Q: My cat is usually very vocal and loves “talking” to me. However, a week and a half ago, she opened her mouth to meow, and there was no sound. Since then, there’s been an occasional crackle or two, but no meowing. She’s eating, drinking and pooping normally, so I don’t know what is wrong with her.
A: A cat is able to make sounds due to the presence of a voice box (in its throat). There are folds of tissue or cords in the voice box that vibrate to produce sounds. Therefore, if there are any problems with these vocal cords, then the cat can’t meow.
There are some possible reasons behind this. It could be a behavioural issue. Your kitty might be fearful or anxious over an issue—it could be emotional, or an external factor that is bothering her, such as another animal or human. She might have vocalised excessively until she went hoarse or lost her voice.
Another possible explanation could be that your cat has an inflammation of the throat, which can be caused by pathogens such as bacteria or viruses. Inflammation of the structures in the throat leads to swelling and pain, and the vocal cords may be swollen, making it more difficult to vibrate. Some possible causes of infections in the throat area include a deep cat bite on the neck, or viruses such as the herpes virus and the calicivirus, which can lead to an infection of the respiratory tract. Foreign objects that are eaten or accidentally swallowed, such as sharp bones or thorns, can lacerate the throat too, leading to infection and inflammation of tissues in the throat.
Tumours of the throat may also hinder the vibration of the vocal cords and structures around them. Nerve disorders to the voice box—which may be congenital or acquired—can also potentially lead to paralysis or dysfunction of the vocal cords.
If you have excluded the possibility of behavioural issues and are completely sure that your kitty wasn’t bitten or hasn’t ingested anything foreign in the past few weeks, then it’s best to bring your cat to the vet if the condition persists.
At the vet, procedures that may be performed include a preliminary physical examination where the tongue, mouth and throat are checked for obvious signs of infection and inflammation. The deeper parts of the throat can be checked by a long instrument called an endoscope. Radiographs may be taken if the vet needs more information, and blood tests can be done to allow for a more accurate diagnosis.