?

Just as humans can get a hoarse voice for a range of reasons, so can cats. This can be a meow that sounds different, a change in the sound of the purr, or sometimes it can mean that they lose their voice completely for a while, meowing silently and not purring at all.

About Dr. Pete Wedderburn, DVM

Dr Pete Wedderburn qualified as a vet from Edinburgh in 1985 and has run his own 4-veterinarian companion animal practice in County Wicklow, Ireland, since 1991. Pete is well known as a media veterinarian with regular national tv, radio and newspaper slots, including a weekly column in the Daily Telegraph since 2007. Pete is known as "Pete the Vet" on his busy Facebook, Instagram and Twitter pages, regularly posting information on topical subjects and real-life cases from his clinic. He also write a regular blog at www.petethevet.com. His latest book: “Pet Subjects”, was published by Aurum Press in 2017.

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