All cats are wonderfully unique, including their need to speak. Some are complete chatterboxes, whereas others only meow when they want something. Then there is a third group who struggle to meow at all. In fact, my cat can’t meow, she just squeaks!
If your cat’s meow sounds squeaky, you’re probably wondering the same as me: Why? Why does my cat squeak instead of meow? Should I be worried about her? And will she ever be able to meow like all the other cats seem to be able to do?
In this article, I share the answers to all these questions and more. Some cats simply never learn to meow, and that’s okay. But squeaking can be a sign of disease, injury, and weakness too, so it’s vital that we can tell the difference. As long as our cats are happy and healthy, that’s all that matters!
Why Do Cats Meow?
Before I get into the nitty-gritty of the article, I want to touch quickly on why cat’s meow in the first place. This can help us better understand whether or not it’s an issue that our furry friends haven’t quite mastered this vocalization.
Now, a meow is not a natural sound for a cat. Instead, it is a noise that they learn to make from being around humans or other domestic cats that have already picked up this skill from people.
There are two main theories as to where this meow came from:
- Cats learned that humans pick up on the frequencies of a meow better than other sounds and so get out attention more effectively when making this noise.
- Cats have observed humans rushing to comfort their crying children, and try to mimic this sound with their meows to communicate with us.
Interestingly, cats only use meows to speak to people. My cat keeps meowing and rubbing against everything to try and get my attention. In fact, you’ll rarely – if ever – see two cats meowing to each other. Intraspecies communication in cats relies strongly on scent and other vocalizations, such as growling, murmuring, and hissing.
Therefore, it doesn’t matter too much if your cat can’t meow and just squeaks. They are only using their meow to talk to you or other people in your family. You can learn what your cat is saying through its squeaks or body language instead, and your kitty will find its own way of communicating its wants and needs to you.
Why Does My Cat Squeak Instead of Meow?
Although not meowing won’t cause much of a problem – your cat can still communicate with you in other ways – it is important to know why. If your cat has always squeaked, they’re probably fine. But if your cat’s regular meow suddenly sounds squeaky it could indicate disease or injury.
Here are the six most likely reasons for being unable to meow. See which you think applies, and take your cat to the vet if you’ve any doubt.
1. Vocal Cord Birth Defects
The meow sound we associate with cats is produced by their vocal cords. When these vocal cords don’t develop properly, it can mean cats are unable to make this noise. Instead, a squeaky sound might come out as their vocal cords try but fail to work.
Your cat’s vocal cords might be damaged from birth due to some kind of birth defect. This defect could be in the vocal cords themselves or the area around the cords that impairs their normal functioning. It is also possible that the nerves linked to the larynx and vocal cords never formed properly.
The only way to know for sure whether or not your cat has a birth defect is to get it confirmed by a vet. However, these are likely to cause any major issues. Similar to being blind or deaf, your cat might simply be unable to talk. Other than this though, they are happy and healthy.
2. Stunted Growth of the Vocal Cords
As kittens grow into adult cats they get larger and larger. This is true for their internal organs too, including the larynx and vocal cords. If the vocal cords don’t grow properly and at a rate relative to the rest of the body, they can become strained. Your cat’s meow might sound squeaky as a result.
In healthy cats, improper growth is usually caused by some kind of injury or trauma to the throat when they are kittens. Children are often accidentally too rough and can squeeze and press the throat of kittens. This could affect the ability to meow later on in life.
For this reason and to prevent other injuries, it is important to teach young children how to appropriately hold kittens. You don’t want to be dealing with traumatized cat symptoms or be thinking “Why is my cat so scared of everything?” due to trauma that could be avoided.
3. Diseases and Infections
If your cat’s meow sounds squeaky all of a sudden, there is a chance that they have some kind of disease or infection. Several medical conditions can impair a cat’s ability to meow, such as:
- Upper Respiratory Infections: Bacteria and viruses can enter your cat’s upper respiratory system and cause an infection. Common examples include Feline Herpesvirus, Bronchiseptica, and Feline Calicivirus. You’ll notice symptoms comparable to those of a human cold, such as sneezing, congestion, and discharge from the nose and eyes.
- Hyperthyroidism: Hyperthyroidism is where cats have an enlarged and overactive thyroid gland. This gland is found in the neck and as it grows it can press on the vocal cords. Other symptoms include hyperactivity, increased appetite, and weight loss. If you notice your cat drinking a lot of water and meowing squeakily, hyperthyroidism is likely.
- Laryngeal Paralysis: This is where the laryngeal nerve becomes paralyzed, so the larynx cannot open and close properly. Your cat’s meow might be squeaky, or you might find my cat’s meow is weak and raspy. Breathing difficulties will also be apparent, and you might notice noisy breathing, coughing, and inability to catch the breath.
- Nasopharyngeal Polyps: Polyps are small growths of tissue that develop in the ear canal. As they grow, they can extend down into the throat and block it. Not only does this mean they’ll have a squeaky meow, but they will too have breathing difficulties. Other symptoms include pawing at the ear, shaking the head, and losing balance.
If you notice any of the above symptoms, you should take your cat to the vet. All of these conditions can be cured with treatment. Infections might require antibiotics, hyperthyroidism can be treated with surgery or iodine therapy, and polyps can be removed. With prompt treatment, there is no reason why your cat cannot make full recovery and have its meow back in no time at all.
4. Injury to the Vocal Cords
I’ve already spoken about how rough handling of kittens can cause improper growth of the vocal cords. But injury of the throat later on in life can also cause your cat to squeak instead of meow. When the larynx and voice box are damaged, they can’t produce meows and other noises effectively.
For a cat to lose its meow, injuries tend to be pretty severe. They might have got into a catfight. Or perhaps they badly stained their throat trying to escape from an area they got trapped while out exploring. Definitely book in for a checkup appointment with your vet. They might be able to provide pain relief while your cat recovers and advise on anything else that could help recovery.
5. Extreme Hunger or Thirst
My cat is always hungry and meowing! She constantly cries for food and wakes me up every morning at the crack of dawn. However, when cats get past the point of hunger their bodies can become weak. They can barely muster the energy for a meow and so squeak instead.
It is extremely unlikely that this is the reason your cat can’t meow, just squeaks. As long as your cat is eating and you’re feeding it the correct amount, you can rule this one out. But this is highly likely if you come across a stray cat that squeaks. You don’t know how long they’re been looking for food, and their bodies could be severely lacking energy.
The same is true for cats that are dehydrated. All the cells and organs in our body require water to work properly, including the voice box. If a cat is extremely dehydrated its voice will sound hoarse and squeaky. There is a simple fix for this one – get your cat to drink more. Water fountains are a great solution, or you could try adding something like chicken broth to make their water more appetizing.
6. Not Used to Humans
As already mentioned, cats only meow to speak to humans. I hear my cat meow at night when I go to bed to beg for my attention. I hear my cat meow when I sneeze. And why does my cat meow at the door? You’ve guessed it – to ask me to let her outside. Meows are always cats trying to communicate something to people.
Therefore, cats that have not spent any time around people simply might not know how to meow. Have you just adopted a feral cat? If so, this could be the cause of their squeaky meow. Your cat might learn to meow and converse with you over time, or it might never develop its voice properly.
Should I Worry That My Cat Can’t Meow, Just Squeaks?
All cats have different personalities and some are more chatty with their owners than others. My cat meows all the time, but I have had cats before that are pretty much silent. If your cat can’t meow and just squeaks then don’t worry. This is just an adorable and unique feature of your cat.
With that being said, squeaky meows can be a sign of injury and illness. For this reason, I would recommend going to the vet even if you don’t think anything is wrong. It is always better to double-check that nothing is wrong with your furry feline friend. If something is and it gets overlooked, you might not forgive yourself.
Moreover, you 100% need to go and see your vet if your cat used to meow healthy and it has recently turned squeaky. If there are other symptoms of illness alongside a squeaky meow, that’s even more reason to go in for a checkup.
Some of the major clinical signs to look out for include:
- Sudden and unexplained weight loss
- Increase or decrease in appetite
- Breathing difficulties and open mouth breathing
- Sneezing, coughing, and congestion
- Discharge from the nose and mouth
- Weakness and extreme lethargy
- Sudden behavioral changes, such as aggression
- Your cat tries to meow but nothing comes out at all
Will My Cat Ever Learn How to Meow Properly?
If you have ruled out medical conditions for the cause of your cat’s squeaky meow, you can relax. As I have said a few times already, all cats are different. You can take your cat’s unusual squeaks as an epic and unique personality trait. Your cat is just super special!
However, you might still want to know whether your cat will ever be able to meow properly. And this largely depends on their age. Kittens still have time to develop their voice, whereas adult cats that never learned to meow might not ever.
Kittens Learning to Meow
Most domestic cats will learn to meow when they are kittens, so if your kitten sounds a little squeaky don’t worry. Their voice will usually come, they just haven’t learned how to use it yet.
Kittens will start to use and exercise their vocal cords immediately from birth. You’ll notice some vocalizations shortly after being born, but cats might not get their voices until they are 3-4 months old. If you notice any labor signs in cats that are not neutered, you might have a litter of kittens on the way. You will then be lucky enough to observe this learning process happen first-hand.
However, it can take even longer and some cats won’t develop their full adult meow until they are one year old. If you have adopted a 12-week-old kitten that sounds squeaky, there is a chance they are still developing their voice. You can watch them learn to meow as they grow into adult cats.
Therefore, don’t panic if your kitten can’t meow. It is common for kittens to squeak or meow without any sound as they learn this vocalization. A much bigger cause for concern is if your kitten is weak and sleepy. But if they’re happy, playful, and full of energy, be patient with them learning to meow. Their voice will likely come, they just need a little time!
Adult Cats Learning to Meow
If you have an adult cat that can’t meow and just squeaks, it is less likely that they will learn to meow. As just mentioned, this is a skill that usually develops in kittenhood. Adult cats that squeak were likely not around people or cats that meowed when they were a kitten, so never picked up the skill.
There is a chance that feral cats or rescue kittens can learn to meow later on in life. The more time they spend around you and other people, the more likely they will be to copy your voice and meow. However, many cats that never learned to meow never will. They’ll stick with their squeaks and try to get your attention this way.
For adult cats that can’t meow due to sickness or injury, things are a little different. These cats know how to meow and haven’t forgotten the skills needed, they just have something limiting their ability to use these skills. Once the medical condition is resolved, their little voice will come back.
MY FINAL THOUGHTS
If your cat’s meow sounds squeaky it can be concerning. And I get it – cats are supposed to meow, so isn’t it worrying if they can’t? If your cat is still a kitten, they might still be learning to perfect their skills and will squeak instead. Their meow will likely come, just be patient!
If you have an adult cat that squeaks, things are a little different. Cats that have certain birth defects might never be able to meow. There is also a chance that your adult cat has an injury or illness that has made them lose its meow. Always visit your vet if you are worried about your cat or if you notice any signs of illness. Once these conditions are treated, your cat’s voice should come back.
There are then cats that haven’t spent enough time around humans to learn how to make this noise. It might come over time, or they might just squeak forever. Talking to your cat each day could help develop its voice. But your cat may prefer communicating through squeaks. My best advice? Let them be their weird and wonderful selves!