8 Common Reasons Why Your Cat Can’t Meow
Approved By: Dr. Sara Ochoa, DVM
Certified Content. This article has been fact checked and verified by our veterinary adviser.
Back in the Twenties, “The cat's meow” meant “the best of the best”. It was started in a newspaper cartoon by Tad Dougan (who was responsible for most 20's slang) that depicted a flapper describing an ice cream sundae.
A cat's meow is indeed a sweet thing to hear. In fact, something is very wrong with your furry friend if all of a sudden she's no longer meowing.
If you've been asking yourself “Why doesn't my cat meow?” read on!
What is the Cat’s Voice Box
All animals (This includes humans) are able to vocalize by causing vibrations of their vocal cords. These are fibrous cords that are part a immobile chamber at the top of the trachea (AKA windpipe) called the larynx, AKA voice box.
The vocal folds open and close the opening of the trachea, helping the creature make sounds whether a meowing cat, barking dog or speaking human. The tracheal airway closes when the vocal folds close.
Normally, this briefly cuts off breath which is why professional singers need to learn to do breathing exercises. So why is it that a cat can purr steadily for hours on end without needing to stop for breath?
The reason for this is that your cat has an additional membrane known as the ventricular cords that are used to create the purring sound. She can vibrate these cords rapidly without completely closing the trachea and thus, she can breathe while are purring. So, can Kitty lose her voice?
Can cats lose their voice?
If your cat can't meow, it is usually for one of two reasons. Something could be causing mechanical interference with vocal cord vibration or there is a lack of stimulation of the nerves that connect to the vocal cords.
Reasons Why Cat Can't Meow
Many of the things that would cause a human to speak with a weak or raspy voice could also happen to a cat. Go down this checklist and see if your cat's sudden lack of vocalization could be connected.
1. Upper respiratory infection
This is the most common cause of voice loss in humans. It's usually accompanied by a discharge of thick yellowish or greenish mucus. The infection and inflammation causing swelling that interferes with cord function. A persistent cough can make a person out of breath. In cats, this rarely results in voice loss, but it can lead to laryngitis.
2. Laryngeal Paralysis
When nerve damage of the larynx or voice box prevents it from working properly whenever your cat tries to breathe or meow that means laryngeal paralysis. It is a serious condition that calls for medical attention right away. If your cat is coughing, lost an abnormal amount of weight, has trouble eating and struggles for breath she may have laryngeal paralysis.
Growths can sometimes develop in the throat, particularly the vocal cords. This can cause benign tumors or polyps. However, it can often result in throat cancer. Along with hoarseness, symptoms include: different vocal sound, sneezing, coughing and persistent ear infections. If you think that your cat has growths developing you must take her to the vet so a diagnosis can be made.
As mentioned above, this causes laryngitis in cats. Hyperthyroidism, the word for overactive thyroid glands, is a commonplace ailment with elderly cats. This may accompany hoarseness and weight loss. If you think that this is the cause for your cat's voice loss, take her to the vet for blood work.
A severe injury can cause interference with the functioning of the vocal folds. She could have swallowed something she shouldn't have tried to swallow. She may have tangled with another animal that decided to go for the throat. In any case, she needs to see the vet right away.
6. Autoimmune conditions
Sometimes, a cat’s own white blood cells can damage her own nerves. This causes injury to the nerve. That in turn limits any nerve impulses to the larynx and vocal cords.
7. Muscle disorders
Lots of pet owners forget that the vocal cords are really a muscle. Thus, in the event that your cat suffers from a muscle disorder, that means the condition will cut off the neuromuscular junction and the result will be voice changes or even loss.
8. Psychological Reasons
Your cat is so upset it's sent her into a mental state where she is in an immobile stupor. Should you bring your catatonic? But seriously, emotional upsets cat cause your cat to go selectively mute. (Also in all seriousness, never give your cat alcohol.) With time and patience, she will adjust.
If along with vocal changes your cat has a dry, harsh cough and difficulty swallowing along with noisy breathing that has obviously become a painful effort, your cat may have laryngitis.
The cause could be hyperthyroidism, a foreign body lodged in the throat or an upper respiratory infection. It could also simply be that Kitty is tired. Maybe she was out on a fence giving a “concert” last night and needs to rest up.
The worst case scenario can be rabies as an inability to swallow can result in a hoarse voice. It would accompany other telltale symptoms and can be prevented with a vaccine.
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Why Cats Meow
Feral cats seldom meow. With cats, meowing is a kittenish behavior. Kittens will meow at their mother and she will often meow back.
An adult cat will not meow at another adult cat. (Yowling is a different story.) When your cat meows, it's because domestication has made her a perpetual kitten at heart. And guess who Mommy is?
Is it Normal if a cat is more quiet than usual?
An elderly cat may just decide she's too old for this…stuff. Some breeds may naturally be more vocal than others. If your normally vocal cat suddenly becomes quiet, it could be a sign of trouble as could any aberrant behavior.
If your cat's behavior is out of the ordinary for her, it may be best to take her to a vet. Take note of any other symptoms she may have and tell the vet about them. By working together, the two of you can help your cat with whatever is bothering her.
Why does my cat have no voice?
When vets explain laryngitis to cat owners, they tell them that the cat's larynx or voice box has become inflamed as the result of illness, irritation, a blockage in the throat, or a sudden paralysis of the nerve controlling the laryngeal folds. When a cat develops laryngitis, it loses its meow for a few days.
Are there cats that don't meow?
Depending on the breed, some cats, such as Siamese, naturally will meow louder and more frequently than others. In fact, excessive vocalization may be a concern with certain breeds, as they never stop talking. Other varieties, including the Abyssinian, are known for being quiet.
How do I get my cat to meow?
To teach your cat to talk, get some treats that your cat really likes. Place the treats where your cat can see them so it will pay extra attention to you. Then, say meow to your cat over and over until it meows back at you. When it does, pet it and give it a treat to encourage the cat.
Can cats lose their meow?
Though it's far more common in dogs, cats can develop a condition called laryngeal paralysis. Nerve damage causes the larynx—or voice box—to stop working properly during breathing or meowing. Along with hoarseness or loss of voice, your cat may cough, lose weight, have difficulty eating and struggle for breath.