My cat’s meow is weak and raspy and it sounds as if it is uncomfortable for her to speak to me.
I know I’m not the only pet parent that’s heard their cat sound as if they are struggling to vocalize. Cats use their meows as a way to exclusively communicate with humans, so when it sounds weak we can instantly notice the difference.
This change in vocalization can be worrying for owners. That’s why I have written this article – to help explain all the possible reasons for this and advise you on how you can help your kitty get their voice back.
Often, a cat’s meow sounds hoarse because they have been meowing too much for a long period. This causes them to lose their voice, similar to how people might have a raspy voice after shouting and singing at a loud concert. Alternatively, a cat’s meow can sound weak and raspy because it is suffering from laryngitis.
I’ll run through both of these scenarios in this article in more detail and what you can do to help. I’ll also offer a few more possible explanations and what treatment is available.
Why Does My Cat’s Meow Sound Hoarse?
When a cat’s meow is weak and raspy, it can be worrying. In some instances, it is simply from overusing their voice. However, a cat’s meow can also sound hoarse when they have laryngitis. Laryngitis is where the larynx or voice box becomes inflamed due to an infection, blockage, or paralysis of the laryngeal nerve.
Here we look at each of these in more detail and how you can tell which applies to your kitty.
1. Overuse of the Voice
Your cat’s meow may sound weak and raspy simply because they have overused their voice. When meowing loudly for long periods of time, it can put huge amounts of strain on their vocal cords. This makes it more difficult for them to meow and so the sound becomes weaker and weaker.
As most of you probably already know, cats only meow to get the attention of humans. Therefore, cats will only ever meow constantly and overuse their voice when something is seriously wrong or they are feeling high levels of distress.
One example could be your cat getting accidentally trapped in a small room or a cupboard. They need to come out so they have access to their food, water, litter tray, and other essentials. Your cat may meow frantically to try to inform you that they are stuck and as a way to ask for help.
Depending on how long your cat is trapped, they could use their voice to the point of exhaustion. When this happens, their meow becomes extremely weak and hoarse. It is vital that you keep an eye on your cat and try to avoid situations like this from arising. This ensures your cat is as happy as possible and will mean their throat won’t become overworked and sore.
2. Upper Respiratory Infection
There is also a chance that your cat’s meow is weak and raspy because they have some type of upper respiratory infection. This is where either bacteria or a virus infects a part of your cat’s upper airways, such as their throat, nose, or sinuses.
There are several different viruses or bacteria that can cause an upper respiratory infection, but some of the most common in cats include Feline Herpesvirus Type 1 (FVR), Feline Calicivirus (FCV), Bordetella Bronchiseptica (B. Bronchiseptica), and Chlamydophila Felis (C. Felis). Of these, FVR and FCV account for 90% of all feline upper respiratory infections.
Regardless of the precise cause, all upper respiratory infections have symptoms comparable to the human cold. For example, infected cats will likely exhibit the following symptoms:
- Congestion of the nasal passages
- Discharge from the nose and/or eyes
- Mouth ulcers
- Hoarse meow and other vocalizations
In some severe cases, cats with upper respiratory tract infections will also have difficulty breathing. Infected cats make weird noises when sick as the air passes through their restricted upper airways. Moreover, other general signs of sickness such as your cat sleeping more than usual or a reduction in appetite might be seen.
You should easily be able to tell whether your cat’s meow sounds hoarse because they have an upper respiratory infection as you’ll notice some of the above symptoms. In most cases, the infection will only last for around seven days and your cat should have its voice back once the body has fought off the infection.
If your cat has any over the above symptoms, ensure you take it to the vet. They will be able to diagnose the precise type of infection and prescribe appropriate treatment. Antibiotics are given to help cats fight off bacterial infections, whereas viral infections are usually treated symptomatically at home with your help.
It is important to remember that cats with upper respiratory infections are very infectious to other cats. If your cat has one, try to keep them indoors until they are better to help prevent it from spreading further around the neighborhood. For anyone with more than one cat, you’ll want to try and keep your sick cat separate until they have made a full recovery.
3. Nasopharyngeal Polyps
Although much less likely than an overused voice or an upper respiratory infection, there is a chance your cat’s meow sounds weak as they have nasopharyngeal polyps. These are small tissue growths that develop just behind the eardrum in the ear canal. The larger they come, the further they extend down the ear canal until eventually, they reach the back of the throat.
When the polyps get to this size, they will partially or completely block the back of the throat. This blocks the passage of air in and out of your cat’s mouth so they have extreme difficulty breathing. It can also cause their meow to sound hoarse and suffocated as the sound tries to break past these polyps to be heard and as the polyps press down on their larynx.
Other symptoms of nasopharyngeal polyps that might help you identify the condition at home includes:
- Snorting sound when breathing
- Pawing at the ear or head shaking
- Occasional loss of balance
In response to the polyps obstructing the throat, a cat’s body will produce lots of secretions which end up making the blockage worse. This can then lead to a secondary bacterial infection that leads to nasal discharge and other common symptoms of an upper respiratory infection as mentioned above. This can make your cat’s weak and raspy meow even worse!
If you think your cat has nasopharyngeal polyps, it is essential to take them to the vet as soon as possible. Surgery is usually required to remove the polyp so that your cat can breathe easily again. However, it is near impossible to remove the entire thing because of its position in the ear canal, so recurrent polyps are common.
4. Trapped Foreign Body
Nasopharyngeal polyps are not the only thing that can block the throat. Cats are curious creatures that love exploring the world, but they often do so with smell and taste. This means that occasionally a foreign body gets inhaled or swallowed and trapped in the throat.
Some of the most common items that cats accidentally swallow are bits of string or other small items that come from toys. It is also possible that cats can get food items lodged in their throat when they eat their dinner too quickly. Whatever the object, it can make it difficult for sound and air to pass, making your cat’s meow sound weak and raspy.
If you think your cat has a foreign object stuck in its throat, you will need to take them to the vet to have it removed. Your vet will be able to identify what type of object it is and whether it is causing a full or partial obstruction. The worse the obstruction, the weaker your cat’s meow will sound.
Removal of the object is generally straightforward. Your vet will usually use forceps and endoscopy to remove it through their mouth and your cat’s recovery will be speedy. Still, potential infection may follow so always return to your vet for a follow-up appointment just to be on the safe side.
Hyperthyroidism is an often overlooked cause of a cat’s meow sounding hoarse or rough. Typically, your vet will look at infections or injuries to the upper airways. However, hyperthyroidism is a common disease in cats and still needs to be considered as a possibility.
When a cat has hyperthyroidism, they produce an excess of thyroid hormones from the thyroid gland. This gland is located in your cat’s neck which becomes enlarged and swollen in cats with the disease. The visible mass growing on the thyroid gland usually covered the trachea and larynx, causing their voice to sound hoarse.
This swollen mass can cause other symptoms in cats. For example, the swelling may interfere with swallowing which makes it difficult for your cat to eat. It also can cause shortness of breath and difficulty breathing as your cat tries to inhale more and more air.
Moreover, the additional amount of thyroid hormones running around the body also cause more symptoms in cats. My cat is so skinny and she has hyperthyroidism. This is because the extra thyroid hormones cause (1) an increase in metabolism so she burns calories more quickly and (2) hyperactivity. In turn, this leads to an increase in appetite.
If you see a cat throwing up food but acting normal or if a cat has diarrhea but seems fine, this could again be a sign of hyperthyroidism. This may further contribute to the weight loss seen in cats. Increased thirst and urination are other common signs.
Anyone that thinks their cat may have hyperthyroidism needs to book an appointment with the vet. There are then four main treatment options available:
- Anti-Thyroid Medication: This medication will need to be administered every day to be effective. It blocks the production of the hormone thyroid to help control the disease and provides effective short-term relief.
- Radioactive Iodine Therapy: This is the preferred treatment method that works by destroying the abnormal thyroid tissues. Usually, cats are completely cured of hyperthyroidism within three months of receiving this type of treatment.
- Surgery: The abnormal thyroid tissue can also be removed through surgery. However, this is much more invasive than radioactive iodine therapy and carries with it more risk, making it a less popular choice.
6. Laryngeal Nerve Paralysis
Finally, paralysis of the laryngeal nerve could be why your cat’s meow sounds hoarse and weak. The larynx is the part of the throat in which the vocal cords are found. When inhaling and exhaling, the larynx opens and closes respectively to facilitate breathing. This is controlled by a muscle group called the cricoarytenoideus dorsalis.
Unfortunately, when something happens to the nerves that connect to this muscle the larynx can become paralyzed and unable to move outwards when breathing. This can cause the laryngeal walls to get sucked into the opening and can partially or completely obstruct the airways.
In turn, this causes several symptoms in cats, including the following:
- Loud and noisy breathing
- A hoarse meow or a complete lack of voice
- Difficulty when breathing and the inability to catch its breath
- Being unable to exercise
- Overheating due to an inability to pant
- Pulled back lips and an expanding chest
- Weakness and lethargy
There are a few different things that can cause paralysis of the larynx in cats. This includes tumors in the neck or throat, neuromuscular disorders, or injury to the nerves of the larynx. Interestingly, hypothyroidism and metabolic syndrome can also cause the disorder.
Paralysis of the larynx is a serious condition that can lead to suffocation in worse cases. Therefore, you must take your cat to the vet as soon as possible if you notice any issues with their breathing or other signs of respiratory distress. Your vet will run tests on your cat and then work to treat the underlying condition.
At the vet, your cat will also be given supportive care to help them breathe. In some cases, surgery is required, especially in all cases where the larynx has been sucked up and caused a complete obstruction. Your vet may also recommend a tube be temporarily placed in the throat to help facilitate breathing. With treatment, most cats make full recovery.
MY FINAL THOUGHTS
When a cat’s meow is weak and raspy, it can be worrying. However, if there are no other symptoms present, your cat probably just overworked its voice. Don’t worry – it will have its meow back in a few days as soon as its overworked vocal cords have recovered.
In other cases, cats lose their voices because they have laryngitis. This can be caused by a whole host of other medical conditions as mentioned above. Use the symptoms I have listed to help to identify which applies to your situation. As always, visit the vet too so your cat can get the care it needs and deserves. With the right treatment, your cat will be meowing loudly in no time!